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Mitchell to name Poole as House majority leader


ANNAPOLIS -- House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, has decided to replace veteran Majority Leader John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore Co., with a relatively inexperienced but up-and-coming Western Maryland lawyer, Delegate D. Bruce Poole.

Mr. Mitchell, according to legislators familiar with his new leadership lineup, also has decided to name another rural conservative lawmaker, Delegate Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil, to replace Mr. Arnick as chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee. That panel considers environmental and health legislation, including matters dealing with abortion.

Mr. Arnick, a fast-talking lawyer who barely won re-election in his Dundalk district, will be shifted to the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee. The job is considered a steppingstone to a judicial appointment, something Mr. Arnick has been seeking.

It was unclear precisely why Mr. Mitchell decided to move Mr. Arnick aside, although members of the House said privately that the speaker believed his majority leader had become "burned out" in the high-pressure job, unpredictable and hard to deal with in the wake of his near loss in the Democratic primary.

Mr. Mitchell also was under pressure to split off one of Mr. Arnick's two leadership positions so that other, perhaps younger delegates could assume a role in House decision-making.

The selection of Mr. Poole, D-Washington, who will begin his second four-year term in the legislature in January, seemed even more surprising to many legislators. Normally, a lawmaker with more experience is given the job of majority leader, a position second only to the speaker in the 141-member House.

The majority leader consults with the speaker on all "leadership positions" on issues confronting the legislature, decides which bills are assigned to the six standing committees, and is the speaker's chief vote-counter and enforcer.

Neither Mr. Poole nor Mr. Arnick could be reached last night for comment.

Nor could Speaker Mitchell be reached, although he confirmed the appointments of Mr. Poole and Mr. Guns to the Associated Press. He is expected to announce the appointments today at an orientation session for new legislators.

The other major change in the House leadership, announced at a Democratic caucus two weeks ago, involved the elevation of Delegate Nancy K. Kopp, D-Montgomery, to the position of speaker pro tem. Ms. Kopp had been chairman of one of three budget review subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee, a job that is expected to go to Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore.

The changes put rural lawmakers in four of the nine top House leadership positions, and women in two of the nine. The highest ranking black legislators in the House remain Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, vice chairman of Appropriations, and Delegate Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore, vice chairman of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee.

For nearly two years, ever since the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee killed a major telecommunications bill that Mr. Mitchell, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and others wanted, it was speculated that the speaker would dump Baltimore Democrat Anne S. Perkins from her committee chairmanship. Delegate Cummings was the odds-on favorite to replace her.

But under pressure from the women's caucus of the legislature, Mr. Mitchell first named Ms. Kopp to the speaker pro tem job, and then decided to retain Ms. Perkins as one of the six committee chairs.

Delegate Cummings also was mentioned as a contender for the majority leader job that ultimately went to Mr. Poole. Although Mr. Poole is relatively new to the General Assembly, he has attracted considerable recognition for his handling of complex legal matters while on the Judiciary Committee.

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