Us are really lame ducks," Gov. William Donald...


January 17, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

"ALL OF us are really lame ducks," Gov. William Donald Schaefer told General Assembly members last week.

Wrong. He's not a lame duck and neither are they.

"Lame duck" has been defined in different ways. Some commentators say a lame duck is an officeholder who cannot (or will not) run for re-election. For example, Harry Truman once said, "the 22nd Amendment makes a lame duck out of every second-term president for all time in the future."

The 22nd limits a president to two elected full terms. Before that amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1951, a president was legally allowed to be elected as many times as the voters approved. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four consecutive terms.

This term-limitation definition of lame duck is probably the one Schaefer has in mind for himself. But it doesn't apply. The Maryland Constitution only forbids three consecutive terms. He can't run for governor this year, but he can in 1998.

As for state senators and delegates, they can be elected as many times consecutively as they can con the voters into believing they're deserving. Sen. Charles Smelser of Carroll County has been elected to the Senate seven straight times. Sen. Frederick Malkus Jr. has been elected 11 straight times.

Malkus is retiring this year. So by the definition of "one who will not be back," he'd be a lame duck, too.

But he's not. The original and true definition of lame duck is: "an officeholder who continues to serve, after having been defeated in an election." In other words, someone writing or executing laws after the voters have clipped his wings.

George Bush was one from Election Day 1992 to Inauguration Day 1993. Jimmy Carter was a lame duck, 1980-81. Herbert Hoover was 1932-1933.

Herbert was a lamer duck than Jimmy and George. The latter two were in office for about 80 days after being defeated. The next Inauguration Day in their cases was Jan. 20. But in Hoover's day the Constitution set March 4. He flapped around for four months, nearly 120 days.

The Constitution was amended in 1933 to make presidential Inauguration Day Jan. 20. Members of Congress also were till then given their oaths on March 4. Their swearing-in was moved up to Jan. 3. Before this, members of Congress were often very lame ducks. Routinely House and Senate would hold an entire session after Election Day until March 4. The 72nd Congress' second session (1932-1933) lasted 89 days, which was only 10 days shorter than the 73rd's first session (1933).

The 72nd was the most lame duck legislature ever. The country was in the depths of the Depression. Republicans lost not only the presidency in November 1932, but also 110 seats in Congress. When those losers convened for three months of lawmaking on Dec. 5, 1932, a double line of policemen armed with tear gas and riot guns protected the Capitol against duck hunters.

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