It was near the end of Maryland's 1970 legislative session when Harry R. Hughes, then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, received a threatening request from one of the House of Delegate's most powerful members.
Either Hughes' committee speed up passage of one of the influential members pet bills, he warned, or he would personally make sure none of the committee members' bills survived in the lower chamber.
Hughes calmly reported the message to his committee and quickly sized to its sentiment. Then, without saying another word, he ripped the House bill in half and casually tossed the remains into a nearby waste basket.
Such blatant defiance is uncommon in the cozy, accommodating General Assembly of Maryland. For Hughes, independence is a trademark stamped all over a 25-year career as state legislator, state transportation secretary and now Democratic nominee for governor.
"You can't intimidate Harry." said Meyer M. Emanuel Jr., a former state senator from Prince George's County who now heads Hughes' campaign in the county. "He's not an aggressive guy. But he won't back down if he thinks he's right. he doesn't buckle under pressure."
Hughes' unwillingness to yield on matters of principle often has carried considerable political risk. As a senator from the conservative Eastern Shore he supported civil rights legislation and lobbied for higher state aid to urban areas.
In his first session as transportation chief he fought for an unpopular 2-cent increase in the state gasoline tax to pay for Maryland's share of Washington's subway. Later, he incurred the wrath of the architects and engineers implicated in political scandals by blacklisting them from state work until they were cleared.
On his first Christmas as a cabinet secretary, he found, to his dismay, that contractors who do work for the state had lined his office with fruit baskets and cases of liquor as was the custom for years. Not only did he send back the gifts, he issued a department wide ban on such largesse.
Even his most politically beneficial act - resigning as transportation secretary last year in protest over the way a subway contract was being awarded - had political costs. He alienated the state's political establishment and found himself without any organized Democratic support in the primary.
Hughes' critics say his claims t higher principle amount to moralistic grandstanding to cover up less than spectacular abilities. It is the type of behavior, they say, that was more designed to gain political mileage than get things done in state government.
His longtime associates argue that Hughes' sense of integrity is a true and essent part of his makeup, a quality that distinguished him in a state known for loose political morals and equipped him to be an effective Senate leader and cabinet secretary.
"You never worried Harry was out to outsmart you or trade you off," recalled Ed Rowner, who worked along-side Hughes first as an administration lobbyist for then-Gov. Marvin Mandel and later as a fellow cabinet secretary. "He's a scrupulously honest guy who dealt very straigth with his colleagues. They trusted him and that made him a strong leader."
Hughes' reputation for fair play, tireless work and low-key manner made him a natural leader in the State Senate, where he mastered the less glamorous though important fiscal issues and soon became known as an expert on taxation education and state aid to local government.
In 1965, he was appointed chairman of the powerful Finance Committee and made Senate majority leader. A year later, he sponsored a major legislative package creating the state's first graduated income tax and giving aid to local jurisdictions to lessen their reliance on property taxes.
The Hughes tax bill died on the floor of that election year legislature, but a year later, newly elected Gov. Spiro T. Agnew asked him to reintroduce the measure with a few variations. The drastic fiscal changes authored and laboriously promoted by Hughes became part of Maryland law.
By 1969, Hughes was working on legislation that would open new doors to him a year later, Marvin Mandel had been elected governor and asked Hughes to help him reorganize state government, including the consolidation of 11 transportation agencies into one giant department.
The reorganization passed in 1970 and Mandel began looking for a person who would get along with the legislature and control the conflicting interests in the newly consolidated agency. He chose Hughes.
As head of the third largest state agency with a budget nearing $1 billion by the time he left office. Hughes generally was well-regarded for controlling spending within managerable limits, having a detailed knowledge of his agency and developing different modes of transportation.
But ther was criticism, too, centering on his administrative style. Legislators felt he save too much autonomy to certain division chiefs and failed to bring some of them in line when they made mistakes or defied legislative dictates.
Hughes' state highway administrator. Bernard Evans, frequently was criticized for failing to start road projects financed by the legislature. While county roads remained unpaved and unrepaired, $90 million earmarked for highway improvements was spent between 1972 and 1978.
Lawmakers were distressed when they found Evans quietly lobbying against one of the department's highest priorities the Baltimore subway, or discovered port administrator Joseph Stanton, testifying in favor of kill to cut his agency out of Hughes' department.
"The only criticism I ever heard about Harry is he wasn't the strongest administrator," said Del. Frank R. Robey (D-Baltimore), head of the transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
While serving as secretary. Hughes presided over a massive expansion of state services and projects, including purchase and improvement of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, establishing public bus service in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, subsidizing commuter trains from Western Maryland to Washington opening 150 miles of bikeways and walkways and more than doubling capital improvements of Baltimore's port.
The achievements not only won him praise from legislators and fellow cabinet members, he also became a nationally recognized transportation expert who was elected charter chairman of the Council of State Secretaries of Transportation.
As he took on broader responsibilities. Hughes moved to Baltimore. Unlike other politicians, he had never focused his energies on the constituent needs of Caroline County. Even as transportation chief, he gave low priority to a much-needed bridge repair in his native home of Denton.
"Nobody's fovoritism to Caroline showing favoritism to Caroline County," said Emery Dobson, publisher of The Journal, a newspaper based in Denton. "A lot of people believe if he's elected governor, about 99 percent of our problems will be solved. I don't see it that way. I think Harry will call 'em like he sees 'em and treat Caroline the same as he treats Garrett County, Allegany or Prince George's. If he as done anything for this county, it escapes me."