The lights of the governor's office were on before the sun was up on Monday as Harry Hughes, poised for a Caribbean vacation, assembled five senior staff members to discuss how he intended to get things done during the 1980 session of the Maryland General Assembly.
The tone of the meeting was set when Hughes turned things over to Ejner Johnson, who passed out Xeroxed copies of flow charts to the other aides. The charts showed how Johnson thought the administration should be reorganized. In the box directly under Hughes' name, Johnson had carefully printed his own.
For the first time since he took office almost a year ago, Harry Hughes had decided that he wanted to have a single chief of staff -- Johnson -- to oversee most of the other 65 staffers, to make sure things got done, and to control the flow of paper and people into Hughes' State House office.
But the changes delineated in Johnson's neat Xeroxed chart, including both his own new role as sole chief of staff and the addition of the administration's first official lobbyist, bespoke more than a minor staff shakeup.
Harry Hughes, his aides say, has finally abandoned the idea that everything about his administration -- its style, its priorities and its organization -- must be different from the scandal-ridden administration of his predecessor, Marvin Mandel.
"We're finding out that there's some reason for the way things were done in the past -- not everything that was done was corrupt," said one senior staffer. "To get things done, with legislators, there are certain forms of persuasion you must use. You must have dialogue with them, you must have intelligence-gathering, that sort of thing.
"This isn't a mellowing of the administration, it's a maturing," the aide added.
During the last legislative session, another aide said, Maryland's new governor had avoided appointing a chief of staff for fear of conjuring up the image of former president Richard M. Nixon and his autocratic aides. Hughes had also avoided appointing a formal lobbyist, the aide said, for fear of awakening memories of the armtwisting corps of Mandel lobbyists.
But in practice authority among the governor's staff was diffuse and responsibilities were unclear. Many legislators who fumed at their lack of contact with the governor's office during the session became livid later when their pet bills were vetoed without warning.
And finally according to Hughes aide Michael F. Canning, "There's been a dismal failure of this administration to portray -- I don't mean deceive -- but just portray what's going on up here, what we're doing."
In part, one state senator said, some of the rough edges and the problems of the Hughes administration last year stemmed from the abrupt and strange twists and turns of the 1978 elections, which began with Hughes in the role of an obscure also-ran and ended by putting him into the governor's office.
"He was as surprised as anyone else when he won the primary election," said Sen. Melvin Steinberg (D-Baltimore). "He had no time to line up cabinet members. He had a late start. All his time and energy at first were spent on the budget and the cabinet."
Then, Steinberg added, Hughes' entire campaign had emphasized political reform, and he had advertised himself as a break from the past. "In the first year, in order to honor that commitment, to have some type of credibility, he couldn't just do things the same way as his predecessors."
In practice, that meant no image making, no chief of staff, and no formal administration lobbyists.
Since the last session, the changes have come about gradually. They were made final Monday, before Hughes left on a one-week vacation to the Virgin Islands, at the 7 a.m. meeting with Johnson, Canning, Press Officer Gene Oishi, Counsel Judd Garrett and aide Hans F. Mayer.
Johnson, a soft spoken bureaucrat who worked as director of the Motor Vehicle Administration when Hughes was Secretary of Transportation, would become the sole staff director. In October, Johnson had left his job as secretary of licensing and regulation to share the chief-of-staff's job with Canning.
But the reorganization now calls for Canning, who has two degrees in public relations and served as a press spokesman both for the Department of Transportation and for Hughes' campaign to leave his overall administrative duties and concentrate instead on improving the public perception of the governor. His official title changes to Director of Public Affairs.
At the same time, Johnson told the senior aides that a former Baltimore City legislator, John F. X. O'Brien, would become the chief lobbyist for the administration.
Finally, the aides were told the Appointments Secretary Louise Keelty, who in one year's tenure had eliminated the time-honored tradition of treating state jobs as the chief currency of politics, had indicated she would leave her post before the end of the session, as soon as the next round of "greenbag" appointments was completed.
The probable departure of Keelty, whose demands for resumes had infuriated legislators seeking state jobs for their friends, was viewed with regret by several Hughes aides. But the news was met with ill-disguised pleasure by some legislators.
"Louise Keelty's a nice person in her way," said Baltimore Democrat Paul Weisengoff, a delegate who speaks of the Hughes administration with open distaste, "but she had no relationship with the legislature."
Weisengoff then went on to congratulate Hughes on his other staff changes, particularly the elevation of Johnson and the addition of lobbyist O'Brien. Suppressing a giggle, the Mandel loyalist said "it looks like Harry The Good is going back to the old Mandel style."
Hughes' aides violently dispute that view. For one thing, they said, Keelty's departure will not mean any change in the appointments process: State appointees will still be chosen by merit, without regard for political considerations.
For another, the appointment of lobbyist O'Brien resulted from the complaints of rank-and-file legislators who felt out of touch with the governor's office and chief of staff Johnson. While Hughes himself met frequently with legislative leaders last year, many other legislators said they were getting conflicting signals from Hughes' aides -- or no signals at all.
"The troops themselves had the feeling they had no contact," chief of staff Johnson said. "We felt we had to have a means on the second floor (the governor's offices) of identifying the problems of the legislature and dealing with them . . . But we're not going to pursuade people by using racetracks passes" -- a reference to Mandel's liberal distribution of free racetrack passes among legislators.
"Also, last year Harry Hughes was spread too thin. He got involved in the budget process -- that's his nature, he wants to be as knowledgeable as he possibly can. But he was getting bogged down." Now, Johnson said, he will relieve Hughes of some of this administrative burden.
At the same time, while such aides as Canning, Oishi, Garret and Mayer still have direct access to the governor, Johnson's new role effectively makes him the key focus of power in the administration, after Hughes.
Johnson repeatedly stresses that 'it would be foolhardy on the part of the staff to suggest we can polish Hughes' image . . . he's a deliberate man who does a lot of work behind a desk and that's not good copy (for reporters)." Nonetheless, other staffers agree that Canning's new job as public affairs director is designed to get Hughes and his work out in the public eye.
"I think when Hughes came in, there was a reluctance on his part to even consider the political aspects of things -- image, legislative relations," said Rosalie Abrams, the Senate Majority leader and chairman of the State Democratic Party. "He came into office thinking he could change the whole system.
"But we're all politicians," the Baltimore Democrat added. "Even him."