The governor in midsummer: a very model, if you will

July 07, 1996|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE de GRACE -- As summer ripens, our leader muses:

It's hard to believe I'm almost halfway through my term as governor. The past two years have just flown by, if you will. (Darn! "If you will" is a meaningless locution I know I'm using too much. Pretty soon people will be making jokes about it, and comparing me to Nixon always saying he wanted to make something "perfectly clear." I'll have to work on that. )

And what a lot of surprises these two years have produced! Back in the summer of '94, I remember, I was expecting to squeak through the Democratic primary in September and then win handily in November. Instead the reverse happened.

After the primaries were over, I had really expected to blow that Sauerbrey woman away in the general election. She had support in the boondocks counties, I could tell, but I knew Kurt and Larry had everything greased for me in Baltimore, and the big important counties weren't going to vote for a Republican, for gosh sakes! I was as sure of that as I could be.

And I was right, too, it turned out. But as I didn't know too much about the Maryland backwoods in those days, I guess I didn't realize that 21 of the 23 counties were located there, politically speaking. Boondockswise, our state is inordinately dichotomized, if you will. (Oops.)

Anyway, I made it here to Annapolis, and survived the Sauerbrey woman's lawsuit, and now it's on to '98. Having won by a whisker the last time, I guess I ought to be worried, but it seems to me that everything ought to be much easier for me this time around.

Oh, I know I'm not personally popular, the way Frances is, and I don't ever expect to be. In the legislature, I'm told, they don't even respect me much. Charisma was never my thing, even back in Hyattsville and Upper Marlboro, or at the university. "Professor Fuzz," one of those boondocks columnists calls me.

But there are advantages to being perceived as kind of a blur. People can't stay mad at someone if they can't keep him in focus. Don Schaefer was popular once, but he was also a bully DTC and after a while people turned on him. One reason my election was so close was that so many people who were mad at Schaefer took it out on me.

That won't happen the next time. Schaefer's ancient history, and the Sauerbrey woman's out of office, which is a tough way to run for governor. As long as I don't push through any big tax increase or have any more of those persistent scandals in my cabinet, I ought to be all right in '98.

A fuzzy promise

The blacks, the greens, big labor (especially the teachers and the state employees) and the feminists all complain about me, just the way they do about Bill Clinton, but where else are they going to go? They may not believe me when I promise to push their agendas, but a fuzzy promise beats a rejection every time. They've all got plenty of money and energy to spend, and there isn't much doubt that when the chips are down, they'll decide to spend those resources on me.

Whatever happens this November, the national political situation will be in my favor, too. If Clinton gets re-elected this fall, he'll be in a position to help me out, and I'll be sure he's had plenty of favors to repay. But if the voters replace him with Dole, by the time I'm up for reselection the tide will be running the other way, and it won't hurt to be a Democrat any more, at least in Maryland.

I don't mean to sound too cocky. The business types and the anti-tax zealots aren't ever going to like me, and it would be nice if I had a few stronger allies, especially in the legislature.

I always knew I'd have trouble with Mike Miller and the Senate, because Mike and I come from different political tribes back in Prince George's, but I had hoped for better relations with Cas Taylor and the House. Cas follows my lead, sort of, but I always have the feeling that the only reason he's behind me at all is so that he can step on me if I trip.

And then there's what's-her-name, my lieutenant governor. I get asked sometimes if I think she'd be competent to run the state, and I always say of course, with great enthusiasm. But everybody knows she's window-dressing, and it's kind of embarrassing. If I thought I could get away with it I'd dump her the next time around, the way Harry Hughes dumped Sam

Bogley. Maybe she'd like to run for attorney general, or maybe Clinton could be persuaded to make her a federal judge or something.

I like that idea! You know, if I stay in this job long enough I could turn out to be the very model of a modern Maryland governor, if you will.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer

Pub date 7/07/96

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