Session's winners and losers talliedTwo moods -- both of...

General Assembly '91

April 08, 1991|By William Thompson Analysis | William Thompson Analysis,Evening Sun Staff

Session's winners and losers tallied

Two moods -- both of them dark -- clouded the 1991 session of the Maryland General Assembly. When lawmakers weren't squirming beneath the weight of an economic recession, they were shielding themselves from the fallout of a gubernatorial depression.

Between the bad budget news and the bad vibes, the session, which ends at midnight today, was a 90-day test of wits, endurance and humor. So who comes out a winner and who crawls out a loser? Very few players will awaken tomorrow untarnished by the legislative grind. But some are more sullied than others. Here's a quick look at how some key participants fared.

GOV. SCHAEFER

Is William Donald Schaefer the biggest loser of the 1991 session? He may think so, because he's been boasting that he'll get even with House and Senate leaders who stood in the way of his legislative proposals, including plans to raise $800 million in taxes, to initiate a massive land-use program and to reorganize portions of the state bureaucracy. Schaefer began the session in a blue funk over the margin of his victory in the November election. Things only got worse as a souring economy forced him to make deep budget cuts. Then the media, perhaps losing interest in the session issues, focused on the governor's eccentricities. His letter-writing habits and penchant for surprise visits to critics' homes drew much attention. His announced plan to run for the Oval Office drew snickers. As the legislature pounced on his every move, he withdrew into his office on the second floor of the State House and ignored the political advice of those around him. Because he made his own policy decisions, most of his wounds were self-inflicted. Lawmakers sensed his vulnerability and moved in for the kill. Although it seemed at mid-session that he was losing his ability to govern, Schaefer still wields enormous power. At session's end, he reportedly is cudgeling his brain over whether to wage war against the legislature during the summer or try to act statesmanlike by concentrating on the needs of the state.

MELVIN A. STEINBERG

It's difficult to crack wise when you're walking a tightrope, so even the lieutenant governor these days is stifling his trademark sense of humor. Viewed as an outcast from the Schaefer administration because he broke ranks on the governor's failed Linowes tax plan -- and thereby committed the cardinal sin of disloyalty -- Steinberg felt compelled to begin his campaign for the governor's office a year or two ahead of schedule. Toward the end of the session, Steinberg spent more time in his old base of the legislature than in his second-floor office. No one's sure what the former Senate president has accomplished these past few weeks, but at least he's stayed out of trouble. Rumblings have it that the legislative staff he heads might not be around next year, leaving Steinberg virtually friendless on the State House second floor. There's even talk that Schaefer might take away Steinberg's state car and driver. That would be the deepest cut, because as Maryland's drug and alcohol abuse chief, Steinberg at least gets to travel around the state, which doesn't exactly hurt his gubernatorial campaign.

THOMAS MIKE MILLER JR.

Perhaps the best move the Senate president made all session was to force an early resolution to the abortion controversy, a carryover from last year when the emotional subject disrupted the legislative calendar with a bitter filibuster. By getting the abortion bill to the governor quickly this year, Miller opened the door for the legislature to address other issues. The Prince George's County Democrat started the session saying he wanted "to preserve the process," apparently meaning he wanted to keep the Senate under control. Though he did maintain control on abortion and several other issues, Miller stood by while his committee chairmen -- among the most independent critters in Annapolis -- largely ruled their own agendas. And, in the legislature's annual battle with Schaefer, the usually combative Miller rarely ventured to the front lines.

R. CLAYTON MITCHELL JR.

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