Calling the Eastern Shore a vulgar term synonymous for an outhouse may have been only a joke to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, but one powerful Eastern Shore lawmaker said the barb missed his constituents' funny bones by a mile.
"They are absolutely livid. They are outraged," said House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. "There are a lot of people there who think he should be impeached."
Mitchell, a Democrat from Kent County, said the governor's off-color, off-the-cuff remark about the Eastern Shore was just the latest in a string of Shore-bashing incidents that have occurred since Schaefer lost the region in the November general election.
"He better act like a governor and stop this pettiness," Mitchell said yesterday in his first public statement since Friday when Schaefer asked a group of Shore lawmakers, "How's that s---house of an Eastern Shore?"
Mitchell urged the governor to apologize to all Eastern Shore residents, and the area's delegation to the General Assembly has requested a meeting with Schaefer to discuss the brouhaha that has arisen over the comment.
The governor has been in Washington attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association and so far has not explained his remark.
Asked yesterday why Schaefer made the remark, Paul E. Schurick, the governor's spokesman replied: "The governor was trading jokes with the delegation from the Eastern Shore. They do it all the time. They present him with jokes. He presents them with jokes."
But an unsmiling Mitchell, who is the symbolic head of the Shore delegation and one of the most powerful lawmakers in the legislature, called the comment "uncalled for, unfounded."
Mitchell suggested that Schaefer's comment was a "culmination" the governor's anti-Shore bias evident since he lost seven of nine Eastern Shore counties in the fall election. Schaefer won his re-election bid by 59 percent of the vote across the state, but has seldom let a week go by without making some reference to his disappointment with Shore voters.
Mitchell said he has been trying to persuade state officials that one of the six permanent sites for the fleet of Aerospatiale 365N-1 Dauphin helicopters ought to be located on the Upper Shore region. But, he said, Schaefer has refused to designate a site for the area because he has been retaliating for his poor showing there in the election.
Ever since the election, many Shore residents have speculated that the governor would show his displeasure over the election by withholding state programs and assistance.
Schaefer's crude comment on Friday has added fuel to that theory.
"They feel this is one of the ways the governor is punishing them," said Denise Riley, editor of the Star-Democrat, a daily newspaper in Easton that has sporadically feuded with the governor since last fall when it became the only paper in the state to endorse Schaefer's Republican opponent.
L The Schaefer administration brushes aside such accusations.
"Come on, that's not the way the governor operates," said Schurick. "He doesn't do that. It's not his style."
Schurick said the helicopter decision was based on need and cost. "Perhaps another Dauphin should be bought," he said. "Do want to spend another $4.5 million on a helicopter? I don't know the answer to that."
Whatever Schaefer's reason for his latest dart at the Shore, the comment is not sitting well, even with longtime friends of the governor.
"He's painting us like we're different down here. We're no different than people in Baltimore or anywhere else," said Roland E. "Fish" Powell, mayor of Ocean City where Schaefer owns a condominium.
Asked what kind of reception the governor is likely to receive the next time he visits the beach resort, Powell answered: "I don't think anyone will go up and call him names. After all, he's the governor. But they're certainly not pleased with it. When somebody starts talking about your home, it hurts. You just don't do that."