ASSEMBLY: Personalities and Institutions

April 14, 1991|By C. FRASER SMITH

ANNAPOLIS — Annapolis.-- After the celebratory confetti fell into his thinning hair last Monday, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. made clear how he felt about the just-concluded 1991 legislative session, a session characterized by tight budgets and short tempers.

"Personalities come. Personalities will go," he said. "The institution will go on forever."

His reference was to government leaders in general and in particular to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the dominant personality of Maryland politics.

By stating his confidence that government would endure, Mr. Mitchell seemed anxious to counter any suggestion that it would founder in a sea of legislative-executive acrimony.

The governor had taken the extraordinary step of insisting in a newspaper interview that he is sane. His aides say they are confident he will come back to balance, as one of them put it, suggesting that the return is not complete.

"He will grimace and do the right thing," said one of the governor's closest advisers. But he added that the governor's anger this time had moved into "uncharted territory."

That possibility is not new, of course. The governor and the legislators have been squabbling more or less continually for the last four years. This year, though, the fight spilled over to the general public and Mr. Schaefer vented spleen at will, writing letters, making visits and communicating to the world beyond Annapolis what Mr. Mitchell and others here have heard often in the past.

And the fight ended with both sides rushing to the lawyers and the state Constitution to reacquaint themselves with the powers of their branches.

"It's not so much a matter of trust," said one House committee chairman. "It's a question of the man's stability."

On occasion, Mr. Schaefer has seemed to enjoy the chaos. Senator Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery, said, "I think both sides enjoy the escalation."

Mr. Schaefer finished the session threatening to veto bills wholesale.

Hoping to disarm him, the assembly embedded controversial bills in a nest of initiatives the governor has said he wants.

Also, hoping to find out early what he had in mind for their legislative enactments, legislative leaders sent him a batch of bills early, a parliamentary action that deliberately started the clock of consideration early. The governor is required to consider these "presentment" bills more quickly, and if he plans retaliatory vetoes the assembly could return quickly to undo his work.

That idea was abandoned after an early trial. Calmer voices suggested the goal of good government was not served by putting an angry governor against the wall.

At his final press conference of the legislative season last Monday, the governor offered at least a partial truce.

As the assembly itself adjourned a few hours earlier, Speaker Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, invited Mr. Schaefer to join them in preparing a plan for re-drawing the state's legislative district lines. Since that chore has the potential to widen splits between executive and legislative branches, the offer seemed significant amid the sturm and drang of the moment.

Mr. Schaefer said at his press conference that he has not decided entirely on how he should "act and react" in the future. And his staff says the governor has made no specific decisions about how he will approach the assembly on a wide range of issues, including re-districting, tax policy, controlling growth and taking the veto ax to bills passed by the assembly over the last three months.

"It simply is unclear what the governor's decision will be about working with the legislature in the future. We need some more time," said David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief legislative aide.

Where does that remarkable situation leave Maryland?

Sorting through the work of government over the last 90 days, a concerned citizen might be struck by the extent to which adult men and women pouted and plotted at high levels to get even for petty slights real and imagined.

Nevertheless, the state and its governor are probably far better off than they might be.

When the House of Delegates and the state Senate killed his tax proposal -- a major restructuring proposed in a study by the so-called Linowes Commission -- early in the session, influential members of both houses said the proposals would almost certainly have to pass and probably soon.

It had been a year, to be sure, when the assembly threw open every cupboard door in search of rainy, sunny and every day funds. Some $500 million had to be removed from spending plans of 1991 and 1992.

Commending his Appropriations Committee Chairman, Delegate Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, Mr. Mitchell said, "You had to balance not one but two budgets this year."

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