Because the Maryland General Assembly meets for only 90 calendar days each year, there is a general perception that the minute the 188 legislators set foot in the State House on the second Wednesday in January the fireworks begin.
Of course, that isn't true. Every year, but especially in a year following an election, it takes about 30 days for the legislative gears to begin cranking out legislation--and for the inevitable controversies that go with them to develop.
But, in the meantime, the migrants who come here each winter chafe and complain of inactivity.
"It's so dead down here that the only thing worth talking about is how dead it is down here," Sen. John A. Pica Jr. (D-Baltimore) said recently. "I just don't understand it."
Even the press, which loves to complain about working too hard, finds itself wishing for action at this time of year. Regular State House reporters take to walking up to each other and saying, "You can't be writing a story; what is there to write?"
Actually, everyone's frustration is easy to understand.
The freshmen, here for the first time, can't understand why they haven't conquered the world, why everything moves so slowly and why all the famous stories they have heard about Annapolis night life seem to be grand exaggerations.
The veteran legislators, such as Pica, who served a term in the House of Delegates before being elected to the Senate this fall, still have vivid memories of an election-year session, which is an entirely different animal than sessions the other three years.
Never was this more true than in 1982, when Gov. Harry Hughes awoke from three sessions of near slumber to become an activist on any issue that was politically convenient. Right behind him were the legislators, all of them up for reelection and therefore inclined to posture and try to make news whenever possible.
A year later, Hughes entered the session with a minimal legislative package--although he has jumped on a couple of new issues lately, such as child safety seats, credit card fees and pensions.
Safely reelected, Hughes doesn't feel much of an obligation to spend a lot of time dealing with the press, which, after all is his major link to the public.
Two weeks ago, many reporters were caught off guard when they showed up for what they presumed was Hughes' weekly press conference only to find themselves part of a dog-and-pony show, a so-called "press announcement" that Hughes was going to support child safety seat legislation. When reporters tried to ask questions on another topic, Hughes ended the show, heading for the safety of his state police-guarded office.
Hughes' press spokesman Lou Panos explained that he had talked with three senior members of the press corps and had come away with the impression that the press didn't really care that much if the conferences were weekly or biweekly. What's more, Panos said, he had asked the three to "sound out" other reporters about the idea. None of the three reporters involved remember being asked to sound out anybody.
Regardless, Panos made the decision that there would be only the press announcement that week. No members of the electronic media, which are far more dependent on press conferences than the print media, were consulted, nor were any members of the Washington area press.
So, clearly, Hughes is carefully choosing his spots. That has left a lot of room for the legislative leadership to maneuver, and both House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin and Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg have done their best to keep their respective houses busy.
But Cardin has been hobbled, literally, by knee ligaments torn in a skiing accident and by the fact that his committees are only now starting to bring legislation to the floor for final approval. Steinberg spent several weeks bogged down trying to bring a new "decorum" to the Senate.
But today marks the end of the fifth week of the session. Hughes, despite not being terribly accessible, has begun to get more involved in potential legislation the last two weeks and the committees are now ready to consider some of the more controversial legislation that has come before it, such as truck covers.
So, walk up to a legislator and ask him how things are going and he's likely to shake his head and complain about how quiet it has been. Ask a reporter what he's covering and he'll tell you not much.
But that's all going to change very soon. Then everyone here will complain about how busy they are.