With a week left to go in the 1980 General Assembly session, much of the rhetorical fat that clings to the legislative process has melted away, reducing politics here to their essence: a division of the spoils.
Following basic political traditions, every lawmaker is busily finding out what everyone around him wants. The best way to ensure approval of your school construction of stream-dredging project is to help the projects of your would-be friends and threaten to sabotage those of your might-be enemies.
The trouble is, these days it is difficult to follow exactly who is doing what for whom and why, since this part of the legislative process borrows more from the concepts of Rube Goldberg then from those of Thomas Jefferson.
"There's one big ribbon threaded through everything around these days," said one state senator, pausing between deals. "Everything's tied to everything else."
Take, for example, the following combination of problems:
H. Erie Schafer, an exterminator elected to the Maryland Senate by the citizens of Anne Arundel County, wanted the sate to spend $800,000 to dredge a creek in his district to prevent flooding. He also wanted $4 million to help build a new school in the booming suburb of Crofton.
Two colleagues, Laurence Levitan and Victor L. Crawford, a pair of Montgomery County lawyers, wanted to block a proposal to redistribute $500,000 of the state's annual contribution to the social security pensions of Montgomery teachers, since the new formula would cost the county much of this amount.
Gov. Harry Hughes and House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, along with almost all of Baltimore City's House and Senate delegations, were pushing hard for passage of the session's fattest single piece of pork -- a $22 million project to renovate Memorial Stadium, home of the football Colts and baseball Orioles.
The stadium project was stuck in the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee, a panel which numbers Crawford and Schager among its members and which is chaired by Levitan.
Then, in the last week, a number of things happened. First, the Budget and Taxation Committee approved the dredging and school projects for Schafer, with all but one Baltimore City senator lending enthusiastic support.
Second, on Saturday morning, Cardin and Levitan seemed on the verge of an agreement -- Levitan said they had one, Cardin said they were merely close -- taking care of the social security funding problem to Montgomery's satisfaction.
Finally, at midday Saturday, the committee approved a measure allowing the state to spend an extra $65 million on capital projects. The measure, essential to the future of the stadium renovation project, squeaked through on a 7 to 6 vote. Schafer and Crawford voted for it, as did Levitan, who as chairman cast the tie-breaking vote.
The margin might have been wider, but two Baltimore County senators, who had been pleased when their Baltimore City colleagues helped approve $1.5 million extra in flood control funds for the county, became infuriated at Huges' and Cardin's success-ful efforts to kill a package of bills limiting state spending.
"You just can't be sure what people on our committee are doing all the time or why they're doing it," said one member of the panel.
"We're being held hostage for everything", added one of the stadium project's key backers.
"The stadium," added one legislative aide, "is tied to everything that moves."
Nonetheless, the fate of the stadium renovation project is still in considerable doubt. Senate committee members agreed Saturday to hold off voting on the project until this week, hoping that time and persuasion would mollify the Baltimore County members of the committee.
"We want to give Frank [Sen. Francis X. Kelly] a little more time to calm down after the spending-limits business," said one committee member. Kelly voted against the capital projects increase.
The delays, however, are as worrisome to stadium supporters as the intricate vote trading which has been necessary to get the bill this far. "Every hour that (the bill) stays in committee makes it a little more precarious" said Del. Dennis McCoy, chairman of the Baltimore City House delegation. "I think Memorial Stadium is in big trouble."
Other delegates speculate that the stadium's problems in the Senate panel have triggered a whole separate set of problems in the House appropriations Committee. There, committee chairman John Hargreaves (also a stadium backer) has not yet brought the full capital budget up for a vote -- meaning that every capital project in the state, every library, jail, and road repair bill, is backed up behind it.
"None of the bond bills can move until the General Construction Loan moves," said one member of the Appropriations Committee.
Hargereaves denies any connection between the two situations, pointing out that the legislative leadership agreed early in the seesion to let the Senate take the first action on the capital and operating budgets, leaving the final enactment of these measures up to the House.
"I'm not holding anything. I don't know where people get these crazy ideas," Hargreaves said.