Gov. William Donald Schaefer never met a constituent he wouldn't pick a fight with.
The governor, with a trail of 1,766 state workers' pink slips fluttering in his wake, took on the citizenry yesterday with unflinching sarcasm and hostility.
"I don't know if you have a child that's mentally retarded," Schaefer pointedly told a caller to his weekly radio show yesterday, making the point that it's expensive for the state to help families with retarded children.
"As a matter of fact, we do," the caller replied. "We pay for it."
"Fine, you're lucky," the governor shot back.
Schaefer may have to get used to it. His budget cuts have struck a deep and apparently unhappy chord with the public. State troopers, who face layoffs, heckled him this week when he announced $450 million in reductions. And callers to WBAL radio yesterday were almost universally critical.
"All we did was spend, spend, spend," said one caller, Steve in Elkridge. You, Governor Schaefer, are "a lousy manager," he said.
"Thank you, Steve. I appreciate that," replied the governor.
"I would say I was negligent for not seeing there was a recession coming," the governor added sarcastically. "I'm sure you're doing your part by spending, Steve."
Schaefer later defended the size of his personal staff -- which was not cut during this week's firings -- saying "an active governor" needs a big staff.
Perhaps you could be less active, suggested a caller from Pikesville.
"Oh, sure, I could be less active -- just have no programs," Schaefer said. "Don't worry about the people. Don't worry about the retarded."
Finally, a caller suggested that Schaefer and other top state officials should take a pay cut.
"I am not a wealthy man," the governor responded. "I don't know why I should continually apologize for the money."
Schaefer seems to relish the personal confrontations. He even showed up 40 minutes early to talk to radio callers.
Earlier in the day, Schaefer received a polite round of applause, including a standing ovation, from a national group of Chamber of Commerce representatives.
"You must be from out of town," he said, managing a chuckle.
"We have gone through a very, very difficult time," Schaefer told the audience, describing the protests that have haunted him this week.
His old motto, "Do it now," needs to be replaced, Schaefer said. The new one? "Get out, bum."