Thank FDR and Ritchie for Schaefer's retirement

Baltimore Glimpses

April 19, 1994|By GILBERT SANDLER

YOU can argue that William Donald Schaefer has succeeded as mayor and governor, but he can't succeed himself -- as governor, that is. It's been thus for Maryland governors for nearly half a century.

You have to go back to 1947, in fact. That was the year the General Assembly passed a law that created a constitutional amendment limiting future governors of the Free State to two terms.

But to understand why that happened, you have to go back to 1919.

That year, Albert C. Ritchie ran for governor -- and won. Then he won three more elections, becoming Maryland's one and only four-term governor. (Until 1923, elections for governor were held in odd years. In 1926, they were switched to even-numbered years.)

By the summer of 1934, according to Maryland historian Robert J. Brugger, "Ritchie had been in office so long that opposing him became a sport. Challengers lined up like men in a carnival throwing baseballs to drop a clown into a tub of water."

Charles Conley, a Frederick physician, ran against what he called Ritchie's disease of "governitus contageosis."

Baltimore Mayor Howard W. Jackson laid claim to the governor's office after serving, in Ritchie's own words, as "the best mayor Baltimore ever had." He urged Ritchie to step aside and run for the U.S. Senate instead.

A critic of Ritchie's and a powerful member of the General Assembly, J. Allen Coad, was vocal in opposing what he called the "fifth-term racket." He stated that he doubted Ritchie would run again. "No individual could be that selfish."

Ritchie ran.

Conley ran against Ritchie in the primary, calling him "Prince Albert the Fourth (Term)," and came close to defeating the incumbent, who then had to face Republican Harry W. Nice.

Nice won -- barely. By only 6,000 votes.

It was the specter of Albert Ritchie -- and of Franklin D. Roosevelt -- that prompted the 1947 General Assembly to limit the governor's time in office. One who remembers the mood of the legislature at the time recalls, "It was 'no more Roosevelts, no more Ritchies!' " Then, too, Congress in March of that year proposed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which stated simply that "no person shall be elected to the office of president more than twice." (It was ratified in 1951.)

And so it was in 1947 that Gov. William Preston Lane signed a bill to send to statewide referendum a constitutional amendment limiting Maryland governors to two terms. It passed handily in November 1948.

Nor did it stir the controversy that term-limitation measures do today. It was voted on quietly, along with some fairly obscure amendments: one, to allow girls under 18 to marry without the consent of their parents in cases of pregnancy attested to by a doctor; another, to allow spouses and children of landowners to hunt license-free on their own land; and one to require the approval of affected residents before any area could be annexed to Baltimore City.

The Maryland term-limitation law, however, reads two "consecutive" terms. That means Governor Schaefer could take a few years off to mend his lame wings. . .

And return!

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