For ninety days, with a few notable exceptions, the 1979 Maryland General Assembly worked just the way the state's new leaders had planned. The mood was workmanlike, the methods were practical and the goals were limited in number and scope.
The prevailing attitude - established by House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, Senate President James Clark Jr. and Gov. Harry R. Huges-was that it is better to try to do a few things well than many things haphazardly.
Within that modest framework, the session could be called, as Cardin said hours before adjournment, "a total success."
Every major goal sought by the leadership was attained by session's end. The 10 percent ceiling on home mortgage interest rate ceiling was lifted, the state pension system was reformed, most of the enormous state surplus was returned to the citizens in some form of tax relief, and a new ethics code covering public officials was enacted in a state that has had more than its share of political scandals in recent years.
For the most part, these measures moved through the legislature with unusual alacrity. The most striking example of this was the pension reform bill. Only one year earlier, a similar measure had been killed after a long and divisive debate and a concerted lobbying effort by the state employe unions. This time, the bill sped through both houses with a total of only four negative votes.
Although these accomplishments fulfilled the pre-session ambitions of the leadership, many rank-and-file legislators returned home tonight with ambivalent feelings about how much they had achieved since they arrived in Annapolis three months ago.
Some felt that the tax package worked out by Hughes and the leadership was uninspired and misdirected, that it did not provide enough relief for their suburban homeowner constituents. Others felt that the ethics bill was too weak, that it was little more than a codification of existing rules and regulations. Many felt that the leadership was so single-minded in getting the few things it wanted that it shunted aside important consumer legislation.
"So we raised the interest rates and figured out how to spend the tax money that we dindn't need in the first place," said Del. Timothy Maloney (D-Prince George's), one of 53 freshmen this year. "Other than that, it wasn't much to write home about. The leadership got what it wanted, but why did it have to set such low standards? Why did it go for the lowest common denominator?"
The leadership's desire to avoid controversy while getting its priority bills passed first became apparent when a resolution supporting voting rights for the District of Columbia hit the House floor. Although Cardin and some of his key lieutenants supported the resolution, they purposely avoided getting in to the debate.
"If the leadership really wanted D.C. voting rights the House would have passed D.C. voting rights," Cardin and later. "But we felt it would have been too divisive for ust to get into it. It very well could have harmed our other legislation."
The leadership adhered to this same philosophy later in the session when a band of rebellious freshmen led by Del. Luiz Simmons (R-Montgomery) threatened to attach to the ethics bill an amendment banning politcal contributions by most corporations that do business with the state. Fearful that the addition of the controvesial amendment-which Simmons and some of his supporters called "The only real ethics bill" - would mean defeat for the entire ethics measure, Cardin and the leadership spent two days trying to convince the freshmen to abandon it.
"If they put that much energy into everything," said one freshmen after Cardin convinced Simmons to drop the amendment, "we'd have gotten a lot more done around here."
In a session marked by its lack of, drama, the freshmen offered a rare spark. They tested the leadership on several occasions, most often in the House's Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, where Chairman Helen Koss (D-Montgomery) had her hands full trying to deal with 16 newcomers.
Simmons managed to push his contributions bill through the committee over the objections of Koss and Majority Leader Donald Robertson (D-Montgomery) before losing it on the House floor. The committee freshmen also voted out a bill banning election day "walk-around" money against the wishes of Koss and Robertson.
The wrangling between freshmen and veterans reached its low point one night last week when Simmons and Del. Daniel Minnick (D-Baltimore County), the speaker pro tem, nearly got into a fistfight at Fran O'Briens, a Main Street bar and restaurant.
The rebellion in the Senate, by tradition a more dignified chamber, came not from freshmen but from a group of rural and conservative lawmakers. For years, this bloc had been complaining that an alliance of Baltimore and suburban Washington senators has gotten a disproportionate share of the money the state returned to their local jurisdictions through various education, welfare and police aid measures.
Two weeks ago, in a vote that took everyone here by surprise, the rural and conservative senators succeeded in amending a police aid bill reducing Baltimore City's expected share by $2 million. On that vote, the Baltimore-suburban Washington alliance fell apart, with four of the more conservative senators from Prince George's County voting with their rural counterparts against Baltimore.
