Gov. William Donald Schaefer is to oratory what a tone-deaf piano player is to music. While no one can deny that he's innovative and imaginative when it comes to running state government, he's not known for possessing great communicating skills, especially when he veers from a prepared speech to an off-the-cuff rambling. He's a great one for skipping verbs and stopping abruptly in mid-sentence.
So it was with pleasant surprise that the governor's first two formal speeches of the 1991 session went off exceeding well. He pretty much stayed to the script on his inauguration speech and he seldom diverted from his typed remarks during his State-of-the-State message before a combined House and Senate audience.
His new image as a capable speechifier is attributed in part to the woman who composes his speeches, former United Press International reporter and editor Page Boinest, who once covered the very man she now writes for.
Her writing is tailored to meet the governor's needs -- simple declarative sentences, not too many polysyllabic words, homey images and, of course, plenty of boosterism for the state. The governor has been encouraged to stick to the script, and even Schaefer critics seem happy with his new eloquence.
Some time ago, the governor's penchant for rambling on like a never-ending train of box cars reportedly prompted one aide to remark to Schaefer, after a particularly dreary monologue, "You're beginning to sound like the Fidel Castro of Maryland politics," referring to the Cuban leader's marathon speeches.
This one's for you: A cheeky joke about state employees published in last week's State House Swirl column prompted quick reaction -- mostly negative -- in some sectors of state government. The joke, which was passed around the State House in Annapolis by someone close to the governor, implied rather harshly that state job-holders went about their workday in an uninspired and cavalier manner. Actually, the joke concluded that most state workers are downright lazy.
Well, indignation gives rise to inspiration. One anonymous caller who was identified as a member of the state government work force fired off this repartee: "How do you solve the crime and prison problem in Maryland? Put bars on the executive department offices."
Entering flak zone: To outsiders, the state government complex in Annapolis may appear to be an orderly assembly of red-bricked, colonial-style buildings and manicured lawns. But to some insiders, the area is a patchwork of friendly and not-so-friendly zones.
For example, the governor's legislative clique -- those who write and then lobby for the governor's bills -- get hot and cold receptions before various legislative committees, depending upon what bill they're selling on any given day.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is one of the most critical of all the lawmaker review panels. Those who dare testify before this group often leave battered and bruised. So in a precautionary measure, chief legislative aide David S. Iannucci came to a committee meeting last week to re-introduce himself and the others on his staff and to pledge to cooperate with the committee on bills.
Iannucci said he would remain standing at the testimony table because his words would be brief. Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City, who was chairing the committee that day, agreed with Iannucci. "When you stand," she said, "you make a better target."
Potty parity revisited: Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson, D-Montgomery County, is tired of women standing in line to use the washroom while men breeze in and out of the men's room. A bill she submitted last week, similar to one that died last year in a Senate committee, would require new buildings with public restrooms to provide that the number of toilets for women equal the combined number of urinals and toilets provided for men.
Lawmakers could start closer to home: public washrooms in the State House's heavily touristed first floor have five stalls for women and eight for men. The member's lounges behind the Senate and House chambers are even worse, with 13 stalls for men and four for women. Until a few years ago, women delegates had to cross the hall to the Senate washrooms.
Art imitates life: Artwork recently installed in the hallways of the House office building seems uniquely appropriate for this budget-conscious session. The lended display, outside the Prince George's County delegation offices, is literally made of money. Made by Landover Hills artist Donnie Ellis, the work includes a four-foot tall, winged man made of dimes; a vine-like structure made of pennies with glass-enclosed, crumpled dollar bills as blooms; and a 3-foot-tall vase of pennies.