Schaefer's dilemma

March 18, 1991

Governor Schaefer returned home from war-torn Kuwait on Sunday only to find his own political turf in disarray. A new poll shows the governor's popularity has dropped to all-time low -- 68 percent of Marylanders now rate his leadership poor or only fair. Every major piece of his legislative agenda has been defeated -- the $800 million tax restructuring packaging, the ban on assault weapons, an education reform package and the 2020 plan for managing growth.

In their place is an agenda crafted by legislators, whose animosity toward the governor peaked last week when his administration threatened cuts in welfare checks and blamed their unwillingness to raise taxes. Schaefer was out of town for the grand finale -- the Legislative Follies, which mocked his style of governance. But the point is hardly lost on the governor: His political capital is dwindling.

Nonetheless, to say Schaefer is in trouble is a vast oversimplification. The contentiousness that divides the executive and legislative branches portends three years of stalemate and finger-pointing, which clearly does not the serve the state's best interests.

Schaefer continues to insist that legislators, and the people of Maryland, simply don't understand him. Perhaps, but there are more effective ways to explain his ideas and goals than by writing and phoning critics one at a time.

Schaefer would do better to address the public directly in a speech, perhaps to a joint session of the state legislature which could be carried on public television. That would give the governor the opportunity to lay out the problems as he sees them, explain his priorities and what he views as the alternatives. It might not restore his former approval ratings, but it would certainly change the terms of debate and set a useful political precedent for the next three years.

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