This departure from tradition was attributed in part to the absence of last year's Senate President Steny Hoyer, (D-Prince George's) a firm proponent of the big city alliance who was defeated as a lieutenant governor candidate in last year's election.
The recurring squabble over the police aid bill continued on and off for two weeks, up to the last hours of the session, with the conservatives threatening to filibuster every time the Baltimore senators attempted to reconsider the vote.
Baltimore senators lobbled up to the last minute to reverse the police aid vote, reminding their suburban Washington colleagues that if the alliance fell apart, support for funding of the Metro rail system in Prince George's and Montgomery counties might be difficult to come by next year.
This year, Hughes and the assembly's leadership allowed the Washington suburbs only enough money to help pay Metro's operating costs. However, a measure providing $25 million for future subway construction costs died late in the session.
"I have a distinct feeling that they didn't want to give us too much all at once because they want to have something to hold over over heads next year," said Del. Robert Redding, a Democrat who chairs the Prince George's delegation.
Sen. Arthur Helton (D-Harford County), the sponsor of the police said amendment, attributed the success of his maneuver to what he saw as a weaknes in the Senate leadership this year. "The strong people exerted influence on the floor because of the weak leadership, and the strong people were conservative," said Helton."So the Senate had a conservative nature about it."
This was evident two weeks ago when the Senate approved an amendment to the $4.8 billion state budget that would have virtually eliminated state-funded abortions for poor women. The House, in contrast, had passed a more liberal abortion funding measure, and the controversial issue was sent to a conference committee where a delicate compromise was worked out.
The Senate was also the forum of a heated debate over the tax relief package put together by Hughes and the leadership. The House, under the direction of Cardin, who is the legislature's acknowledged tax expert, accepted the proposals with only a few rumblings of discontent.
In the Senate, however, the conservative opposition railed against parts of the tax relief package before grudgingly approving it. The key components of the $77 million package are the elimination of the 5 per cent tax on utility bills, an increase in the standard deduction the state income tax and an expansion of the property tax credit program for lower and middle-income homeowners.
"Most of the stuff in his package does absolutely nothing for my home-owner constituents," complained Sen Thomas V. (Mike) Miller (D-Prince George's), referring specifically to an administration-backed measure increasing the standard deduction on the state income tax from 10 to 13 percent.
"That helps the poor, mostly, not my people. I think Hughes is living in the 1960s with this kind of liberal garbage. He's out of step with the times. We're talking about a middle-class homeowner revolt-we have to address ourselves to those people."
Throughout the session, legislators' attitudes towards Hughes were paradoxical. When the governor chose not to interfere in the legislative process he was criticized for not offering enough direction. Then when he got involved, he was criticized for being heavyhanded.
One week Hughes was being blasted for not taking a visible role in steering his tax package through the legislature. Senators were calling him "The Me-Too Governor," saying that he was just going along with whatever the legislative leaders wanted.
The next week delegates were complaining that Hughes was lobbying for abortion funding for poor women and trading jobs for votes-that he was, in essence, acting in the tradition of his predecessor, Marvin Mandel.
From beginning to end, however, Hughes' relationship with the legislature was markedly different from Mandel's. Rather than send his administration lobbyists down to the first floor to bargain with legislators, as Mandel had so often done Hughes invited the legislators up to his office to talk and negotiate. Cardin, for one, said that Hughes' willingness to negotiate and compromise with the legislature "was unprecendented.
Del. Joseph Owens (D-Montgomery), a veteran committee chairman in the House, said the mood of the session this year was unlike anything he had ever witnessed in nine years in Anapolis. "There's sorta, I wouldn't say lackadaisical, but a low-key mood about it," said Owens. "Before, the governor always had a list of administration bills and his people, where they were and why they weren't moving. This year it was more of a roundtable discussion." CAPTION: Picture 1, Assembly Speaker Benjamin Cardin stands below the Assembly clock which was adorned with Mickey Mouse hands.; Picture 2, Sen. Walter Baker discusses the session with his daughter.