Was Schaefer 'Disloyal'?

November 14, 1992

To diehard Democratic Party loyalists, the answer to the headlined question above is an emphatic "yes." Gov. William Donald Schaefer, in their view, betrayed the state Democratic Party of which he is the so-called titular leader when he flew to St. Louis four days before the Nov. 3 election to endorse Republican George Bush for president.

There were some outraged members of the Democratic State Central Committee who wanted to censure him last Saturday, run him out of the party and, for all we know, tar and feather him and exile him to some GOP stronghold like Utah. Such was their umbrage, and their forgetfulness about past services from the pariah governor, that it took cooler old pros to prevent the committee from going off half-cocked. In the end, they dismissed the governor as not worthy of their time.

Most humble, ordinary, rank-and-file Marylanders, we suspect, did not share the hot sentiments of the ultra-loyalists. They expect and even savor antic behavior from the most colorful state figure of the past quarter-century. As habitual ticket-splitters, they do not feel that stamp-licking or door-bell ringing or even fat contributions by the party faithful require a governor to give up his basic rights to think, to speak, to vote, yea, even to endorse someone of a different political persuasion.

Anyone familiar with Mr. Schaefer's long political career knows that the governor has never been a Democratic Party fanatic. He'd sooner visit Delaware than attend a Democratic National Convention. He doesn't hate Republicans as a matter of deeply rooted conviction, and in fact some of them are among his best friends. An example was Mr. Schaefer's all-but-public embrace of former Anne Arundel County executive Robert Pascal in his losing 1984 bid for governor. Mr. Schaefer went to great lengths to protect Republican Helen Bentley from serious redistricting problems, even though it helped defeat Democrat Tom McMillen.

It is Maryland's worst-kept secret that Mr. Schaefer has minimal regard for President-elect Clinton and likes President Bush, feels a generational identity with him and appreciated what goodies he can get from him for the state. So when a frantic Bush White House asked for his open support, Don Schaefer did what many of his fellow Democratic pols consider unforgivable: he endorsed a Republican!

Actually, Mr. Schaefer was conforming to old patterns in this free-thinking state. Despite the party registration tilt, Maryland Democrats have a long history of swinging the state over to such GOP notables as Thomas Dewey, Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, John Marshall Butler, J. Glenn Beall Sr. and Jr., Spiro Agnew, Charles McC. Mathias, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and, in 1988, George Bush.

That William Donald Schaefer should decide to put conscience and feelings over party affiliation is in the grand Maryland tradition of political iconoclasm. Long may it thrive!

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