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Myers: 'I'm ready'

November 07, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

In between ringing up customers at his mom and pop grocery store Wednesday, Al Albert said he wasn't surprised that his good friend and neighbor LeRoy E. Myers Jr. will most likely ascend to the Maryland House of Delegates.

"I had a good feeling the whole time. I was pretty confident he was going to do well," said Albert, whose Conococheague store is in the heart of Myers' territory.

While few political pundits predicted the Republican newcomer's apparent upset of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., some of those who know conservative District 1C were not shocked.

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"It just shows that prominence and stature in Annapolis doesn't transfer to the voting booth. People just don't care," said D. Bruce Poole, a former House majority leader from Washington County who suffered a similar defeat four years ago at the hands of Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Some of Albert's customers shared the feeling that they were unimpressed by Taylor's lofty title, no matter how many state projects he had brought back to his district.

"It's time for Cas Taylor to go. I don't see where the man did anything for us," said Eric Hendrickson, 55, who described himself as a friend of Myers.

Such strong support in western Washington County and eastern Allegany County helped Myers capture his 139-vote lead.

Both candidates are waiting until today, when about 478 absentee ballots are counted, to declare victory or defeat.

Political observers said it would be statistically difficult, although not impossible, for Taylor to overcome the gap.

Taylor has not returned phone calls since the election results were tallied. An aide told The Associated Press he is waiting for the absentee ballots to be counted.

He is the longest-serving speaker of the house, holding the powerful position since 1994.

John Bambacus, a former Republican state Senator who teaches political science at Frostburg State University, said most people he talked to were surprised by the outcome.

"I don't know anyone who predicted this. A lot of things came together," he said.

Bambacus said he thinks the emotional issues of gambling and guns played a major role in the election.

Myers took a strong stand against legalizing slot machines, while Taylor wanted to put the issue to referendum.

Myers campaigned heavily in Little Orleans, where William Rickman is planning to build a horse racing track that might one day also host slot machines. Myers was rewarded with a solid win in that precinct, which was the last to come in Tuesday night.

Both candidates claimed to favor protecting the rights of gun owners, but Myers questioned Taylor's sincerity.

One of Myers' campaign brochures, posted at Albert's, showed a picture of Taylor with Bill Clinton and other Democrats at the signing of the 2000 law that mandated handgun trigger locks.

Bambacus said Taylor's leadership role may have ended up hurting him with voters who disagreed with him.

Both candidates ran well-organized campaigns, he said, but Myers did a better job of getting his supporters to the polls, Bambacus said.

Shank said Myers ran a "top-notch" campaign that was comparable to his 1998 defeat of Poole.

"If he wins, then he deserves it. He had a good message that resonated with the voters in Washington County and Allegany County," Shank said. "People want a delegate that's going to vote for their own views and philosophies."

Myers also benefited, along with all Republicans, from the strong support in rural areas for Governor-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said Robert Sweeney, who ran Ehrlich's Washington County campaign.

By all accounts, Myers had political disadvantages to overcome that were as large as the Allegany County mountains he frequently criss-crossed during the campaign.

In June, the Maryland Court of Appeals redrew the legislative district boundaries and pitted him against Taylor instead of the open district in which he had originally planned to run.

About two-thirds of the district was in Allegany County, which was unfamiliar territory to him at the time.

Plus he was a political newcomer.

But Myers, owner of his own contracting business, Myers Building Systems Inc., decided to stay in the race because it's in his nature to finish what he starts.

"There were days when I said to myself, 'You're going to lose.' I had to talk myself into going on," he said.

Myers said he talked to many people who could not see what Taylor had done for them. Even though Taylor ushered in a new state prison, Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Course and Canal Place, unemployment in the Cumberland area remained higher than the state average.

In addition, Taylor's projects did not usher in the high-paying jobs that many people are looking for.

Myers argues that if Taylor had been more successful in attracting economic development, his district would not have experienced the population decline that forced the courts to move the district boundary further east to the Conococheague Creek.

Redistricting did give Myers a boost by leveling the playing field between registered Democrats and Republicans in the district.

While some people have questioned how a member of the minority party with no legislative experience is going to do a better job, Myers is undaunted.

"I'm up to the challenge. I'm ready," said Myers, who spent Wednesday taking phone calls from well-wishers and members of the media.

In the end, Myers credited about 100 volunteers who helped get his supporters to the polls on Election Day.

"My neighbors. They did it for me," Myers said.

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