Howard Denis, a Montgomery County Republican, thought he had sponsored a good bill, but he wasn't really surprised when it was killed in committee. Such things happen, after all, during a busy legislative session.

He was somewhat taken aback, however, when a Balitmore Democrat came before the committee a few days later -- with the same bill.

"I said, "We just killed this bill, why should we consider it again?" the boyish Republican recalls asking. And the Baltimore Democrat, wise in the ways of the Maryland legislture, replied, "It was the right bill, just the wrong party."

The lesson was not lost on Denis, one of only 22 Republicans in the 188-member Maryland legislature: It's tough to be part of an overwhlemed minority party.

"If you're Republican, you have to have as minimum an ego as possible," said Denis, "When you see the logic of the system, on a bill you care about, you get a Democrat to sponsor it and you become, in effect, a subaltern on your own idea."

Like Denis, nearly all the Republicans in the legislature have had to deal with similar circumstances where party registration has in some way worked to their disadvantage. They tell tales of bills being "purloined" by covetous Democratic colleagues, of past governors selecting Republican appointments from a list of names proposed by Democrats, and of bills that were unceremoniously squashed once they were too heavily identified as minority-backed legislation.

The frustrations are a simple product of mathematics. Because the state has a voter registration that runs more than 2-to-1 against the Republicans, they have been able to win only seven of the 47 Senate seats and 15 of the 141 seats in the House of Delegates.

By virture of their overwhelming majority, the Democrats are able to control every leadership position in the legistlature, a situation which removes all Republicans, regardless of qualifications or seniority, from policy-making roles. The Republicans are so few in number that even if they vote in a bloc -- which has not happened in recent memory -- they are unable to alter the course of a bill or an action.

Republicans in Virginia are in a similar situation -- holding only 25 seats out of 100 in the House and nine out of 40 in the Senate -- but party affiliation has less importance in the legislature there and both the governor and the attorney general are Republicans anyway.

Because of the lopsided statistics, Maryland Republicans have tended to stress congeniality over partnership. "The leadership is properly sensitive to what might occur if we became too partisan," said Del. Luiz Simmons (R-Mont.) "You could generate a reaction, with Democrats viewing you as Republican regardless of ideas," and simple defeat all measures sponsored by a Republican.

Such partisan swipes at the Republicans have occurred in the past, most notably when party members, in an effort to oppose the Democratic regime of then-governor Marvin Mandel, introduced an offical minority package of bills amid much fanfare. Instead prolonged debate over the Republican proposals, the bills were quickly shot down, with, one Republican recalls, a solidarity joint resolution receiving approval.

Ever mindful of that example, the Republican leadership in both the House and Senate has in the last few years shied away from developing and pushing specific minority positions, although Republican leaders are now debating proposing a minority package of bills to deal with the session's most volatile issue, transportation funding.

Instead it has attempted to work closely with the Democratic leadership, in an effort to persuade and cajole.

"We form coalitions [with the conservative Democrats of Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore], that's the only way we can be successful," said Sen. Minority Leader Edward Mason (R-Cumberland). "If you label something a minority position it has problems."

But it is also a course of action that has provoked murmurs of discontent from some conservative Republicans and others who believe that the role of the minority party in the legislature is to serve as "loyal opposition."

"There are some members who are staunch conservatives and think we should wear red armbands with a big black R on them and jump up and down and sing partisan songs," said Beck.

"It seems to me you can take one of two routes," said Denis. "You can take the route of going along to get along or you can be the opposition -- criticizing the parade as it goes by. I help to defeat as the ones I help to pass. But you run the risk of being called a negativist."

At times the issue has sparked serious upheaval among the Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mason won his position in just such a battle in 1974 against an incumbent minority leader who was perceived as too close to the Democrats.And last December, House Minority Whip Robert Neall (R-Anne Arundel) encountered similar difficulties when nearly half of the Republican delegates tried to take the post away from him because of his decision to align himself with the Democratic leadership and help defeat spending limitation measures.

The limit measures were the closest thing to a "Republican issue" the legislature has had in recent years and, as Del. Ellen Sauerbrey (R-Baldwin) who challenged Neall sees it. "Several people were upset with that. I think it's healthy when Republicans are included in the leadership. But if you get to be one of the boys you forget what you're here to accomplish.

Saubrey has not had any trouble learning what it means to be Republican in the Maryland General Assembly. In her first year she introduced a bill to remove taxes on farm machinery and manufacturing equipment. The bill made it through the House Ways and Means Committee and was on, the floor of the House when, in a surprising move, it was sent back to committee for "amendment," apparently at request of the governor.

Once safely in committee the bill was killed. In its place appeared a similar measure by the Hughes administration. The bill was sent to the House and passed.