The governor's tantrums

Linda Cotton

March 15, 1991|By Linda Cotton

GOVERNOR SCHAEFER is disturbed. Not disturbed in the emotional sense. No, of course, I didn't mean to say that -- or to imply that the good governor of the Maryland is, well -- losing his marbles. I wouldn't do that -- primarily because I need to sleep at night. And I don't want to be awakened at some ungodly hour by a state trooper. Especially one who knows my name. And Isurely don't want to get home some Friday afternoon and find a Lincoln Town Car in my driveway and Schaefer standing on my porch.

For one thing, I don't make coffee nearly as good as Cornelius Hourihan's. For another, the governor would have to stand outside and wait for me to come to the door, and the disheveled wicker chairs I meant to leave out for the trash collectors last September are still on the porch -- which, by the way, also needs to be painted. It's not the sort of image I would like to see on the front page of this paper.

For another thing, I would not want the neighbors to gossip about why the governor was paying me a visit. Oh, they would know, of course, that I must have committed some act of political heresy -- that is, spoken unkindly of our leader -- not knowing what, specifically, but being sure, at least, that my allegiance to the American political system was in question.

Anyway, when I say the governor is disturbed, I mean agitated. As in angry. Perplexed. But not depressed, at least not clinically. (There, Governor, how am I doing?)

He is angry that the people of Maryland don't understand him and love him and appreciate him the way he understands and appreciates himself. Or the way Hilda Mae does.

He is irritated that we in the press call her First Friend and that people in the state don't share her taste in interior design. He is disturbed that his good works don't get as much attention as he wants them to get, and that his gaffes get any attention at all.

The relationship between Schaefer and the press has never been sweet. But it was not always this way; there were times when Don Schaefer reveled in public acclaim -- when he was the great and powerful Wizard of Odd -- mayor of Baltimore, donner of funny hats, builder of buildings, wheeler-dealer extraordinaire.

But being governor is a tougher job, more so during a recession which, by itself, has a tendency to make people a tad disgruntled. Schaefer, however, doesn't understand disgruntled; the world for him is divided into two groups -- those who think he's doing a great job and the sonsuvbitches.

Schaefer, of course, is not the first politician to take out his frustrations on the press or to see it as an adversary. But he is certainly among the first -- at least among leaders of democratic governments -- to harass the people who don't like his views or his actions. To call them on the phone, write nasty letters, even send the State Police after them for disagreeing with him or criticizing him in public.

There is, of course, the question of whether anyone takes this at all seriously. Or whether people view these gubernatorial trashings the way they did the sight of Schaefer in a one-piece swimming suit wading around in the aquarium pool.

Still -- who now will risk speaking out against Schaefer's leadership knowing the governor may strike back at any turn, in any way -- with all the resources of the state at his disposal?

Who will risk criticizing his political decisions -- a request for a new tax or a capital project -- knowing that the governor can, and very likely will, hunt them down, arrive at their house at dinner time or in the middle of "The Simpsons," and threaten them with a libel suit or strong-arm them into a debate about his political effectiveness?

The bottom line is that the governor's recent rash of tantrums -- regardless of how people view them -- almost certainly will have a chilling effect on what they say publicly about him. And that alone is enough to call into question the quality of his leadership.

I mean that, of course, in the objective, analytical sense. Which is not to say the governor, himself, isn't a great leader of men. And women, too. Or that he isn't a great booster of business, especially in the emirate. Only that lately he seems a little on edge. Which is not the same as being on the edge. At least in the emotional sense.

These days, that's the most a person with a ratty-looking porch can say.

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