When it comes to elections and running state government, Gov. William Donald Schaefer can be considered a man of even temperament. Right after the Nov. 6 election, he was angry about getting only 60 percent of the vote. Now, nine days later, when he has had the time to ponder all the implications, he's still angry.
He was angry enough yesterday to ask for the resignations of his entire Cabinet, their deputies and assistants as well as all of his high-level appointees. The news leaked out after the governor went through a formal budget-cutting process before the Board of Public Works. Several Cabinet members, including Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Adele Wilzack, explained how they had arrived at the budget cuts.
The mood at the hearing was very much on the glum side. Public Safety Secretary Bishop Robinson, for example, was frowning and fidgeting. Crimping budgets is never a happy time for bureaucrats. But it wasn't until later that office-holders had more to worry about: the possibility that they might lose their jobs. "Black Thursday," said one Schaefer aide.
With a less-than-happy governor, no one was predicting the outcome. But the consensus seemed to be that Schaefer was on one of his spur-of-the-moment adventures to shake up everyone he could in his administration. It has been one of his techniques to keep people on edge, and efficient.
One highly placed official thought it was a move to curry public favor. "When this hits the press, there will be loud applause from everyone," he said.
That could be the governor's strategy. He remains angry about the message from the polls: that too many voters still consider him a high-rolling, somewhat-out-of-control big spender. The final though unofficial election results do give Schaefer a 20-point edge over his GOP rival, William S. Shepard. But the Republican captured a dozen counties, and the biggest one Schaefer lost, Anne Arundel County, ran against the governor by fewer than 3,000 votes. That's the sort of result that gets under the governor's thin skin.
Mentioning only Western Maryland, Schaefer blew off some steam when he complained that "the more you do, the more you help, the more you make them proud . . . all that is forgotten." Instead, he added, they label you "a big spender."
Chatting with reporters after he presented $127.1 millions in spending cuts for this year, the governor waived aside the question of whether he would take reprisals against against any county or region that didn't support him politically. "Oh, no," he said, "I will do just what I'm supposed to do."
He confirmed that there would be another round of budget cuts. "It is tight," he said, but he didn't think the next round would be as severe as the first. That will depend, however, on revenue estimates next month. Sales-tax revenues have been falling since July; October's were a full percentage point below the same month last year.
Schaefer agreed that he had tried to help Baltimore in his first term and that it hurt him politically. "I paid a price for it," he admitted.
The governor explained that he wasn't able to answer effectively the barrage of charges showered upon him, charges of his extravagant spending, and cries that it was time "to throw the rascals out."
"I couldn't counteract it," he said. Voters didn't listen, he said. The same elected officials he was trying to help didn't fight back against that negative image. And he didn't think his early campaign was aimed in the direction of snuffing out such charges.
If he had to do his re-election campaign over again, Schaefer said, he would do it differently. He praised his Democratic primary opponent, Frederick Griisser, for doing him "the greatest favor." The governor explained that it was Griisser who "made me aware that I had a serious problem." Griisser, with little exposure and next to no money, won 22 percent of the primary vote against Schaefer, taking some 100,000 Democratic votes.
In the end, Schaefer said, it was difficult facing a weak GOP opponent. "I ran against myself," he said. But it was suggested that his 60 percent total was of "landslide" proportions elsewhere. "It was in every state except Maryland," said the governor.
By the way: Whatever changes occur in the executive department, and however many there are, the General Assembly will see some changes as well. To replace Speaker Pro Tem Dennis (Denny) Donaldson, the talk around the House is that Speaker Clay Mitchell will back Del. Nancy K. Kopp, a top vote-getting Montgomery County Democrat. The move is a tribute to growing woman-power in the General Assembly, as well as a credit to one of the hardest working legislators. The final decision is made by the House Democratic Caucus which will meet next Tuesday. The caucus has to choose its candidate for speaker. Mitchell has no visible opposition. With Democrats in control of the House by a 117-vote margin, Mitchell's re-election can be considered a perfunctory move.