Of lame ducks, arrogant pols and prospects for '94

On Maryland Politics

November 07, 1990|By Peter Kumpa

SOME LEFTOVERS from the 1990 campaign:

* Few comments made Gov. William Donald Schaefer angrier this year than references to him as "a lame duck" for the next four years. He's right. He isn't. The term refers to an officeholder soon to leave office because of an election defeat or a statutory limit in office.

True, the governor can't run for another term. But four years is too long a life for a lame duck. The description was used primarily to describe outgoing presidents before the 20th amendment to the Constitution in 1933. When a new president was elected in November, the old or "lame-duck" president would hold office until the following March. His appointments were referred to as "lame-duck appointments."

The term, according to William Safire's "The New Language of Politics," was imported from Britain, where it originally meant a bankrupt businessman. It evolved here to indicate bankrupt politicians.

Aquatic birds have made an invaluable contribution to American political slang, from the vulnerable "sitting duck" to the terminally "dead duck."

* The governor is also correct to complain about those "last hurrah" descriptions of his campaign. The term refers to the last, losing campaign of a dominant, controversial figure. It was the title of a novel by Edwin O'Connor based on the career of Boston mayor James Michael Curley, who so close to his people that he could win re-election from a prison cell. O'Connor took the word "hurrah" from the "hurrah boys" of 1828 and 1832, the loud and boisterous supporters of Andrew Jackson.

* The "arrogant" label was tossed around freely in the campaign. But choosing a winner for the Most Arrogant Award of 1990 isn't easy.

Schaefer's anger over the 100,000 Democrats who voted against him in the primary was a splendid example of political arrogance. But what about the designers of the governor's "Campaign for Maryland," who believed they could get through an election season without talking issues but simply by coaxing volunteers for do-good projects?

Or how about Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer, who couldn't believe voters would prefer an old Humpty Dumpty like Neal Potter? Though Kramer pushed a spoil sport write-in campaign, he wasn't alone. There were also write-in campaigns by such primary losers as former state Sen. Tommie Broadwater and Senators Frank Shore and Margaret Schweinhaut.

Right up there in the running for most arrogant would have to be William Shepard, the GOP gubernatorial nominee who couldn't find a single Republican out of the 606,594 registered state party members who was as well qualified as his wife to be lieutenant governor.

* After speaking out on what they felt was the great moral issue of the day, we still wonder why none of the 16 pro-life senators who filibustered this year mentioned their high-ground position in their re-election campaign literature.

* So you didn't vote yesterday? Congratulations! You belong to the fastest growing political faction in the country, the non-voter. Non-voters have been increasing in numbers for 30 years. The 1988 presidential election, in which only 51 percent of voters turned out, was the worst showing since 1924, when only 24 percent did.

Turnout at mid-term elections is always lower. According to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, this year's primary turnout nationally was about the same as in 1986, a bit under 20 percent. Registration has slipped since then. When the totals for this year's general election are added up, the figures are expected to be the same as four years ago. That means that some 115 million eligible Americans won't bother to exercise their right to vote.

We don't have a scientific poll to support it, but we'd bet that the loudest grumblers about state and local government are those who stay away from the polls.

* The governor may have slighted his running mate, Lt. Gov. Melvin ("Micky") Steinberg, during the campaign. How often did you see the two together in television ads? We can't remember one. Some of Schaefer's offhand remarks had to hurt Steinberg. Still, long-time state political watchers don't see Steinberg damaged for any 1994 gubernatorial effort. The Schaefer snubs may actually help him.

Four years hence, Steinberg will be an obvious contender for the governor's office, along with Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, a rare three-time winner. Glendening partisans are already pointing out his strength in the county, where he regularly carries predominantly black as well as white districts.

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