STEVENSVILLE — Stevensville.--IF THE CLAMOR that resulted from Gov. William Donald Schaefer's remark to a delegate, "How's that s---house of an Eastern Shore?" proves anything, it's that Maryland's chief executive knows little about the Eastern Shore.
First, a review of the pertinent facts in the case: the governor made a bad joke, Eastern Shore politicians got upset, the Eastern Shore voters they represent got really upset, outhouses and a load of manure arrived at the State House, and then the governor apologized to the House of Delegates and hugged an Eastern Shoreman who happens to be House Speaker.
But frankly, a gubernatorial embrace may not be an adequate remedy to this thing. Across the Shore, residents continue to vilify Mr. Schaefer and publicly express fears that he will act vindictively against them. Angry Shore voters want the region to secede to Delaware. Amid the uproar, a newspaper in Easton has even outlined the impeachment procedure on its front page, though the writer diplomatically noted "it wouldn't be an easy legislative task."
One imagines the governor, a man who can claim his own Eastern Shore roots (he owns a trailer and condo in Ocean City and a lot nearby), sitting in his office on the second floor of the State House, mystified by all the hubbub and still wondering why seven out of nine Shore counties would prefer to be governed by a little-known Republican named William Seth Shepard who wanted his wife, Lois, to serve as lieutenant governor.
After all, isn't William Donald Schaefer the man who approved more than $229 million in highway improvements to the Shore since mid-1987, including millions to widen roads and build new bridges for U.S. 50 so tourists and their dollars could visit the Eastern Shore? Isn't he the man who tried to steer new employers to economically distressed areas such as Crisfield and Pocomoke City and who convinced the legislature to pay millions of dollars to dump tons of sand on Ocean City's beach?
As a resident of the Eastern Shore for most of 10 years, I claim just enough expertise to point out that Mr. Schaefer really goofed. Though the governor has visited the Eastern Shore for 30 years to go to the beach or go sportfishing, he clearly has developed some serious delusions about the region.
In an effort to promote greater understanding between the two ** disaffected parties (not to mention the continued sound mental health of Maryland's top elected officeholder), here are the governor's most frequent misconceptions:
* The Eastern Shore = Ocean City.
Telling an Eastern Shoreman that the Atlantic beach resort town is the "one commercial asset" in the region -- as U.S. District Court Judge Norman P. Ramsey did last month at Governor Schaefer's inauguration -- is a low blow, but it's typical of how "Western" Shore folks view their neighbors to the east. Sure, the governor has given a big boost to Ocean City business owners, but there are only about 5,000 full-time residents in that barrier island community. More than 300,000 residents on the Eastern Shore wouldn't go near the place.
* The Eastern Shore should be grateful for the highway improvements.
Spending all that taxpayer money on U.S. 50 and calling it a "Reach the Beach" program is equivalent to widening the Jones Falls Expressway under a "Get to Pennsylvania Faster" sign. Most hard-core Shoremen would like to blow up the Bay Bridges and let the fool chicken-neckers swim. (For explanation of "chicken-neckers," consult local bait and tackle shop).
* Eastern Shore residents should be happy the state has helped promote business.
Again, there are some people who want to see economic development, but many would rather the Shore remain firmly in the 19th century. As embodied by watermen and farmers, self-reliance -- the backbone of the rural Shore -- is the preferred way of life. (Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a movie theater in my county, but what the heck.)
* The Eastern Shore should be thankful for all the services provided by state government.
You must be kidding. In Talbot County, they cheer when the council decides not to participate in federally funded programs. Less government is the best government, the libertarian shore residents will tell you. Big-ticket projects such as the Camden Yards stadium and the light-rail line between Hunt Valley and Glen Burnie will never win you a lot of fans on the Shore.
* Look at the administration's Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts.
From the Eastern Shore point of view, it's the folks on the other side of the Bay Bridge who messed up the bay in the first place, so don't expect a lot of gratitude. Government programs that have restricted development -- and gubernatorial proposals to restrict it even more -- are not winning a lot of favor. Let's not even talk about the state's bans on rockfish and cheap handguns.
Finally, any animosity between a strong-willed Baltimore native and the Eastern Shore should be entirely expected. It isn't even very original. A fellow named H. L. Mencken is still much hated on the Eastern Shore, and he's been dead 35 years.
Peter Jensen, who now covers state government for The Sun, was The Sun's Eastern Shore correspondent.