Dear Governor Schaefer . . . ,

BARRY RASCOVAR

May 12, 1991|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Dear Governor Schaefer:

AIt has been quite a few months since I last wrote to you, but you took the initiative to call me the other day and I feel duty-bound to keep our dialogue afloat.

You chewed me out about last Sunday's column, which you said was highly inaccurate and one-sided. From your perspective, I ,, can see where you might take offense. You feel maligned and under attack from the press and the General Assembly. Every time you try to do something good, it seems to backfire.

But look at the situation from the legislature's perspective. Senators and delegates feel as maligned and humiliated as you do. You've done a pretty good job of making life miserable for House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and Senate President

Thomas V. Mike Miller. No wonder their attitude is hostile.

The problem is that there's no trust. You don't trust them, and they don't trust you. The same thing applies to your severed relations with your lieutenant governor. Without trust in politics, cooperation is impossible.

Last week's column reflected, to a large extent, how legislators and longtime Annapolis players view the deteriorating situation. Whether real or imagined, lawmakers believe you are out to get them. They cite numerous instances, many of which you say aren't so. Your staff, it seems, is doing a lousy job of communicating your good intentions to legislators.

Take the matter of redistricting. This is a clear example of the communications gap.

The M&M boys (Miller and Mitchell) wrote you a letter a month ago to bury the hatchet and work together on legislative redistricting. It was a sensible suggestion.

Your belated response last week gave legislators the impression you wanted them to have only a minor role in re-drawing the General Assembly's boundaries. Yet redistricting is inherently political. Forming a "citizen advisory committee" won't work. It has to include the politicians who are directly affected.

Remember what happened when you were Baltimore City Council President in 1971?

Two non-partisan redistricting plans were devised, one by Dr. Carolyn Battle for the League of Women Voters and one by Dr. Harry Bard, president of Baltimore Junior College. Yet when the plans reached the City Council floor, the politicians (led by Councilman Reuben Caplan) stepped in and drew their own district lines. You were part of that political deal, as I recall.

Why should the 1991 General Assembly feel any different about redistricting than did the Schaefer-led City Council of 1971?

The response to your May 7 letter by the M&Ms was instructive. Speaker Mitchell, as usual, expressed polite caution. He said he thought something could be worked out -- probably by adding more legislators to this advisory panel. Mr. Miller, on the other hand, was wary. He questioned your sincerity and wondered if you were serious about working cooperatively.

Both men had been singed before in dealing with your office. That's probably why Mr. Miller said nasty things to you at the bill-signing session. Nor has your shouting match with Mr. Mitchell been forgotten.

Still, there is room for hope. Legislative leaders -- despite their public rhetoric of defiance -- want to avoid a final split. They know that without your participation, redistricting could be chaotic. As one knowledgeable lawmaker put it, the result would be "as messy as you can get."

You can use this to your advantage. The redistricting issue offers you a crucial opening to establish a cool but effective linkage with the legislature.

And you can turn the redistricting partnership into a steppingstone to form other cooperative ventures this summer on the critical issues of taxes, land use and transportation.

You can't afford to let Assembly leaders draw up their own legislative agenda for 1992, leaving you and your staff to twist in the wind. That is a depressing prospect, one that concerns the state's business community. They see government paralysis.

But there is time to prevent it from happening -- if you're willing to display the kind of flexibility citizens expect of you as governor. Let the M&Ms make a counter-offer on forming a joint redistricting committee. Even let them have the final say on who you're naming to the panel. You don't have to accept the panel's plan. Neither do legislators. But at least you and Assembly leaders will be working together instead of bickering.

I realize you'll never feel close to the M&Ms, or others in the legislature. Nor are they likely to feel a kinship with you. But we cannot afford a fractured government.

If your final three-plus years as governor are to be successful, you need help from the General Assembly. Otherwise, all your dreams could be shattered, and your frustration will only increase. That's why this feud has to end. Neither you nor the M&Ms can win this fight. But the citizens of Maryland could wind up as big losers.

Best regards,

Barry

Barry Rascovar is deputy editor of the editorial pages of The Sun.

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