The Don and George Show

October 31, 1992

Maryland's party-line Democrats and Republicans are having a fine old time cluck-clucking over Gov. William Donald Schaefer's last-minute endorsement of President Bush. "He has forfeited his right to be the titular head of the Democratic Party [in Maryland]," harrumphs Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who no doubt imagines himself in that august position. "It may play well in 49 other states but it's not going to play well in Maryland," grumps Maryland Republican Party chair Joyce Terhes, a self-described "unhappy camper."

Before the governor is consigned permanently to the dog house, Marylanders should assess his decision with the calm detachment that is never associated with the Schaefer persona.

On a personal level, it has long been evident that Mr. Schaefer has minimal regard for his fellow governor, Bill Clinton. He finds him too ambitious, too much one of the "glamour boys" and, besides that, he is too young, too far removed from the World War II in which the Bush-Schaefer generation served. When the choice in the Maryland primary last March was between Mr. Clinton and austere, awkward Paul Tsongas, Mr. Schaefer opted easily for the former Massachusetts senator.

Yet even then his heart was with President Bush. He empathized and identified with Mr. Bush's sudden plunge from popularity, with the trashing he was getting in the press, with the blame he was taking for the recession. George Bush was Don Schaefer writ large. He had known the president for a long time and liked him.

Now for the politics of this intriguing situation. Downside, Democratic leaders in the General Assembly may have a bit more trouble getting enough legislators to sign onto the $147 million state deficit-reduction plan Mr. Schaefer is backing. Upside, even if President Bush loses, Mr. Schaefer may get some goodies from the lame-duck White House -- say, a nice deal on the Maryland Economic Development Corp.'s bid to buy the old Bainbridge Naval Training Station in Cecil County and some much-desired transportation contracts. Recently, the administration has been generous with Maryland in granting a money-saving welfare waiver and approving a $75 million Medicaid payment.

Mr. Schaefer, as mayor and governor for 22 years, has made it a practice of getting along with presidents, be they Republicans or Democrats. If he has forfeited his opportunity with a President Clinton, there are plenty of well-placed Democrats in Congress and Clinton-buddy Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to protect the state's interests. This is no big deal, but it sure touches hearts and


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