Winners and Losers in Annapolis

BARRY RASCOVAR

April 18, 1993|By BARRY RASCOVAR

It was a good year for one governor, and a bad year for another governor. It was a good year for the Senate president, but a bad year for the House speaker. It was a good year for the mayor, and also a bad year for the mayor.

The 1993 General Assembly session was filled with contradictions: surprising accomplishments and appalling embarrassments; tremendous high points for some leaders and depressing low points for others; great issues of substance but also petty politics-as-usual.

Most lawmakers went into the 90-day session with low expectations. After all the turmoil and budget battles of recent years, legislators were weary. All they wanted was a quiet, non-controversial meeting, a breathing space before the 1994 election-year session.

It didn't turn out that way.

The first half was dominated by the judicial nomination of former Del. John S. Arnick. Most lawmakers rallied behind Mr. Arnick, even after two women alleged he had made disparaging sexist remarks. A tidal wave of public anger over the legislature's protective attitude soon overwhelmed them. Bitterly and with great reluctance, the Assembly rejected Mr. Arnick.

They just didn't get it.

Nor did legislators ''get it'' when the public took umbrage over a legislative scholarship program that is really a massive patronage perk. These scholarships -- half a million for each senator in a four-year term -- are great re-election tools.

Given the heightened public distaste for legislative activity, state lawmakers took a decidedly low-key approach in the second half. They concentrated on issues of substance.

They surprised even themselves with the results: major health-care reform; a law that could require less-polluting cars late this decade; expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center; an independent state insurance commissioner with beefed-up staffing, and a regulatory mandate to get tough with Blue Cross.

William Donald Schaefer came away a winner. He impressed lawmakers with a thoughtful package of bills. His non-confrontational style worked well. It was Mr. Schaefer's best performance since he dispatched Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg to a government gulag in early 1991.

Two legislative chairmen also had winning sessions. Del. Casper R. Taylor stitched together the health-care reform quilt, an accomplishment that no one thought possible in December. He and Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly also brokered bills that give the insurance commissioner regulatory teeth and manpower.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller fared well. He clearly bested House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell in the one-upsmanship that dominated late-session maneuvering.

Mr. Mitchell took it on the chin. His reorganization bills, which lacked broad support, floundered. His plans to privatize BWI airport never achieved lift-off. His bill to establish a much-need gambling commission ran head-on into a stubborn Senate chairman, Walter Baker.

On top of this, Mr. Mitchell was embarrassed by his efforts to push a bill that would have benefited a friend and, indirectly, his ,, son's employer. It was not a good year for the Eastern Shoreman, who, to his credit, never let his personal defeats get in the way of his efficient management of the House of Delegates.

Also suffering defeat was former Gov. Marvin Mandel, whose lobbying client, the state doctors, got clobbered. Mr. Mandel had minimal impact on the shape of crucial health-care reforms. When other interest groups stepped forward to participate in crafting the compromise, Mr. Mandel was nowhere to be found.

To compound the insult, Mr. Mandel lost another big one for the doctors: passage of a bill, vigorously opposed by the M.D.s, outlawing self-referrals by doctors to diagnostic or treatment centers where they are part-owners. It proved a disastrous session for Mr. Mandel.

That's the way the session almost ended for Mayor Kurt Schmoke, too. His tantrum over language in the convention center bill nearly killed the agreement. It amounted to poor politics on the mayor's behalf and sent a message to legislators that he might not be up to the task of running state government should he win the governorship next year.

Still, the city came away from the session with the convention center bill, increased school aid, restored local health and police aid and numerous capital projects. That in itself is a big victory for the mayor.

Now the stage is set for next year's Assembly meeting before the statewide elections. It is likely to be a caretaker session, with incumbents keeping an eye on how their votes impact their coming campaigns. But this is an early-line prediction, one which may prove just as off-target as my prediction in January that 1993 ''may not be a year to remember'' for this General Assembly.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director for The Sun.

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