Malkus plans memoirs on 48 years in Assembly

March 27, 1994|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Eastern Shore Bureau of The Sun

CAMBRIDGE -- Just because he's leaving public life when the General Assembly recesses in April doesn't mean Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr. plans to fade into the mist hanging over his Dorchester County wetlands.

The white-haired lawmaker says he will write memoirs of the 48 consecutive years he has spent in the General Assembly -- a record tenure in Maryland and a period during which there were eight governors and an increase in the annual state budget from $60 million to more than $12 billion.

A Roosevelt Democrat when he first was elected to the House of Delegates in 1946, Mr. Malkus was dubbed "Muskrat" because of his fondness for trapping and dining on the furry marsh animal.

Since 1952, he has represented Eastern Shore counties in the Senate, where his hair color and his deft use of parliamentary rules to push his rural conservative agenda earned him the nickname "Silver Fox."

At the reflective age of 80, Mr. Malkus is the first to admit that his pace is slowing.

He can't trap as he once did. He keeps his walks brief to avoid shortness of breath. And he has trouble hearing.

"Could win again"

"When you get to be my age, you're not as good as you were," he said. "I don't care what some of these people say. You're not as sharp as you were. I think I could win again, but I'm not going to put that issue to question."

Retiring from elected office, he said, will leave him with the time and energy he needs to write his book.

"I'm not doing it for the money," he said during an interview in his law office in downtown Cambridge, where he still handles minor civil cases. "I'm doing it maybe for history. I can tell about the legislature over that period better than anybody else."

The senator is coy about much of what he will write, but he said he will rate the men who have held the state's highest office while he was in Annapolis.

At the top of his list is William Preston Lane, who was sworn in as governor when Mr. Malkus joined the legislature in 1947.

"He was a courageous governor," said the senator, who voted for Mr. Lane's controversial sales tax -- the first for Maryland consumers. "He came into the governorship when nothing had been done in the state except for the war effort."

Mr. Malkus credited Mr. Lane, whose tax measure later led to his defeat, with providing Maryland with the money to build roads and improve education and health.

After Mr. Lane, J. Millard Tawes and Marvin Mandel rank highest on Mr. Malkus' list of the best governors in the past five decades.

Mr. Tawes was a fellow legislator from the Eastern Shore. Mr. Mandel, who did not always share Mr. Malkus' conservative views, was a hunting enthusiast who sometimes came to the senator's farm to hunt waterfowl.

And how does he appraise the current governor, William Donald Schaefer? He won't say, although the two men have been known to describe each other privately in uncomplimentary terms.

The only thing the papers ever quoted me as saying about the governor was that he's an unusual man," Mr. Malkus said. "And no jury will convict me on that."

The senator said he has mixed feelings about the efficiency of the modern state legislature and the power wielded by the people who work with the General Assembly.

"The biggest difference between now and 48 years ago is the part the actual elected official played," he said. "There isn't any question but that the nonelected officials that are associated with the legislature are playing a much greater part."

Staffs have grown

When he was chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the 1960s, he said, only two staff members were assigned to work with him and the other senators. Now, he said, committee chairmen have two lawyers and a half-dozen other employees to help them.

"In those days, the chairman stood on the floor of the Senate and explained a bill," he said. "At the present time, the chairman stands up and reads what the bill does, which is prepared by the committee's two attorneys. So often now, the philosophy of the bureaucrat replaces the philosophy of the elected official."

On the other hand, Mr. Malkus said, today's politicians are better prepared to deal with complex issues facing them in committee and on the floor. Stacks of reports and analyses of bills await legislators each day, he said, and there are

fewer chances for even seasoned lawmakers to pull political tricks with legislation.

He said that when he joined the General Assembly, freshman lawmakers often knew no more about what was going on during floor sessions than spectators seated in the galleries.

"It was difficult," he said. "You had a book with the bills inside, but you never knew when the bills were coming up until you sat in your seat and they were read across the desk."

During a particularly confusing day in the House, he said, cheeky lawmakers managed to transform an education bill for a Western Shore county into a gambling bill for Ocean City without the knowledge of the resort's representative.

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