Del. Charles Blumenthal (D-Prince George's) was outraged. Not only do Maryland state senators get a larger expense allowance than delegates do, he had discovered, they also get 22 rolls of postage stamps to a delegate's 16. Somebody should do something about it, he told a committee of fellow delegates.
Somebody did. When Blumenthal finally finished talking, the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee jokingly voted unanimously - with Blumenthal abstaining - to remove both Blumenthal's expense allowance and his postage-stamp allocation.
Blumenthal was undaunted. He stood up, and made another motion. Nobody seconded it. "Let's kick it around a little," he pleaded. "I think we kicked it out," replied Del. Marilyn Goldwater (D-Montgomery).
"I hear no second," rasped the chairman, Del. John Hargreaves. "It'll go the usual Blumenthal route" - out.
Blumenthal is one of a special legislative breed. While most other legislators are treated by their colleagues with the stylized courtesy common to legislative bodies, Maryland delagates seem actually to derive glee in putting Blumenthal down. While most legislators are asked to cosponsor bills to add to chances of passage, Blumenthal's name on a measure is often considered a kiss of death.
Blumenthal easily has one of the lowest batting averages (bills passed divided by bills introduced) in recent legislative history.
Right now, he has few competitors for this dubious honor. One is Del. Charles Docter (D-Montgomery), who, for wholly different reasons, is also part of this breed.
The two together have been called "Charlie Company" by some members of the press.
They are both articulate men who show flashes of brilliance, which suggests they are far more intelligent than Annapolis' average legislator. Between them, they come up with ideas that under anyone else's name would, and sometimes do, become law.
The root of their problems are varied. To some extent, the fact that neither is part of any political machine, organization or faction decreases their potential clout substantially. Blumenthal "is not a team player," said Del. Charles krysiak, a team player from Baltimore. "You have to ingratiate yourself with the powers . . . when something doesn't mean that much to you, you go along for the good of the whole."
Many legislators consider Blumenthal and Docter relentless seekers of publicity, stuntmen who are less concerned with substance than with getting their names in the paper and their faces on television.
Last year, Blumenthal Blumenthal arrived for the first day of the session on h arrived for the first day of the session on horseback, garbed in the tricorn hat and frock coat of a colonial farmer.
While running for the House of Representatives in 1976, he promised to parachute from an airplane into every bull roast and crab feast of the campaign. An ex-World War II paratrooper, he made one jump. He also lost the election.
Docter's activities are not so bizarre, but are often equally annoying to fellow legislators. On the final day of the session last year, as the clock crept toward midnight, the legal deadline for action, Docter (who was also rrunning for Congress undertook a one-man filibuster against a proposed convention center in Baltimore.
In a clear violation of the rules, Speaker John Hanson Briscoe and Majority Leader Del. John Arnick (D-Baltimore County) gavelled Docter off the floor. Angered, Docter appealed to other delegates for support. Typically, none was forthcoming.
Last month Docter appeared before the busy House Economic Matters committee to argue in favor of a bill he had introduced in September, four months before the legislative session began.
During the hearing, testimony revealed that the bill, which would have affected medical charges subject to Blue Cross reimbursement, was impractical and unworkable.
Rather than try to amend the bill, Docter withdrew it. "I just put it in to shake up Blue Cross, and it did," he shrugged.
This year there have been 2,127 bills introduced by the 141 members of the House, an average of just over 15 bills per legislator. Docter alone has introduced 58 of them, and Blumenthal, 42.
Of Docter's bills, three have passed the House, and are now being considered by the Senate. Eighteen others have been killed in committee, and 37 more await committee action.
Only two of Blumenthal's bills have passed the House. Of the rest, seven have been killed in committee, and 33 still wait to be acted on in committee.
"I'm a legislator," Blumenthal said. "I'm here to legislate. That's why I propose so many bills. Some of their times may not have come, but they pass sooner or later."
Docter said, "I feel I have a function to perform . . . and I think people do respect me here because they know where I stand."
Docter and Blumenthal are not without their legislative accomplishments. Docter "serves a very valuable function on the floor. He picks things up, and many times will defeat a bill or amendment that's badly drawn," said Del. Paul Weisengoff, chairman of Baltimore's delegation.
He introduced that state rent-control law, and said he was instrumental in achieving passage of a financial disclosure law in Maryland.
Blumenthal has to his credit several pieces of legislation affecting veterans, who he champions in the House. He also said he introduced a bill to require that meetings of governmental bodies be open to the public, several years before the bill was passed.
Their individual styles, and the reasons for their ineffectiveness, are as different as the two men's appearances. Fellow delegates say Docter is often difficult of work with because he is an idealist, unwilling to make the compromises that are at the heart of the political process.
"Charlie is one of the most brilliant, conscientious legislators we have down here," said Briscoe. "But he's idealistic, pressing for ideal legislation; when you don't give on a lot of things, people don't like to deal with you to work out bills."
In the Maryland General Assembly, "idealism" is a serious charge. Legislators here are fond of pointing out that politics is the are of the possible, that no matters what the intrinsic merit of an idea, it is worth nothing in practical terms unless 74 delegates and 24 senators go along with it.
Docter's problem is compounded by a quickness to criticize other delegates publicly, almost a cardinal sin in a legislature where courtesy to other delegate is an unchallenged standard of conduct.
After the recent vote defeating a bill opposed by the trucking industry, Docter stood on the House floor and commented, "The trucking lobby has done a good job of confusing this bill with a lot of hogwash . . ."
He was greeted with loud boos by about one-third of the House. "There were obviously some people out there (who voted against the bill) who didn't even listen to the trucking lobby," Briscoe said later.
"When the aspersions were cast, that paints everybody. They take it personally; they're political animals."
Blumenthal, on the other hand, is simply not liked by many of his fellow delegates. He is a persistent man, often abrasive, delegates say, and he is accused of another cardinal sin - grandstanding for the press at the expense of his legislation and other delegates' time.
"He's a jerk," said one powerful delegate, who asked not to be identified. "He's more interested in Blumenthal than he is in the legislation. For him to go for the (media) play, rather than the legislation, is beginning to get on everyone's nerves . . ."
Many of Blumenthal's actions are puzzling, apparently designed to irritate other delegates. Last year, for example, he showed up with 48 amendments to the state budget at 2 a.m. on one of the final, weary mornings of the session. All of his amendments were soundly defeated.
Asked why Blumenthal is not an effective legislator, Del. Frederick Rummage, head of Blumenthal's Prince George's County delegation, chose his words carefully.
"It is the human relationship that one develops with members of the General Assembly. I guess it's called rapport . . . An individual who doesn't seem to have a basic philosophy, and will introduce any legislation that's asked for, is not given serious attention."
Blumenthal sees the situation differently. "I do my thing," he said, "I have a good time."
On another occasion, he expounded, "I'd say that as the average delegate goes, I have more clout than most. I don't overuse it."
Docter sees his function as challenging "the bills that come along, to see where the snakes (questionable provisions) are . . .
The whole system is corrupt, and lends itself to corruption. People - politicians - don't like to hear that kind of stuff."
Docter agreed he is sometimes reluctant to compromise. "I think I do know how to compromise, but it's true, I'm not going to compromise on a basic issue of honesty and integrity.
And I'm not afraid to call a spade a spade . . ."