Schaefer addresses rift with Steinberg over airwaves

March 22, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- In the most open acknowledgment of his rift with Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg to date, Gov. William Donald Schaefer compared his lieutenant governor yesterday to an Army officer who disobeys orders.

"I don't think the big general over there, General [H. Norman] Schwarzkopf, would say, 'OK, lieutenant, you take the army over here,' and the lieutenant says, 'Oh, no sir, general, I'm going to go somewhere else,' " Governor Schaefer told listeners of a radio call-in program.

"We need to work together, and that's very important. You can't have a divided governor and a lieutenant governor," the governor said.

His comments were heard on WBAL's half-hour "Ask Governor Schaefer" program, which resumed yesterday after an election-season hiatus.

While the friction between the governor and Mr. Steinberg has been evident in recent months, Mr. Schaefer has rarely spoken openly about it.

Last week, the governor distributed a memorandum to Cabinet secretaries that seemed to take Mr. Steinberg to task for not fully endorsing the $800 million Linowes tax restructuring plan, which the General Assembly has since rejected.

The memo pointedly included a photocopy of a section of the state constitution covering the express powers of the lieutenant governor.

The governor's comments yesterday came in response to a question posed by an Ellicott City man who had read about Mr. Schaefer's recent visit to a home in Catonsville. During that visit, Mr. Schaefer was alleged to have said that the state does not need a lieutenant governor.

The radio caller also asked whether the two men were still pTC working together.

"We worked together for 3 1/2 years," Mr. Schaefer said. "You couldn't find a closer team."

The falling out appears to date to last September, when Mr. Steinberg publicly complained about the Schaefer re-election campaign's decision to form a new fund-raising arm in Mr. Steinberg's name.

Campaign officials had hoped to use the new committee to expand its $2 million war chest. Mr. Steinberg protested the move as overkill and feared it would cause a backlash in public opinion.

The lieutenant governor ruffled his boss's feathers again when he agreed to debate Lois Shepard, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, after Mr. Schaefer had refused to debate his Republican opponent, Lois' husband, William Seth Shepard.

Mr. Steinberg, a former Senate president, called the governor's comments "interesting" and admitted that he has been rebuffed whenever he has tried to talk to the governor to straighten out their differences.

"I've had differences of opinion and position with the governor from the beginning. That's not what disappoints me," Mr. Steinberg said."The difference is that whenever we had differences of opinion, we were able to get together and resolve them."

The estrangement between the two men is significant because Mr. Steinberg has in the past been charged with shepherding the governor's initiatives through the legislature.

This year, Mr. Schaefer has had difficulty convincing the Assembly to adopt his most ambitious proposals and Mr. Steinberg has been left almost entirely out of the process.

"I have very strong feelings that in a free, democratic society, government decisions are not made like the military," Mr. Steinberg said. "In the military, independent judgment is insubordination. Here, the legislative process is about achieving consensus from differing opinions."

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