In the beginning, there were predictions of chaos: the opening-day session with scores of legislators huddled in the hallways poring over the governor's proposed redistricting plan, the filibuster by Prince George's senators.
In the end, the only talk was of the tranquility: the leisurely pace of last-day afternoon office parties, the long recesses, the talk of boredom. "It's great for the last day, really relaxed," said Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery). "It's never been like this in 12 years."
The Maryland General Assembly, which opened about 90 days ago amid redistricting rancor, went out Monday night with barely a whimper. The major issues all were settled and the most important bill awaiting final approval was a rather innocuous divorce bill, in sharp contrast to last year when hundreds of measures simply died at midnight when time on the clock ran out.
There are as many reasons for the relative calm as there are legislators: each one has his or her own analysis.
Del. Sylvania Woods (D-Prince George's) suggests the cyclical tranquility theory--that the fourth year of any legislature is always the easiest, since the leadership has had three years to whip new members into line.
"The leadership has had four years to work out the kinks," he said. "Next year, they'll have to start all over. When you have redistricting, the turnover is usually about 50 to 60 percent. It will take them three years to whip the new crew into shape."
Del. Larry Young (D-Baltimore) has the budgetary theory of tranquility. Said Young: Whenever the House receives the budget first, there is disarray, last-minute tinkering by the Senate, late-night conferences. Whenever the Senate gets the budget first--as happened this year--the process is calmer, since the House moves in a more orderly fashion and without the filibuster threat.
Gov. Harry Hughes expounds on his own theory, the relativity theory of tranquility. Everyone says every year that it has been the most boring session anyone can remember, says Hughes.
Finally, there is the theory of reapportionment tranquility, also known as the cover-yourself-in-election-year theory. Under that theory, it was really reapportionment that set the calmer tone this year, by instilling in wayward legislators the fear that they would be running for reelection in new districts and had best come out of this session looking "responsible."
"It was a more serious session than usual," says Del. Henry R. Hergenroeder Jr. (D-Baltimore). "People didn't want to make a mistake. They were more cautious because of reapportionment."
An example of the reapportionment theory of tranquility was seen in two Baltimore districts, which have been redrawn so that six incumbent Democrats will be running for the same four vacant seats.
These six delegates, all woven of the same populist political cloth, realized at mid-session they were competing against each other to see who could win honors as the most popular populist from the heavily ethnic districts in East Baltimore.
DiPietro, Cavallaro, McDonough, Dietrich, Dypski, and Miedusiewski had a running battle for 45 days, which their colleagues observed amidst great chuckling. Who among the six would be the first to flash green (for an "aye" vote) when the House of Delegates was considering whether to prohibit membership fees on credit cards? (By all accounts, the six green lights appeared within milliseconds of one another, making the measurement of a clear winner too difficult to ascertain.) Who would rise first to speak against the utility companies' charging higher rates?
"I would like to call on the delegate from the 47th District who is the most active opponent of utility companies to explain his vote," one colleague said teasingly from the House floor, watching with laughter as three of the six jumped up to speak first.
For weeks this scenario continued. Each of the six delegates anxiously tried to avoid a vote that would appear different from his possible challengers. Such is the reapportionment theory of tranquility: Caution is orderly.
Then there is the old-fashioned election-year (with reapportionment thrown in) theory of tranquility. That is the "I don't want to make him look too bad because then he will do the same to me" theory. Fewer votes were traded during back-room sessions this year, legislators say. Issues were decided in a more straightforward way. Legislators were afraid that if deals backfired there would be costly election-year embarrassments.
The tranquility, whatever its causes, paid off. Tempers were short, but not frayed. People were tired, but not ragged. In the middle of the afternoon on the fabled 90th day, the House recessed for committee parties, picture taking, and chatting.
"There really isn't much else to do," said Hergenroeder, as he moved from room to room in the House Office Building conducting an informal survey of the culinary spreads laid out by different delegations.
"Baltimore County has definitely got the most creative food," he said. "All home cooking."