Last month, the eight state senators who represent Prince George's County in the Maryland legislature marched into the office of Gov. Harry Hughes to complain, collectively, of neglect.
Hughes, it seemed, recently had appointed several Prince George's citizens to a judicial board without bothering to inform the senators of his plans.
The meeting proceeded predictably: the senators stressed their interest in local appointments, Hughes promised to listen to them, and the senators left hoping -- but without any real conviction -- that their political relationship with the executive branch would improve.
What was most important about the senators' trip to the second floor of the State House was that it had happened at all. Before Hughes' election, when Prince George's Steny H. Hoyer was Senate president, the county's senators rarely had to worry about appointment influence, or political clout in Annapolis.
At the same time, the collective action by county legislators pointed to a new cohesiveness in the delegation in the wake of its relative loss of influence.
Faced with the necessity of winning dollars this year for Prince George's strained budget and Metro funding needs, the county's legislators have dropped much of the fractiousness that came with last year's elections. They are banding together for what they expect will be a session of hard fiscal bargaining.
"There's a clear priority for the members of the delegation -- bucks," said Del. Tim Maloney of Beltsville, one of the Democratic "independents" who helped create tension last year by running against the party's organization. "The factionalism is pretty much gone. We have got to hang together on the funding issues, because it's going to be hardball with Baltimore City and Montgomery County."
One major goal for the Prince George's legislators will be to persuade Hughes and the legislative leadership to agree on a source for the suburban county's share of Metro funding that will not result -- as is now proposed -- sales and gasoline tax increases.
That, Prince George's leaders say, will not be easy. Currently, a large part of the delegation continues to favor a proposal to use part of the current state sales tax for Metro funding. But that idea met with little success during the last session, and still faces strong opposition.
"We might have a better shot this year," said state Sen. Peter Bozick of Camp Springs, "because of Baltimore City's needs for funding for their Metro system. But all we are sure of is that we have got to work something out."
The second objective of the P.G. delegation will be to obtain whatever state help they can for the county budget, which is strapped for the second year with the tax-freezing TRIM chapter amendment.
In particular, legislators say they hope parts of the $230 million state surplus will be used for increased aid to education and transportaion, bringing Prince George's up to $10 million more for schools alone.
This work for the county would be helped, legislators say, by an improvement in their relations with County Executive Lawrence Hogan, which last year dissolved in personal and partisan feuding.
At least some of the delegation's leaders are optimistic on this point. "I think Larry has changed his attitude -- he's been very accommodating," said Del. Gerard F. Devlin of Bowie, who once called Hogan's legislative liaison a "human postage stamp."
But a good part of the all-Democratic delegation remains alienated by the often combative Republican executive. "the executive has to work directly with the senators, and talk straight to us," said Sen. Arthur Dorman of Beltsville.
"Hogan is still talking from two sides of his mouth. He pleads poorman to us because of TRIM, then goes and endorses it to the Chamber of Commerce. He can't keep doing that."
Within the Senate delegation, too, there remains a potentially divisive fight over the chairmanship. The power struggle was temporarily resolved last January when Bozick was elected as a compromise candidate.
This time, leaders of the delegation have tentatively agreed to back one of last year's contenders for the job, Dorman, to take over from Bozick. But several of the eight senators reportedly remain unhappy with the compromise.
"It could be real tight," said Bozick. "I'm not sure that [the chairmanship] will be resolved simply. It's politics -- everybody wants to be the leader."