The change did not happen right away. For a month or two after Blair Lee III became Maryland's acting governor, his quips kept right on coming, the same kind of sardonic jokes he had tossed out so freely when he sat in the lieutanant governor's office.
In the last few months the flippancy has faded. In its place has emerged the firm, formal style that characterized today's state-of-the-state message, a style that avoids the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of his predessor, but is devoid of Lee's spontaneity as well.
The change in style was a conscious one. "It obviously has to do with my change in status," the acting governor said this afternoon as he sat in his office relaxing after the days of prespeech pressure and weeks of budget preparations.
"When you're a lieutenant governor you can get away with saying things and nobody pays much attention," he said. Once he moved in to the governor's mansion, he said, he found that his off-the-cuff remarks would provoke outrage among special interest groups and editorial writers.
"It may be all for the best," he added. "Maybe governors should be more circumspect."
In a sense, when Blair Lee stepped into the office vacated when Marvin Mandel was convicted last summer on federal charges of mail fraud and racketeering, he was forced to give up some of his freedom to be himself.
Some, but no all. For while he may be forced to trottle his natural tendency to come out with a quick one-liner or a deft putdown, he can freely exercise his tendency to dwell on the fine details of governing, the delicate shifting and balancing of tax dollars that determine what kind of government Maryland gets.
For nealry 30 minutes of his 35-minute speech today, Lee dwelt on just this kind of detail. Twice he used the phrase "prudent management" while stir the adrenaline. By the time Lee was two-thirds through his speech today, there was noticeable and audible fidgeting among the legislators he was addressing.
Lee said he was prepared for this. "When I finished writing it, I said to myself, 'This isn't going to produce one clap of the hand, not one.'" Indeed, the address was uninterrupted by claping from the legislators. Twenty seconds of routine applause followed the governor's speech as he took off his dark-rimmed spectacles, smiled and headed out of the House of Delegates chamber.
"This speech had not much in the way of rhetorical flourishes," said Lee, who used the drafts of speech writers in its preparation but ended by writing almost the whole thing himself. "But it did have a lot of meat in it," he added.
A lot of meat and a lot of politics, observed one member of Lee's audience, Republican State Sen. John Bishop. As he walked away from the chamber the Baltimore County legislator commented a little acidly, "It was a very good speech for him . . . a typical election year speech."
"He had a little something for everybody," added another senator, Democrat Tommie Broadwater of Prince George's County. Indeed, compared to the bleak call for austerity presented last year by Mandel, Lee's speech and his budget did out promises for a variety of interest groups, raug- from state employes to students to the elderly.
There was one thing, Bishop said afterwards, that the speech seemed to consciously ignore. "I think he played down the whole blueblood bit," said Bishop, who has worked with Lee in Annapolis for more than a decade, since Lee himself was a state senator.
"This certainly was an attempt to show he was one of the common people," Bishop added. "And that's not something I'm sure he has to work at."
Today was not the first time that Lee - a leading candidate in the crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary - seemed by chance or design to downplay his position as the scion of a wealthy family that has wielded political power in Maryland since the state was a colony.
Since he moved into the governor's mansion last October, Lee has taken pains to express some aversion to the trappings of the governorship. On one occasion, he described the official residence as "a strange and wonderful place, where you drop your socks on the floor and come back 10 minutes later to find that they're gone," removed by a servant.
During the same press conference, Lee noted he found it disconcerting to have his pajamas freshly laundered every day.
Lee acknowledged today that he has taken some ribbing on the pajama remark, but he winces at the suggestion that his casualness might be calculated and not genuine. "These (remarks) are things you don't plan," he said."They just sort of some out."
His background, he said, "is just a thing that's there and you have to cope with."