- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

Maryland House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr. will learn today whether he has been voted out of office, when nearly 500 absentee ballots are factored into the race he lost at the polls Tuesday by just 139 votes.
Mr. Taylor, a 28-year veteran of the House of Delegates and House speaker since 1994, trails Republican business owner and political novice LeRoy Myers Jr. in the District 1C race to represent parts of Allegany and Washington counties in Western Maryland.
But the results of 492 absentee ballots expected to be counted at 10 a.m. today could return the speaker to power.
After trouncing opponents in seven elections since 1972, a loss by Mr. Taylor could ultimately be linked to the controversial redistricting plan he helped draw.
Mr. Taylor, 67, served on Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Redistricting Advisory Committee formed in 2001. The plan the committee produced was redrawn by the Maryland Court of Appeals earlier this year after it was ruled unconstitutional because of an "excessive number of political subdivision crossings."
The resulting redistricting plan extended Mr. Taylor's Allegany County base into Washington County, a jurisdiction he last served nearly a decade ago. It also shifted Mr. Myers from a race for an open seat in District 2A into a showdown with the powerful speaker, who had been expected to run unopposed.
Mr. Taylor won 61 percent of the 6,814 votes cast in Allegany County. But in Washington County, he won only 29 percent of the 3,971 votes cast.
Democrats are encouraged because 384 of the 492 outstanding ballots come from Allegany County, while just 108 are from Washington County.
Republican Party officials countered by saying the majority of the absentee ballots were generated by Republican requests.
If absentee voters in the two counties vote in the same percentages as voters in the general election, Mr. Casper would receive 265 of the votes, compared with 227 votes for Mr. Myers.
The numbers would represent a net gain of 38 votes but would fall short of the 139 Mr. Taylor needs to overtake Mr. Myers
Mr. Myers, 50, who runs Myers Building Systems in Washington County, said yesterday that he was not declaring victory until all the votes were counted but that he felt "optimistic" the remaining votes would fall his way.
Mr. Myers said Mr. Taylor has spent too much time voting with the Democratic Party leadership in the House and has lost touch with the moderate views of his constituency.
People in District 1C "felt good about voting for a delegate," he said, adding that Mr. Taylor "likes being speaker more than he likes being a delegate."
A call to Mr. Taylor's Annapolis office was not returned yesterday.
Delegate Michael Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, acknowledged that he would be the "odds on favorite" to replace Mr. Taylor should Mr. Myers ultimately win the race.
And while the House of Delegates remains firmly in the hands of Democrats after Tuesday's elections, state Republican Party officials say the District 1C race could force some Democrats representing centrist districts to vote with the Republican Party for fear of repercussions in their own districts.
"I know we're not even close to a majority," Mr. Myers said. "But you've got to start somewhere, and that's with either Republicans or moderate Democrats."
From the Rocky Gap golf resort east of Cumberland to the state prison complex to the south, Mr. Taylor's influence is evident all around his hometown of Cumberland.
Highways he helped pave carry traffic past industrial parks he helped build. He brought air service back and made sure trains kept running.
"We've had a little extra help the last eight years" since Mr. Taylor became leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, Mayor Lee Fiedler said yesterday. "Everybody knows the doors are opened because Cumberland is Cas' hometown."
Mr. Taylor championed high-visibility, big-ticket projects such as Rocky Gap, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and Canal Place, an $80 million retail-and-office development under construction in downtown Cumberland.
He hoped to create, with public subsidies, a "critical mass" of attractions that would become the foundation of a tourism industry to replace lost manufacturing jobs in what was once Maryland's second-largest city.
Kimi-Scott McGreevy, a Taylor critic and Cumberland community activist, said people in the area became fed up with service jobs paying $7 an hour.
"Our economy is in tatters," McGreevy said. "People said, 'OK, 28 years and he did some positive things while he was in office, but the dilemma we face as a community today is that he really was not the man for that job and maybe its time to move on."'
Mr. Taylor also met resistance to a plan he endorsed for a horse racing track, possibly with slot machines, near the rural community of Little Orleans. And his key support for a law requiring handgun trigger locks and ballistic fingerprinting in 2000 soured many hunters and others in his heavily wooded district.
Delegate George Edwards, Allegany-Garrett Republican and a longtime Taylor ally, credited Taylor's One Maryland program, which created tax incentives and loans for businesses to locate in the state's poorest areas, for persuading ClosetMaid Corp. to build a manufacturing plant and distribution center in Garrett County. The project is expected employ 700 people.
"There's no question Allegany County got some things it would not have gotten were he not speaker," Mr. Edwards said. If Taylor loses, "We're going to have to work maybe a little harder and work to continue to get the things done in all of Western Maryland."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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