Whaddaya say, governor?

Dan Rodricks

February 04, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

To be fair, we must consider the possibility that Willia Donald Schaefer was misunderstood. There is a chance, albeit a thin one, that our excitable and eccentric governor did not say what he was quoted as saying last Friday.

In case anyone needs reminding, here is what was reported to have happened:

As Schaefer walked down the center aisle of the House of Delegates for a swearing-in ceremony, he leaned toward a group of lawmakers and asked, "How's that s---house of an Eastern Shore?"

It was a right nasty thing for a governor to say in public. And it certainly did not hint of the kind of eloquence we are used to hearing from Schaefer's lips.

Now, the politicians from the Eastern Shore are upset. They're aghast. The governor of Maryland kissing off a vast section of the state in this fashion -- as opposed to merely nixing plans for new roads and bridges -- is considered ungentlemanly and borderline loco.

"I was absolutely surprised," said Del. Kenneth D. Schisler, R-Talbot. "We just sat there with our jaws hanging open."

Del. Robert A. Thornton Jr., D-Caroline, said, "It was an unfortunate thing, and I hope that the governor was trying to be funny and not serious."

In fact, Schaefer probably was as serious as a Scud. He hasn't been a very happy camper since the last general election, when he garnered "only" 59 percent of the statewide vote and lost seven out of nine of the Eastern Shore counties to his Republican challenger, Bill What's-His-Name. The Eastern Shore hasn't heard the end of it. (Actually, no one has; for a guy who doesn't drink, Schaefer sure likes his whine.) Schaefer keeps complaining, sometimes bitterly, that the folks on the other side of the bay just don't appreciate what a grand and generous ruler he is.

This latest flap is just another example.

But, as I said, Schaefer might have been misunderstood.

Let's give the governor the benefit of doubt and speculate as to what he actually might have said.

For example, instead of asking, "How's that s---house of an Eastern Shore," Schaefer might have asked, "How's that s---house on the Eastern Shore?" (The governor, referring to the lack of public restrooms on Smith Island, might have been asking Shore delegates if they'd taken any action to improve the facilities. Remember, our governor is a Do-It-Now kinda guy.)

There is a chance Schaefer was completely misquoted and said something completely different. For instance:

* "How's that chicken house on the Eastern Shore?" (The governor, concerned about the effects the recession is having on Maryland's economy, might have been inquiring about the status of Frank Perdue's operation in Salisbury.)

* "How's that chick called Dinah Shore?" (Since he was speaking with other male politicians at the time, our bachelor governor might have been making a reference to the charming entertainer who advertises Holly Farms brand chicken, Perdue's major competitor.)

* "How's that ship bow on the Eastern Shore?" (Very innocent, the kind of nautical reference we make in passing almost every day.)

* "How much is Shell gas on the Eastern Shore?" (With the way oil prices are changing these days in the wake of the Persian Gulf crisis, the governor might have been doing an informal survey of gas prices around Maryland.)

* "How's the sound on Sheena Easton's tour?" (The governor might have been trying to stay young by staying hip, asking a freshman delegate whether tickets to the pop singer's upcoming concert would be money well spent.)

* "How's that titmouse on the Eastern Shore?" (An ardent bird-watcher, the governor never misses a chance to get a wildlife report from legislators from rural counties.)

* "How's Jim Rouse for the Easter Show?" (Here the governor was offering to secure an appearance of his friend, the famous Harborplace developer, at the annual wildlife-art and muskrat-skinning competition in Cambridge in early spring.)

So, you see, we could have Schaefer all wrong today. He might not be as offensive as we think. I acknowledge that, in the past, he has said some profane things in public. He once called a Baltimore reporter a "bitch" and a city councilman a "dumb bastard." Yes, William Donald Schaefer has a sharp, nasty tongue.

But he also is misunderstood.

So, today, I say we either give him the benefit of the doubt or we give him an interpreter.

And one, my friends, is a lot cheaper than the other.

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