It was exciting being a VIP, but Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg has now been relegated to the role often played by second fiddles in American politics: they are ignored and shunned.
In this case, Mr. Steinberg made a crucial mistake. He ran afoul of his boss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer. He failed to toe the party line in support of the Linowes commission's $800 million tax plan. That cardinal sin convinced the governor to put his No. 2 man in permanent purgatory.
Gone are two of the lieutenant governor's five staffers. Mr. Schaefer blames it on the legislature's budget cuts -- though the governor spared his own 109 aides. Gone, too, is Mr. Steinberg's prized chairmanship of the Maryland Helicopter Advisory Committee that sorts out disputes over use of helicopters for medical evacuation and police work.
This leaves Maryland's lieutenant governor in limbo. He's got an office (for now). He's got a car and state trooper (so far). And he's got a title (the only thing that cannot be stripped away). But he's got nothing much to do.
That's not unusual. Especially in Maryland, the lieutenant governor is a needless extravagance. Under the state constitution, Mr. Steinberg has no official duties. He is totally at the mercy of the governor for work assignments. His raison d'etre: take over if the governor dies or is incapacitated.
For much of the first Schaefer term, Mr. Steinberg was a key player, guiding the governor to sweeping victories in the General Assembly. But last year, an estrangement took place. In the 1990 re-election drive, Mr. Steinberg's name was left off much of the Schaefer material. And after Mr. Steinberg went public with criticism of the Linowes report, his isolation was assured.
Life in the fast lane was fun -- while it lasted. Mr. Steinberg is learning what most lieutenant governors already know: it's a figurehead post. Still, the lieutenant governor should look at the bright side: He has lots of time to speak before assorted civic groups and gardening clubs -- a real asset for a budding gubernatorial candidate. He gets great pay ($100,000). His hours are quite flexible hours. And he won't be blamed when things go wrong.
Jobs like that are hard to find.