And on the eighth day, the governor of Maryland became a politician. Fr three legislative sessions, and a full week of the fourth, Harry Hughes diligently played the outsider on Maryland's political stage, projecting a certain discomfort with the role of governor as others had played it. Some wondered if he even liked the job.
Suddenly, in his annual budget message last week, he broke out of his practiced role, using the forum as he has never used it before--grabbing media attention, whipping up his audience's emotions, issuing a call to arms for his General Assembly program as a Democrat, a Marylander, a politician.
For months before, party leaders had complained that Hughes had not spoken loudly enough against President Reagan. Now suddenly here was Harry Hughes, venting bold, Democratic outrage at "misguided" federal policies wrought by Republicans, proudly speaking out as a Democratic governor in a Democratic state.
The amazed audience didn't learn until later that the newly emboldened Hughes had in hand at the time of his speech the results of his first campaign poll. And the poll gave Hughes good reason to believe such a speech would play in Pikesville, in Beltsville, in Gaithersburg, Rockville, Baltimore and beyond.
The poll showed stronger anti-Reagan sentiments in Democratic Maryland than in most of the country, according to pollster Tully Plesser of Consensus Inc. Only 23 percent of those polled gave the president the highest rating (excellent) for his job performance in the first year, while 32 percent gave him the lowest score on the four-point scale (poor). In all, Reagan got above-average ratings from 56 percent of those polled.
By contrast, Hughes polled 65 percent above average in job performance, Plesser said. And the poll, according to Plesser, showed that 70 percent of Maryland voters who are likely to turn out for the November general election now favor Hughes over his most likely Republican opponent.
Hughes' speech was drafted after he received the poll results, aides said. Among those who helped write it was Baltimore media consultant Robert Goodman, a well-known Republican campaign adviser who worked for Vice President George Bush's presidential campaign.
Besides mining anti-Reagan sentiments documented in the poll, the speech is said to have closely tracked other poll findings, hitting every issue that was found important to voter: jobs, budget cuts in social programs, the economy, integrity in government, and most of all, crime. Aides say the governor polled well on what they called "boring" issues like fiscal responsibility and not as well on crime.
Hughes recently has toughened his once-reformist corrections policies, but never has he rattled sabers as much as in last week's speech. The governor boasted that his administration had bucked the federal courts in prison overcrowding cases, "letting them know that if double-celling doesn't meet their standards, well, double releasing of hardened criminals doesn't meet ours."
Hughes added that line to his speech in the last hours before delivering it, according to aides.
The speech came two days after Hughes had named Baltimore State Sen. John Carroll Byrnes a judge, a move that solved a serious redistricting problem in the formidable city delegation and raised the eyebrows of veteran pols who recall how past governors used to hand out judgeships to smooth rough political waters. Byrnes would have faced a difficult reelection fight for his Senate seat since the redrawing of his district would have forced him into a contest with another incumbent, Sen. Julian L. Lapides. The Byrnes appointment drew wide praise, but that didn't stop some politicians from speculating that Hughes was "coming around."
Still, Hughes seems intent on cultivating the outsider image. Observers speculate that his poll showed voters like him that way. In recent interviews, he has referred harshly to "politicians," insisting that he is identified more with "the people." Those remarks angered legislators, who have never warmed up to this governor as they did to others. Hughes does less than his predecessors to involve legislators and party regulars in major decisions. And while past governors relished the limelight of the 90-day session, Hughes at times seems to fade from sight, rarely venturing into the lounges, the corridors, the restaurants and bars where much legislative business is done. (When he made a rare appearance on the Senate floor this week, Senate President James Clark muttered, "Please welcome Gov. Harry Hughes. He hasn't been down here since he was sworn in.")
For these and other reasons, Hughes often has trouble rallying the legislature to his causes, and one speech is not likely to change that. Still, several legislators said, it was nice to know that he had it in him.
But for those who closely watched Hughes' maiden performance as a for-real pol, it was obvious that he was not yet totally at home with the role. Rather than speak extemporaneously, for example, the governor read every word of his fiery speech. Wearing heavy, black horn-rims, he kept his eyes fixed on the text instead of on his audience. And as he belted out the words in sometimes-sermonic tones, Hughes could be seen nervously rocking back and forth, heel to toe, heel to toe, squeezing the edges of the podium.