ANNAPOLIS – For a region that typically plays second fiddle to urban communities like Baltimore and Montgomery County in state legislation, Western Maryland has had strong representation in the General Assembly with Speaker of the House Casper Taylor Jr.
But Western Maryland voters rejected that power in the general election, voting out incumbent Taylor, D-Allegany, in favor of LeRoy Ellsworth Myers Jr., R-Allegany by 71 votes in the District 1C race, according to the first count conducted by the Maryland State Board of Elections.
A recount of the votes will be not be conducted until the state signs off on a recount approval, which should come at the end of the month, according to Mary Wagner, with the Maryland State Board of Elections.
The election of Myers exchanges the top position in the House for a less influential voice in the minority party of the General Assembly.
“In one fell swoop, Western Maryland went from the third-most-powerful spot in the General Assembly to the back of the bench,” said David Paulson, Maryland Democratic Party spokesman. “That’s where Myers will sit.”
“I don’t think people of Western Maryland saw results, except with Rocky Gap,” Myers said, referring to Taylor’s push for renovations and funding for Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County. “But you have to commend him for 28 years of service. To be voted eight times to speaker of the house by your peers is an accomplishment.”
Western Maryland voters first elected Taylor in 1975. He became speaker of the house in 1994.
Taylor did not return repeated calls to his office.
There may be even more at stake for Western Maryland than just losing the speaker’s office.
Taylor had pushed for legislation to benefit Western Maryland in the areas of crime prevention, employment and development.
One of his key projects for his home district is the “One Maryland” program of 1999, which provides state financial assistance to infrastructure and real estate projects in areas with high unemployment or low per capita income – two traits of Western Maryland.
Western Maryland’s unemployment rate is 5.7 percent, according to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. That figure is up slightly from last year’s average, but down from past unemployment figures that reached as high as 7.6 percent.
The jobless rate for Taylor’s own county, Allegany, is 6.9 percent.
Maryland has a 4.6 percent unemployment rate statewide for this year, according to DLLR.
Allegany County’s average per capita income of is $16,780, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while the other District 1C county, Garrett, has a per capita income of $16,219. The statewide average is $25,614, while the national rate is $21,587.
The speaker also had made efforts to curb the area’s crime by voting to ban assault weapons and pushing for a new jail in Western Maryland.
In addition, Taylor had pushed for more wiring of Western Maryland to the rest of the state through the Internet.
What exactly contributed to Taylor’s defeat, Paulson said, remains a mystery.
“There were a couple of exceptionally unreasonable and bizarrely adamant groups, for whatever reason, real or imagined, campaigned not to elect Myers but to defeat Cas Taylor,” Paulson said. One of the groups he cited was Citizens for Political Reform in Allegany County, a group that recognized the consequences of losing Taylor but said it believed he had become “too arrogant” as speaker and failed to work in the area’s best interest. The Myers campaign played on Taylor’s opposition to guns in the mostly conservative Western Maryland, which may have discouraged Republican voters from choosing Taylor. A lack of jobs in the area also contributed to Taylor’s defeat, Myers said. “You need to bring in high-paying jobs,” Myers said. “Anyone can bring in jobs that don’t pay well.” Myers may have also been boosted by Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich, who ran ads in Western Maryland asking voters to put Republicans in power to help him in Annapolis. To Paulson, the loss is still baffling. “What I don’t understand,” Paulson said, “is that this guy has done nothing but work hard for that district, which demands not only recognition but admiration and dedication.” – 30 – CNS-11-15-02