Schaefer makes humbling House call Gov. seeks support for car theft bill STATE HOUSE REPORT

April 10, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

William Donald Schaefer turned on his charm yesterday and went a-courting.

The subject of his interest was the House of Delegates, which held the future of his car theft prevention program in its hands.

First the smiling governor made a surprise visit to the House floor, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with the rank and file.

"How's everything? How's everything?" he asked as delegates filed past him into their chamber for the morning session.

Some were clearly startled. After all, Mr. Schaefer is more given to using vinegar than honey when he wants to get his way.

Two hours later, the governor, who has turned temper tantrums into an art form, made a humble appeal to the Judiciary Committee. Please, please, approve the anti-theft program, he said.

He stood as he addressed the panel, hands in pockets, and spoke in even, conciliatory tones. "I feel so strongly about this. I really feel very strong about this."

Understandably. For one thing, the committee had already killed the program not once but twice, mostly recently on Thursday. This was the same panel that angered him in February by summarily killing three of his other bills without giving his staff time to propose changes.

But here the governor was, with his top aides and his best arguments, trying to charm the delegates into reversing themselves.

The program would provide grants for theft prevention activities. The emphasis would be on teen-agers, who were responsible for more than half of the 36,000 cars stolen in Maryland last year.

Mr. Schaefer said he understood that lawmakers didn't like his first plan for funding the program, which would have put a $1 charge on each car insured in Maryland.

So he had come up with a new way to pay for it. With the legislature's permission, he would divert $1.5 million in essentially "surplus" funds in the budget. No other program would be hurt, and the budget would stay balanced, he promised.

"I understand I may be making a mistake, but if I didn't feel so doggone strong about crime on the streets, if I didn't worry about juveniles entering the criminal justice system, I wouldn't be making a last-minute plea."

The governor even kept his cool under a cross-examination by committee member Louis L. DePazzo, the crusty Democrat from Dundalk who delights in needling Mr. Schaefer.

Mr. DePazzo demanded to know why the governor and his public safety chief failed to ask private businesses to pay for the program.

The governor calmly explained that it was a judgment call -- and "error" -- on his part.

Three hours later, all the committee members except Mr. DePazzo voted to let their earlier rejections of the program stand.

Mr. DePazzo wanted to give the governor a break: "The first time I felt that someone told me the truth and nothing but the truth was when the governor told me he screwed this thing up. I think he's genuinely concerned, and that's good enough for me."

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