ANNAPOLIS. — Annapolis--The House Speaker was scandalized.
"His budget is hanging fire. His land use bill is hanging fire. His re-organization plan is hanging fire and he's off to Kuwait," said R. Clayton Mitchell, D-Kent.
While Gov. William Donald Schaefer was off to the Middle East, the speaker and others in the state capital were engaged, yet again, in the favorite parlor game of Maryland politics: Psychoanalyze The Governor.
This round of the game was initiated by another series of extraordinary events starring the state's chief executive.
Before flying off with the emir and other notables:
He had a State Trooper call Dianne Stenzel of Perry Hall, at 10:30 p.m. -- startling the woman, who feared her children had been in an accident; provoking a shouting match, and setting off renewed charges of Schaeferian intimidation. Her offense: she had written a critical letter to Hilda Mae Snoops, Mr. Schaefer's "first friend."
He had his welfare secretary, Carolyn Colvin, send letters to welfare recipients informing them of cuts in their weekly grants -- and blaming the General Assembly, which knew nothing of his plans.
And as if to prove that almost everything he does any more works out poorly, the governor had trouble stepping off an elevator. As the lift door opened in the State House Wednesday, he found himself face to face with Jaleh Hagigh, a reporter for the Montgomery Journal.
Ms. Hagigh says Mr. Schaefer put one hand on her waist, one on her shoulder and moved her out of the way, referring to her as "little girl." That made the newspapers, too -- though Mr. Schaefer, through his press secretary, denied the event had taken place.
And, of course, there was the famous "s---house" slur on the Eastern Shore. That event -- which occurred as the governor was entering the House of Delegates chamber for a speech -- has been remarked upon in the Midwest and translated into German.
At a political fund-raiser in Prince George's County last week, Mr. Schaefer announced, yet again, that he is running for president. There was laughter from the audience. (During the satirical legislative Follies here Thursday night, Mr. Schaefer's trip to Kuwait was lampooned: "Just what we need," said one of the Kuwaitis in the skit, "another time bomb.")
Here was a governor facing considerable unhappiness among legislators and voters in his own state -- announcing for president. (During the Follies, a mock rollcall was taken at the Democratic National Convention. Maine voted for Schaefer. Kentucky voter for Schafer. Maryland "respectfully abstained.")
Jokes aside, all of these events provokes a renewed effort to understand what is happening in the gubernatorial mind.
Why does William Donald Schaefer do what he does?
Assuming as many do, that he wants what is best for Maryland and his own record of public service, what strategy is he following? Some still insist Mr. Schaefer's occasionally erratic behavior is never without purpose.
For those who think he is disappearing off the deep end, a roll of the eyeballs was comment enough last week.
"It's sad and embarrassing -- for him and for the state," said a former legislator and one of his oldest friends.
Lorraine Sheehan, a former legislator from Prince George's County and former secretary of state, said Mr. Schaefer's performances have undermined his credibility -- though, by now, she said, few are surprised.
Delegate J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick, says her county has done well by the governor -- but some of her constituents find his phone calls and tart letters alarming.
"When the governor carries on the way he does. . . . The phone calls. . . . It's almost an abuse of power," she said.
Why, she wondered, would someone so seasoned in the rough and tumble of public life be so consumed by his critics?
"If I reacted that way," said Ms. Stup, a former council chairwoman in Frederick County, "I'd never leave my house."
And,it would seem, the word is out, far and wide.
A poll by Mason Dixon Opinion Research of Columbia showed Mr. Schaefer's position is almost the opposite of last year at this time when he was still the unchallenged colossus of state politics. Then, more than 60 percent of the respondents gave him an "excellent" or "good" job rating. This year, more than 60 percent graded his efforts as "poor" or "fair."
His relationship with Speaker Mitchell, President Miller and the General Assembly remains rocky -- and threatens to deteriorate. About par for the course, actually. But a sharper than usual decline began a year ago when Mr. Schaefer got into what turned out to be a long-running dispute with Senator Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the important Committee on Budget and Taxation. Mr. Levitan made jokes about the governor on the Senate floor, and his colleagues were delighted.
Does the governor think his tactics will frighten assembly leaders into submission?