If governor resigns, perhaps he could run again

THE POLITICAL GAME

May 04, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

Last week we looked at a scenario in which Gov. William Donald Schaefer might continue his career in elective office through a series of unusual but not overly bizarre events.

This week, as promised, we offer pure zaniness.

At the heart of the governor's dilemma -- he's healthy, vigorous and engaged in a job he has to relinquish next January -- is a phrase, not even a full sentence, in the Maryland Constitution.

The pertinent section says that "a person who has served two consecutive popular elective terms of office as governor shall be ineligible to succeed himself as governor for the term immediately following the second of said two consecutive popular elective terms."

First, let's clarify one point. Mr. Schaefer, 72, can run again. He just can't run in 1994, at least as the constitutional provision is widely understood.

He can seek the office in 1998, just as Harry Hughes, his two-term predecessor, can run this year.

But let's look at this year. It seems clear that the constitution means to deny a two-term governor the opportunity to run for a third consecutive term.

The question is, does it say what it means? For the courts, about which more later, that is usually the central question.

What if Mr. Schaefer resigned as governor tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Just to keep it simple, let's say he resigns some time prior to the July 5 candidate filing deadline.

Will he by then have "served two consecutive popular elective terms" or one term and part of another, granted a hefty part of the second?

Is there a loophole here that Mr. Schaefer, were he so inclined, might exploit?

"I don't think it would work," said Robert A. Zarnoch, an assistant state attorney general and counsel to the General Assembly.

"I don't think the provision is meant to enable you to serve just a portion of a term, especially some one who has served most of his term."

Just to be sure, Mr. Zarnoch embarked on a short research expedition to see if there had ever been a court case or an attorney general's opinion bearing on the matter.

His research complete, he said, "The question has never come up."

The history of the provision is intriguing.

The current state constitution dates back to 1867. The two-term limit was added in 1948, reflecting the FDR-inspired change in the U.S. Constitution.

The provision has not changed since, though the Constitutional Convention of 1967 tried to make it more precise. ConCon's labors, a rewrite of the constitution, were rejected at the polls in 1968, though the reshaped two-term limit was not controversial.

This is what the draft looked like:

"No person elected governor for two full consecutive terms shall be eligible to hold that office again until one full term has intervened."

Said Mr. Zarnoch, "That would have made it clear." Mr. Schaefer has been elected to two full terms, thus could not run again for four years. But he has not, as yet, served two terms.

If Mr. Schaefer were to quit and file as a candidate, the battle would quickly shift to the courts.

"We don't think a court would go for that," said Mr. Zarnoch, "but we have no way of knowing because there's no case law."

The issue would no doubt wind up in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, presided over by Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy. Mr. Schaefer might well find a sympathetic ear.

Judge Murphy, 67, lobbied the legislature this year to raise the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75, clearly a man wary of harvesting a career before its time.

Short takes

GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ellen R. Sauerbrey has recruited conservative icon Jack Kemp, U.S. housing secretary under George Bush and a prospective 1996 GOP presidential candidate, as the featured speaker for her June 7 fund raiser at the Turf Valley Country Club.

William S. Shepard, another GOP candidate for governor, plans to kick off his campaign May 16. He plans a weeklong extravaganza, spending a full day in different sections of the state, beginning with Western Maryland.

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the apparent Republican front-runner, picked up the endorsement of the Maryland State Fraternal Order of Police yesterday.

The state's police union previously endorsed Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive, on the Democratic side.

Montgomery County businessman and former state House and Senate member Stewart Bainum Jr. will make it official the week of May 16.

His spokesman, David Weaver, says that's when he will announce, to the surprise of practically no one, that he's running for the Democratic nomination for governor.

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