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Baltimore County to see big changes in coming year

'Tis indeed the day before Christmas and all through the Maryland State House not a creature is stirring, not even a Republican mouse.

Yet behind the scenes, Baltimore County politicians are anticipating big changes in the New Year, both in Annapolis and in the nation's capital.

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Here are some of the opportunities once we get beyond the mistletoe and hot cider celebrations:

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin takes a giant step forward when the General Assembly convenes in early January. He's been chosen to chair the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

That places Zirkin in elite company. He's made it into the Senate's inner circle with President Mike Miller, the chamber's dominant force.

It's quite a coup for Zirkin, who for years defied Miller on a number of bills and often found himself in the Senate president's dog house.

But ability and hard work usually pay off. Miller recognized that Zirkin possessed the best skill set to lead one of the Senate's four standing committees in 2015.

Transportation Secretary Jim Smith, in contrast to Zirkin, is likely to take a giant step backward once Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr. is sworn in.

Smith's tenure in his powerful cabinet post could end if Hogan puts a Republican stamp on the cabinet.

The former Baltimore County executive and Reisterstown resident will be looking for a new challenge — perhaps re-joining his son at one of Towson's most prominent real estate and zoning law firms.

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Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger also is expecting a step down in status. He has been on the House Intelligence Committee in Washington beyond the maximum terms allowed and probably will get the heave-ho.

That's unfortunate because the former Baltimore County executive has become one of the capital's leading experts on cyber security and counter-intelligence. He'll remain a strong voice on military defense and security matters regardless of his new committee assignment.

Congressman Andy Harris is looking forward to 2015 as Republicans gain full control of Congress. Harris is a leading voice against President Obama's immigration policies. He also led the charge to block legalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia.

In Annapolis, state Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, who represents portions of western Baltimore County and Howard County, will have his hands full dealing with deep budget cuts coming from the new Republican governor.

Given Maryland's dire budget situation — a $1 billion-plus deficit over the next 18 months — there's not much Democrats can do to counter spending reductions. Kasemeyer can, though, use his chairmanship of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to negotiate modest changes to help agencies most in need.

Similarly, Del. Adrienne Jones will play a larger role on the House Appropriations Committee, heading two budget subcommittees. She will be a strong voice for western Baltimore County minorities and working class families, two groups that could feel the brunt of Hogan's budget cuts.

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On the eastern side of Baltimore County, Del. Kathy Szeliga will be in position to speak out on behalf of the Republican governor. As House Minority Whip, she will be a vocal defender of the governor and participate in negotiations with House Democrats on the administration's proposals.

Finally, Don Hutchinson, president of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and a former Baltimore County executive, faces an uphill task trying to secure grant money for the zoo. The zoo has received aid from Annapolis annually, but the budget crisis may foreclose that possibility in 2015.

Hutchinson might have to use his fundraising skills to make up the difference from private and corporate donors.

Barry Rascovar of Reisterstown writes a blog, politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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