ANNAPOLIS -- A globe-trotting Gov. William Donald Schaefer tried to distance himself yesterday from his domestic problems by concentrating on his renewed fascination with foreign policy.
After refusing to speak with reporters before his trip to Kuwait last Wednesday, the governor held a news conference at the State House yesterday -- with the condition that he would only talk about his adventures abroad.
In addition, Mr. Schaefer canceled his weekly meetings with legislative leaders, virtually cutting himself off from the General Assembly at a time when the future of many portions of his legislative agenda remains in doubt.
"He doesn't want to talk [to the news media] today, but he'll speak in due time," said Paul E. Schurick, the governor's spokesman. "He feels he's been belittled in the press and it's not his fault."
Criticized for his irate reactions to private citizens who disagree with his administration's policies, Mr. Schaefer of late has given the appearance of a politician on the run, both literally and figuratively.
He was a member of a delegation of about 150 Americans, including U.S. Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher Sr. and Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, that traveled to Kuwait City last week.
The governor was chastised by lawmakers for leaving Annapolis ata crucial time in the legislative session. When asked about the criticism yesterday, Mr. Schaefer refused to comment.
"The only thing I will talk about today is our trip to Kuwait," the governor said.
Tensions between legislative leaders and Mr. Schaefer continued to run high yesterday.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, claimed that the governor had asked an aide last week to find a way to discredit Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and several legislative leaders.
The directive was aimed at Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, Mr. Steinberg and himself, Mr. Mitchell said.
The allegation was first reported by the Washington Times yesterday afternoon.
"I was told this by someone close to Schaefer," said Mr. Mitchell, who refused to name his alleged informant. "But it was supposed to happen while the governor was out of town and it obviously didn't. It's ancient history now."
Schaefer aides flatly denied that the governor ever made any such request and questioned who was attempting to discredit whom.
"There's absolutely no truth to it," Mr. Schurick said. "The governor does not play that kind of dangerous and unproductive game. There was no order, written or spoken, to discredit anyone."
While feuding between the branches of government is nothing new, it appears to be hitting new depths during this year's tumultuous legislative session.
The legislature has shot down several of the Schaefer administration's biggest proposals, including the $800 million Linowes tax-restructuring plan. Lawmakers have criticized the governor both for attempting to raise taxes and then for cutting ++ certain programs in order to reduce spending.
"In a way, I think there were a lot of legislators who were with him [the governor] four years ago who have turned tail and run," said House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington. "Some of the criticism [of the governor] has been overboard."
With only three weeks left in the 90-day session, the governor notified legislators yesterday that he would not host the weekly breakfast meetings with legislative leaders this Friday and next Friday.
Mr. Schaefer is reportedly irritated that his angry flare-ups at the private meetings, at least once involving Mr. Miller on a budget matter and once with Mr. Steinberg over the Linowes proposal, have later been reported in the news media.
A decision to skip the weekly meetings with Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Miller and legislative committee chairmen may not be significant since, according to some lawmakers, little was accomplished during those sessions anyway.
"As a practical matter, those breakfasts were meaningless," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, a frequent critic of the governor. "He'd spend half the time berating us, and people were getting tired of it, saying why do we have to go there."