The night an era ended amid a sea of dry eyes

THE POLITICAL GAME

April 13, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

A historic era -- often stormy, occasionally tumultuous, frequently productive -- ended at midnight Monday and next to no one rose to the occasion.

The best that could be said for the lifeless ceremony marking the final leave-taking between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly was that nobody faked it, at least not much.

After eight years, barring a special session, the legislature and the governor have seen the last of each other. Mr. Schaefer cannot succeed himself.

The ceremonial highlights of the informal joint session after adjournment included short speeches by the governor, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

All three made game but lame efforts to capture the moment.

The speaker, who is close to Mr. Schaefer, called the governor "the most dedicated, committed and compassionate elected official that I have ever known."

Mr. Miller, who has had storied run-ins with the chief executive, said Mr. Schaefer had "left his mark in every corner of the state." On behalf of himself and Mr. Taylor, he gave the governor a fishing rod and tackle box so he can pursue his avocation in the years ahead.

The governor, with trademark ineloquence, commended the legislature for its hard work and cooperation, if not every step of ,, the way, at least along many of the more important programmatic paths. He mentioned roads on the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland built through executive-legislative partnership, and gave each member a book highlighting other joint achievements.

"You couldn't have done this without us, we couldn't have done this without you," he said, hammering home the obvious.

The governor rang down the curtain with the words, "Godspeed, work hard, get re-elected, look forward to working with you in the future," the last part seeming to hint at some undefined role he sees for himself down the road.

Even at the most routine post-adjournment ceremonies, there are normally tears and hugs and chorus after chorus of Auld Lang Syne. But not this time. Most of the 47 senators and 141 delegates there were dry-eyed.

Afterward, a few lawmakers offered explanations for the dour tone of the event. "I think there was emotion, but it was subdued, very subdued," said Del. Hattie N. Harrison, a Baltimore Democrat. "Well, it's late, people are tired," said Del. Thomas H. Hattery, a Democrat from Mount Airy. "It hasn't hit us yet."

One lawmaker, Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's County, an Irish romantic with a sense of history, was an exception. It hit him. Normally glib, an insider's insider, Mr. Maloney, asked his reaction to the passing of the Schaefer era, just stood there, eyes red and teary, unable to speak.

Mr. Schaefer may never get a more touching or heartfelt salute.

An Annapolis tale

A few weeks back, Del. Peter G. Callas spotted Chesapeake Bay Foundation lobbyist Jane Nishida in the State House as he pushed his bill to establish English as the state's official language.

"Jane," the Hagerstown Democrat said to Ms. Nishida, "you speak good English. Where did you learn to speak English?"

Ms. Nishida explained to Mr. Callas that she had been educated in his country -- and hers. She's a third generation Japanese-American, her forebears coming to America around the turn of the century. That's about the same time Mr. Callas' father arrived from Greece, give or take a year or two either way.

A graduate of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., Ms. Nishida as a child lived all over the world as her late father was with the foreign service.

"The U.S. Foreign Service," she deadpanned.

Ms. Nishida said she wasn't offended by Mr. Callas' question. "Mostly surprised," she said. "I don't think Delegate Callas meant it in any offensive way."

Mr. Callas says his question was prompted by curiosity. "I wondered where she learned to speak English because she speaks well," he said.

He said he considered his question neither offensive nor insensitive, bading farewell to a reporter with a pitch for his bill.

"The common language brings us together," he said. "It brings out the best in all of us."

How's that again?

The best quote of the session: "Just because it doesn't do anything, that's not sufficient reason not to pass it," said Del. Gerald J. Curran, D-Baltimore, of Mr. Callas' English bill.

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