Republicans traveling to Houston for our party's convention have at least one thing in common with the Democrats who just returned from New York: We all have the unenviable chore of explaining why the band is playing ''O, Christmas Tree'' while our home-grown political stars are introduced to the assembled delegates.
For a state that has enough parochial pride to designate a state tree, flower, fossil, crustacean, insect, ship and dog, we sure do have a lousy song. And no acceptable alternative . . . or so I once thought.
In 1988, the Republican National Convention was held in a town that provided as much entertainment as the event itself. If New York is the city that never sleeps, New Orleans is the place where no one ever yells, ''Last call!'' During a break in the official program, my roommate, Sandy Harriman (a delegate from Laurel) and I (a lowly alternate) set out to stimulate the local economy. We found ourselves in the piano bar at the legendary Pat O'Brien's, where it's New Year's Eve every day, even at 3 o'clock on a weekday afternoon. Two talented women dueled at the keyboards while a hundred or so raucous Republicans sang along, loudly and off-key.
Someone asked for ''New York, New York,'' and requests began pouring in for state songs: ''California, Here I Come.'' ''Georgia On My Mind.'' ''The Eyes Of Texas Are Upon You.'' Even football fight songs: ''On, Wisconsin.'' ''We're Loyal To You, Illinois.'' Being from Maryland, and being inclined not to make fools of ourselves, we asked for ''Dancin' In The Streets.'' It's a crowd-pleaser, and it does mention ''. . . Baltimore and D.C. now.''
This only made the West Virginians (''Country Roads'') sharing our table curious about our state's theme. We wearily explained that our state song is too embarrassing, played to the tune of ''O, Tannenbaum,'' and peppered with racist lyrics besides.
With that, one of the Mountaineers rose from his seat and scribbled a note to the pianist across the room. He returned to our table wearing a satisfied smile. Before the next number, the lounge singer leaned into her microphone and drawled, ''Well, we have a request for a couple of gals from Bal-ti-more.'' After a short pause, she sang, ''Oh, say can you see . . .''
The whole room erupted in cheers and, in an instant, everyone was on his feet, and somehow the singing didn't sound off-key anymore. Sandy and I were too choked with emotion to do anything but stand at attention with our hands over our hearts like good Marylanders, just like Helen Bentley had taught us.
I doubt that we'd be able to borrow the National Anthem and get away with it in a more formal setting, but it worked at Pat O'Brien's that day.
At least we have a great-looking flag, right?
Carol A. Arscott is chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.