On a day when Maryland voters cut Gov. William Donald Schaefer down to human size politically, the state's long quarrelsome and submerged Republican party enjoyed a well-deserved rebirth.
The GOP moved one giant step forward to make Maryland a true two-party system. That goal wasn't reached but it was in sight in this coming decade.
"I'm ecstatic," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, the Calvert County commissioner who passed a chance to run for Congress for the unenviable task of binding together a fractured minority party that was in serious debt.
She took over from Dan Fleming, a fundamentalist and right-wing ideologue, whose narrow focus soured business contributors. Lyons, conservative but pragmatic, went on the road to show cowed Republicans how to organize, how to register voters and how to campaign.
She had help from loyalists like Dels. Robert Kittleman and John Leopold in back-to-basics election schools. Leopold, an innovative campaigner, was a rare loser yesterday. His defeat might be attributed to his threat to jump parties if he felt he couldn't win a Senate seat as a Republican in his northern Anne Arundel County district. His threat was not not forgotten and voters did not forgive him.
Before yesterday, the GOP was shut out of the Big Seven in state politics, the seven consisting of Baltimore's mayor and the six county executives. When the voting was done, Republicans took three seats in that inner circle, Roger Hayden in Baltimore County, Charles Ecker in Howard County and Robert Neall in Anne Arundel County. It is from these ranks that candidates move forward to run for governor and other state-wide offices as well as Congress. The greatest problem for the state GOP has been a lack of viable candidates. Their gains will benefit their recruiting for 1994 when they expect to challenge Democrats seriously across the board in statewide races.
Republicans got off the floor in the General Assembly by a net gain of two seats in the Senate and nine in the House of Delegates. They won't be a power but they won't be the abused minority of recent years.
If Democrats were slashed and surprised, they remain the dominant power in the state. Few leading Democrats will cry over the loss his congressional seat by Rep. Roy Dyson. He had lost the confidence of state party leaders. Privately, they tried hard to recruit another Democrat to knock him off in the primary but failed.
Democrats will cry over the loss of three county executive posts. That has to hurt a party when they had a registration edge in all the races as well as a decided financial edge. They lost because they got complacent and cocky. They didn't take the bumbling tiny GOP seriously enough in Baltimore and Howard Counties until it was too late.
Schaefer may take his victory with personal gloom. It may take him many days or weeks to get over the fact that he won a mere 60 percent of the vote. When an unknown novice, Fred Griisser, rolled up 100,000 Democratic votes against him in the primary, Schaefer was both angry and sad. He couldn't understand that many votes against him. He wondered why Snow Hill had voted against him. This time, there are 435,000 against him that he has to accept, as well as the 12 counties that went Republican.
It may be enough for the 69-year-old Schaefer to stop talking about future races. He will have a difficult enough time in a poor economic climate to balance the budget and meet minimum standards for funding. Grandiose ideas will have to be scrapped.
But Schaefer should give thanks that he ran against the GOP team of William and Lois Shepard, who couldn't raise any effective amount of campaign money nor wage any sort of imaginative issues battle. The husband-wife team made the Shepards appear as if they were out for a lark.
The Shepard vote was overwhelmingly an anti-Schaefer protest vote. In their second term efforts, all governors have their problems. Schaefer did as well as others have, Harry Hughes with a 62 percent margin of victory in 1982, and Marvin Mandel with a 63.4 percent total in 1982. Hughes and Mandel celebrated their victories. So should Schaefer.
Schaefer shouldn't compare his total with that of fellow Democrats, Comptroller Louis Goldstein, the state leader once again with nearly 750,000 votes. Neither should he try to match figures with Attorney General Joseph Curran who ran his margin over his GOP challenger, Edward Blanton, to 65 percent. Rather the governor should listen to the popular criticism about his years. Interviews showed people didn't like signs of his arrogance and pettiness, like his long and continued peeve with Mayor Kurt Schmoke.
The governor's spending for the mansion (even if some funds were private) was considered too lavish, and very much so when he decided not to live there. Voters remembered and sent their message in the only effective way they could. They weren't rooting for the Shepards. They were saying to Schaefer, grow up and shape up in tough times.