Schaefer points out the positive on radio show Upbeat, governor still aims and fires at Steinberg, press.

March 22, 1991|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

The governor and his lieutenant threw open the doors of their separate offices today to welcome citizens, but one visitor wished the two politicians would feel more welcome toward each other.

"I wish they weren't feuding right now because there's just a short time left that they have to work together," said Lorraine Michael as she left Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg's office.

She joined a senior citizens group from Baltimore to tour the State House during today's open house, scheduled as part of the Maryland Day celebration.

The rift between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Steinberg became more public yesterday when the governor told WBAL radio listeners that Steinberg is not following orders.

In a half-hour radio call-in show, Schaefer tried to put a positive spin on the tumultuous events of the past few months, during which time he has watched his popularity slide in public opinion polls and several of his key legislative initiatives fail.

Schaefer remained upbeat during the broadcast, his first since an election season hiatus, and even praised the legislature. He did not, however, hide his disappointment with Steinberg.

When a caller asked about reports that the governor had said Maryland did not need a lieutenant governor, Schaefer replied, "I think we need a lieutenant governor who works closely with the governor. . . . You can't have the governor and lieutenant governor going off in different directions."

Schaefer said he and Steinberg worked closely together for 3 1/2 years. Since their 1990 re-election campaign, however, they have parted ways on several issues, including how they should lobby a wary legislature on bills that raise taxes.

Fresh from a trip to Kuwait, Schaefer compared a good lieutenant governor to a military officer following his general's orders. Steinberg, the governor suggested, is not following orders.

"I don't think the general, the big general over there, Gen. Bear [H. Norman] Schwarzkopf, would've said, 'OK, lieutenant, you take the Army over here,' and the lieutenant says, 'No sir, general, I'm going to take them somewhere else,' " Schaefer said.

Three weeks ago, Schaefer was angered when Steinberg declined to testify in full support of an $800 million tax package developed by a gubernatorial commission headed by attorney R. Robert Linowes.

Steinberg said he wanted to testify and ask lawmakers for part of the controversial tax package, since the entire bill appeared doomed. Schaefer disagreed with that approach and decided to address the legislators himself.

Their relationship has cooled considerably. In an interview after Schaefer's radio show, Steinberg said the governor has not discussed "substantive issues" with him lately.

"I say 'Good morning, governor.' He says, 'Good morning, Mickey,' " Steinberg said.

The rift poses a problem for Schaefer's legislative package, Steinberg said, because it undermines Steinberg's ability to reach a compromise with legislators on bills. The lieutenant governor, a former Senate president, served as Schaefer's point man in the General Assembly during their first term.

"It lessens my ability to resolve some of the differences existing between the General Assembly's position and the administration's position because I recognize that I do not have the authority to say, 'We can accept this' " while negotiating with lawmakers, Steinberg said.

The legislature, in turn, has given the thumbs-down to several major Schaefer administration initiatives this year -- the $800 million Linowes tax package, a gasoline tax bill, a ban on assault weapons and a statewide growth management plan.

Still, Schaefer looked on the bright side during the radio show. "A lot of good things are happening down here. You most likely won't find it in the press, but a lot of good legislation is being passed. There's a lot of cooperation," he said.

Steinberg said he does not feel excluded by Schaefer since the governor has distanced himself from reporters and top lawmakers as well.

Steinberg characterized himself as a convenient target for the governor's frustration over the recession and his popularity decline. Nonetheless, Steinberg said, "I don't believe that deep down in his heart he has a problem with me."

Steinberg said he did worry when a few national newspapers became interested in writing about the governor's behavior, including recent reports that Schaefer called the Eastern Shore a vulgar name, sent nasty letters to critical constituents and visited one critic at his home.

The lieutenant governor said he met with top lawmakers last week in an attempt to settle things down. "I became very concerned that this situation was getting out of hand, and it was detrimental to the state of Maryland," Steinberg said.

For his part, Schaefer appears to be trying to cope with the negative stories by avoiding reporters in Annapolis. He has declined to answer reporters' questions on several occasions recently, and apparently prefers to bypass the newspapers and talk directly to Marylanders.

On the radio show, he lashed out at The Sun and The Evening Sun for distorted stories and encouraged Baltimore residents to pick up the Washington Post, which he claimed treats him more fairly. "I suggest people in the city take a look at another newspaper for a while," he said.

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