'What If' Politics

Barry Rascovar

October 28, 1990|By Barry Rascovar

IN THIS YEAR of the unexpected, when East and West Germany stand reunited, a quarter-million U.S. soldiers guard Saudi Arabia and the Cincinnati Reds reign as World Series champs, it is conceivable we could wake up November 7 with William S. Shepard as governor of Maryland. Possible, yes; probable, no. Yet what if. . .

* Antipathy toward Governor Schaefer is widespread.

* Voters resent his temper tantrums and arrogant bullying.

* Citizens are incensed by his free-spending ways and scared to death by the $300-million deficit rolled up in the last four months.

* Anti-incumbent sentiment ripples through Maryland like a tidal wave on election day.

All this combined could make Republican Bill Shepard the state's 59th governor. Were that to happen, what would the Shepard administration be like?

He would be the first Republican in office since Spiro Agnew 24 years ago, and he'd be the first to have his wife as lieutenant governor.

The Shepards have made a big deal about Mr. Schaefer's adamant refusal to live in the Governor's Mansion. They would make a public display of their mansion family life and use the house for a stream of galas -- especially during the legislative season.

Mr. Shepard, the retired foreign-service officer, knows about dealing with hostile adversaries. He wouldn't have trouble dickering with General Assembly leaders. The Republican's temperment is well suited to the task. So is his ability to listen to diverse views, then seek consensus. Flashes of Harry Hughes.

Power would gravitate toward the Democrats, especially House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Legislators would set the agenda, not the governor.

Even on administrative matters, Mr. Shepard's hands would be tied. He would be outnumbered on the Board of Public Works by Treasurer Lucille Maurer -- appointed by the Assembly -- and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who would call the shots on most board matters.

The comptroller -- not the governor -- would set the state's official revenue forecast used in setting the annual budget. Developing a rapport with the legendary Mr. Goldstein would be pivotal.

Finding good Republicans to fill all the vacancies in state government would be a problem. The state GOP has been shut out of elective offices for so long there's not even a decent farm team. Mr. Shepard would have to rely on others for a list of appointees.

Economic development will be high on the Shepard list, but minus a cast of thousands. The governor will use his overseas contacts, negotiating skills and language fluency to promote his home state.

Chances of ever building a $12 million golf course at Rocky Gap State Park would be slim. No state-built football stadium in Camden Yards, either. As for new light-rail lines, forget it.

The new governor's biggest headache: fulfilling his costly commitments in a recession. He will be saddled with a massive deficit. Digging his way out will require painful service cuts. State employee groups are sure to be disappointed when their friend, Bill Shepard, says there's no money for pay increases. They'll be furious when he announces layoffs. Build more prisons? Schools? A new detention center for disruptive juveniles? Hire new parole officers? New early-education programs? Delivering on these promises will be impossible.

Lois Shepard's pledge to root out wasteful state spending won't free enough dollars. Nor can the governor abolish entire programs or agencies without incurring the retaliation of the General Assembly.

No gas-tax increase under Bill Shepard; that's one campaign pledge he'll keep. Or will he?

The pressure is so intense for more road-building to ease congestion in the Baltimore and Washington areas that the new governor may have to find a way around that pledge. But the Linowes Commission's proposals on higher taxes won't get to first base.

Mr. Schaefer's fast-growing executive staff will be stripped bare. New reorganization plans will undo much of the bureaucratic expansion of the past four years. The focus will be on a small

number of programs deemed worthwhile. Other agencies will have to limp along.

The longer the recession, the worse Governor Shepard's chances of getting re-elected in 1994. But before he focuses on that problem, Bill Shepard has a far more pressing puzzle: how to pull off the biggest upset in recent Maryland history.

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