If the members of the Maryland General Assembly had their way, Frix of their session, a good note on which to send everybody home to cool off for nine months.
But the name-calling that accompanied the Senate's approval, hours before the midnight deadline, of Gov. Harry Hughes' new map of the state's 47 legislative districts, was merely a precursor, because Friday was only the midway point of the 90-day session.
"It's like a false ending to a symphony," said Sen. Howard Denis (R-Montgomery). "You build to a climax, but then, when you're drained by the finish, there's still more to come."
Uppermost in the minds of the 188 legislators when they return here today will be a group of bills that will draw a good deal of attention during the next weeks because they deal with gut political issues, the kind that politicians like to run and hide from in an election year.
"That's the story behind the story so far," said Prince George's Del. Gerard F. Devlin. "On the surface, everything's been fairly calm in the House , but underneath you've got a bunch of killer political issues we're going to have to deal with."
Still ahead are difficult decisions on increasing the state's gasoline tax by as much as five cents over the next two years; raising ceilings on interest rates; instituting auto emission inspections; toughening gun control laws; raising the drinking age; and cutting the state budget. All are issues that affect voters directly and stir emotions. Only the drinking age issue is, for all intents and purposes, resolved. A bill that would raise the legal age from 18 to 21 passed the House last week and is expected to receive swift approval in the Senate.
But aside from that and redistricting, which was far more important to the legislators than to the voters, there is much left to be done before everyone goes home April 13. Leaving things until the last moment is standard operating procedure here--witness the filibuster-infested ending of last year's session--but with everyone running for office, many legislators say the potential for chaos is almost limitless.
"It's going to get wild," Prince George's Del. Timothy F. Maloney said. "This year's completely different than I've ever seen it. Normally mild-mannered people are going crazy because every time they look up in the gallery they think they see potential opponents. A guy gets three phone calls on a bill, he's ready to change his vote. That makes it hard to get anything done."
Knee-jerk reaction to lobbying efforts is something that concerns the leadership on both sides of the State House and on the second floor where the governor and his staff have been trying hard to negotiate compromises on the delicate issues still ahead.
There was, for example, considerable moaning last week when a Baltimore Sun poll showed that voters oppose a gasoline tax. Until the poll was released, House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) had been nursing a small majority on the question of that tax, which the governor insists is necessary to repair state roads adequately.
"God bless the Sunpapers," Cardin said during a rare quiet moment in his office. "Maybe I'm cynical, but I'd guess they figured out that legislators were starting to favor it, so they released their poll showing voters against it. It makes my job a lot tougher. In an election year you're going to have people knocking on your door saying, 'I got a call on this and I got a call on that,' anyway. You just have to remind them that if what they vote for is the right thing, it'll be best for them in the long run anyway."
While the leadership insists that the tough bills are in good shape, pointing out that much of the committee work has been completed, others, looking at the votes still to come, see a rocky spring ahead. And many, especially on the Republican side, point to Hughes as the reason.
"We've got a bunch of killer issues coming up and the reason is the complete lack of leadership from the governor's office the last three years," Denis said. "Everything's been left until now because he didn't want to get involved in the past. People talk about his State of the State Speech, a new Harry Hughes. He was looking at his shoes during that speech.
"Legislators love the lash. They love to have their arms twisted. He hasn't done that, so we're all left to our own devices. Each of us has to be governor. It's a very rancorous situation."
Much of that rancor, as always, exists between the two houses. The filibuster by Prince George's senators over the redistricting issue caused a good deal of consternation on the House side, where members vividly remember watching dozens of bills they had finished work on last year go down the drain amid filibustering last April.
"The Senate is like a spoiled child that's never been disciplined by a parent," said Del. Luiz Simmons (R-Montgomery), another critic of Hughes' leadership. "They've run roughshod over the governor for four years now. There's a potential for chaos here that's hiding just beneath the surface."
Cardin defends Hughes but admits he is concerned about what is to come, partly because of the volatility of election-year politics but also because "I sense that people are tired already and that's not a good sign."
"To blame the governor for this situation isn't fair," Cardin continued. "We met our agenda in 1979 and 1980 and would have met it in 1981 if not for the Senate filibusters. This is really just the unluck of the draw. Auto emissions had to come up this year, the crime situation is on a lot of people's minds and economic issues have got to be dealt with right away. Even if we deal with them, we're still playing a guessing game with the federal government anyway."
As for the Senate, Cardin smiled. "You can't blame me for the Senate."
A number of senators are blaming their president, James Clark, for the Senate. His fight with the Prince George's senators over redistricting set back the calendar, left everyone drained and created an atmosphere of unrest that some senators say will continue until the final gavel of the session.
"This has been an awful session so far, just terrible," said Sen. Victor Crawford, the Democratic leader of the Montgomery senators. "People are already exhausted and pointing fingers at each other. We've got committees meeting on weekends, and that usually doesn't happen until the last two weeks.
"It's all part of an election-year syndrome. This is law-and-order year. You've got guys with bills in for mandatory sentences on everything from jaywalking to wife-beating. They want to go home and say, 'See, I'm a law-and-order man.' The Senate is out of control now. Imagine what it's going to be like in April."
April is the month when young legislators' fancies often turn heavily towards election day, according to the more experienced members, who know that is when they will want to keep the freshmen away from their phones.
"A lot of people can't handle the pressure, especially the first termers," said Del. Paul Weisengoff (D-Baltimore), who has been one of the leaders of a less than subtle anti-Hughes campaign this year. "They need to get elected a second time before they have enough confidence to vote on what's right instead of what looks good for their image.
"But election year also can make for more bargaining. A lot of times people will vote for a bill they might not be adamantly against in exchange for support on a bill that affects their area. That way they can go home and be a kingpin because they got three or four bills passed during the session."
"The only reason 21 passed as the drinking age in the House was because this is an election year. Any other year, 19 would have passed easily."
The Hughes people point to the passage of the drinking age bill as a major victory for the governor. They are confident that when the backroom work has been completed on the other issues, he will emerge with an improved image of leadership, an image that is vital to Hughes as he begins his reelection campaign.
Much of the responsibility for sculpting that image will fall on the shoulders of Cardin, who will decide in the next couple of weeks whether he wants to be Hughes' running mate. As Day 90 approaches and the hysteria increases, Cardin will be charged with sitting people down, calming their fears and getting them to vote with the governor.
"I'm not an arm twister," Cardin said. "I never have been. I just try to convince people of the logic of the leadership's position."
He leaned back in his chair and smiled. "But doing that when everyone has one eye on their home district isn't easy. When people come through that door, logic is important. But it's still politics. Raw politics."