A zany year ahead, all right!

Bruce L. Bortz

December 31, 1992|By Bruce L. Bortz

THE Maryland political year ahead, as seen through my ver foggy crystal ball:

Jan. 4, 1993: In what he terms a New Year's resolution, Gov. William Donald Schaefer announces that he will begin reading all the newspapers and other publications he once swore he never would look at again. Observers say he'd rather read The Sun than cabinet secretaries' memoranda.

Jan. 23: House Speaker Clay Mitchell, hewing closely to last year's pledge (induced by an attempt by Montgomery Del. Nancy Kopp to dislodge him) to be more accessible, begins a new round of twice-daily press briefings. In his first session, Mr. Mitchell proposes to consolidate the three biggest state departments -- transportation, health and public safety -- into a single agency, to be named the Department of Government Services. Because demands on each of the three departments have been what the speaker calls "excessive," to the point of "burning out" state employees, Mr. Mitchell suggests the new department be open only on Tuesdays every other week.

Feb. 7: Bill Fogle, head of the Department of Licensing and Regulation, unable to gain a gubernatorial appointment to the one job he covets, state insurance commissioner, talks the governor into naming him to a $103,000-a-year job that matches his chief avocation: He is appointed state greenskeeper. Mr. Fogle promptly begins a statewide speaking tour of country clubs.

Feb. 22: In an effort to further streamline the legislative process, and to save the state money, House Speaker Clay Mitchell says he's eliminating live committee hearings for the rest of the legislative session. Under the Mitchell plan, all bill testimony is to be submitted on computer disc, and witnesses are to include answers to likely committee questions.

March 1: Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg returns, for the third time this year, to a fourth-grade social studies class at Wellwood Elementary School in Baltimore County, where he leads what he calls a "useful discussion on downsizing Maryland government." Later, denying press accounts that he has been receiving substitute teacher pay from the county system, Mr. Steinberg says that his numerous school visits serve the public interest, and that, besides, they shore up his political base.

March 9: Seemingly to make amends for his endorsement of President Bush just before the 1992 elections, Governor Schaefer purchases a new condo near Thurmont. He tells the press that his new home's proximity to Camp David will enable him to greet President Clinton when he's in town, and that he hopes to confer with the president often at the Thurmont McDonald's.

April 10: To patch up ailing relations with the public, and to raise money for the state, Governor Schaefer writes to associations and foundations in Maryland that hold annual fund-raising auctions and offers the governor's Camden Yards skybox (and his own presence) during Oriole games. Minimum acceptable bid, says the governor, will be $500. The governor says the move will raise $40,000 a year for the state. The legislature's chief budgeteer, Bill Ratchford, puts the figure closer to $3,000.

Sept. 16: Under continuing criticism from Larry Hogan Jr. that he remains out of step with the more rural, conservative constituency of his new 5th District in Southern Maryland, Rep. Steny Hoyer drops his patented collar-pin shirts and begins appearing on the House floor wearing a hunting jacket, with two springer spaniels at his side.

Oct. 6: In an unprecedented attempt to win re-election to the Senate, the usually low-key Sen. Paul Sarbanes begins a two-week basketball-dribbling walk across Maryland. The senator distributes daily press releases (written by him) in every community he visits.

Nov. 12: Montgomery County's legislative delegation agrees to boycott the '94 session of the General Assembly after Speaker Clay Mitchell creates a new study group to see if certain counties should be required to repay state transportation aid distributed during the previous four years.

Dec. 2: As the state's long period of austerity seems to be coming to an end, Governor Schaefer discloses plans to charter the Princess cruise line's "Love Boat" in January for a globe-spanning economic development tour. He says he would like his "friends in the legislature" to sign up to accompany him. Only Sen. Nancy Murphy, D-Baltimore County, sends in the requisite deposit fee.

Dec. 17: Melvin Steinberg campaign officials deny rumors that their candidate's next big fund-raiser, to be held at the Wellwood Elementary School, will be called "Schmoozin' with Mickey."

Dec. 23: Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, a gubernatorial hopeful not known for his charisma, tells the Prince George's Journal he wants low-key Attorney General Joe Curran to be his lieutenant governor running mate. Political observers quickly dub the ticket the "Sleep Team."

Dec. 29: Governor Schaefer, preparing his final budget, announces a new, combined revenue forecasting, economic stimulus, and crime-fighting program called "Maryland, Are You Buying Yet?" Twenty volunteers from each county are invited to Annapolis, where Mr. Schaefer himself conducts a training session.

Happy New Year, everyone, with my sincerest wishes to find Maryland politics half as engaging next year as I predict they'll be.

Bruce L. Bortz is editor of the Maryland Report newsletter and a political analyst for Channel 45. He writes every other Thursday on Maryland politics.

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