There were moments yesterday when Lt. Gov. Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg sounded liked a candidate. Not for anything too soon, not for this year. He has a full plate as the chief legislative trouble shooter for his boss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
But as Steinberg spoke at the winter meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties at the Hunt Valley Inn, he touched on the needs of Maryland in the future. It was a piece of Steinberg's "vision thing." And it was those references that caused some of his politically sophisticated listeners to compare Steinberg to Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, a MACO speaker the day before.
Though it is a long way to 1994, both Steinberg and Glendening are regarded as the obvious and early entries in the next governor's race.
Steinberg stressed the need to continue to improve the state's educational system so that Maryland could be competitive in the 21st century. He talked of the need to brush away fears so that our society's leaders could sit down and talk realistically about questions raised by the Linowes Commission. He backed the recommendations of the 20/20 commission to damp down erratic and explosive growth.
Steinberg pleaded for "dialogue" on a host of serious problems. "We can't do business as usual," he said several times. His message was that reasonable people can reach the right solutions by sensible and realistic talk. "If we do business as usual," said Steinberg, "we're going to lose it. We're not going to be the best."
The lieutenant governor said that in some areas of state government "we're locked into mediocrity." He conceded that "yes, there is fat" in state spending. He admitted there are "ineffective and inefficient programs we have to cut or eliminate." And he won a quick and spontaneous burst of applause when he stated that "we can no longer have political patronage dispense scholarships."
Steinberg left the impression of a thinking man who was not locked into the politics of the past or the policies of the present administration. He was defending Schaefer policies, however, and it wasn't the lieutenant governor's "breakaway" speech.
One of those listening to Steinberg was Joyce L. Terhes, a Calvert County commissioner as well as the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. Many Republicans have privately expressed regret that she was so committed to party work that she was not available as a candidate for office. They would have preferred her over the GOP's gubernatorial nominee, William S. Shepard. And many are urging her to make an early preparation for a run in 1994.
Aside from sharing his vision of an educated and civilized Maryland, Steinberg spoke some about the parts of a minimal package of legislative requests that will be made by the Schaefer administration in a deficit-ridden year. The vehicle-emissions law would be continued, he said, with a sunset repeal. Reforestation would be an important part of environmental requests. A new energy agency would help manage that scarce resource. Though the budget might not meet APEX funding requirements, a mandatory kindergarten program for the entire state would be requested. There would be a gun-control bill, possibly including an assault rifle ban. Lack of safety belt use would become a primary traffic offense. There would be a compromise bill affecting the filing of asbestos-case lawsuits.
By the way: Democrats have some ideas on how to boost their voter-registration rolls. Republicans have been gaining on them steadily. This year, the GOP is planning a strong mailing campaign to woo independents to its side. More than half of them vote Republican, according to polls. With the GOP gaining more offices, there will be primaries for the interested voter.
The gift-giving champion, lobbyist Bruce Bereano, is back in swing. On the opening day of the General Assembly, his staff was distributing flowers, boxes of cigars and other goodies to lawmakers. And according to one report, he had Del. Tim Maloney, a key member of the House Appropriations Committee, as his guest at the latest Washington Redskins game.
Last year, Bereano averaged something more than $800 a lawmaker in gifts and meals. The figures are suspect. They are arrived at by averaging out all members of both houses. But a couple of dozen or more would not touch a cigar or roast beef paid for by Bereano or any other lobbyist. Some lawmakers go by other rules and undoubtedly accept generosity worth well into four figures. One new lawmaker asked why gifts were given by someone whose profession is to influence those elected by voters to be above it. The better question is why gifts or favors are accepted.
State Treasurer Lucille Maurer should not worry. The General Assembly delay of a vote for treasurer doesn't mean opposition. Former Sens. Frank Komenda and Catherine Riley are not runing against her. Delay was to protect the process.