Schaefer's Short Coattails

September 16, 1990

Maryland's governmental structure gives Gov. William Donald Schaefer enormous powers, but it also establishes the General Assembly as a counterweight. Last Tuesday's election results guarantee there will be a large number of new faces in the 1991 legislature -- and a surprising number of missing faces who received strong Schaefer backing in the primary. Gone will be the Nos. 2 and 3 senators on the budget committee, Francis Kelly and Frank Komenda.

Indeed, for a popular incumbent governor who gained national acclaim during his 15 year stewardship of Baltimore City and cruised to an easy primary victory on Tuesday, Mr. Schaefer displayed a shocking lack of coattail power. If Mr. Schaefer, as expected, gains voter approval in November, he must take steps to avoid a long and frustrating second term at the State House.

Stalemate in Annapolis would not bode well for the state or this region. A governor unable to turn to the legislature for support of his programs cannot give Maryland the strong leadership this state will need in the years ahead. It could be rocky going for both Mr. Schaefer and legislative leaders.

During his first term in Annapolis, the governor feuded constantly with the General Assembly. Yet he has shown he is capable of changing. By calling in leading legislators a month ago to brief them on a projected budget shortfall and, by implication, to ask their help (which was quickly forthcoming), Mr. Schaefer signaled a possible new way of dealing with legislators.

There is little chance the governor can win approval of new or expanded programs without a more conciliatory attitude. He has to be more willing to let lawmakers play a true partnership role. He has to be ready to recognize that House and Senate leaders also have big egos and political needs. Those needs may be growing out of principle or vanity. Nevertheless, they have to be satisfied. That's just simple politics.

One sure way Mr. Schaefer can lengthen his coattails is to form the kind of broad-based legislative coalitions that will enable his administration to reach its goals and let other leaders share the glory. Otherwise, how will he get a higher gasoline tax passed to pay for new roads and light-rail lines? How can he revamp Maryland's skewed and inefficient tax structure? How can he help ameliorate Baltimore City's severe social and economic problems? How will he gain approval for the proposed $200 million overhaul of public elementary and secondary schools or the equally expensive upgrading of state colleges and universities?

A consensus-building effort cannot wait until November. It must begin now.

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