Democratic Del. Patricia R. Sher, emerging Friday from a nerve-racking session with her colleagues from Montgomery County, turned to her longtime friend and former state senator Victor L. Crawford and snapped, "There's no sense of history in that room -- just ambition and greed."
Although several delegates eavesdropping on Sher raised their eyebrows at her vehemence, her words revealed what some say is an unspoken truth about a delegation that prizes its public image of genteel liberalism, civilized debate and unanimity.
That image, according to many of the 21 Montgomery County members of the House of Delegates and several partisan observers, cannot survive the 1986 session of the General Assembly.
Torn by election-year politics of their own, and caught in a war of words between County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist and the seven-member County Council over land use planning, Montgomery delegates have traded their customary white gloves for boxing mitts. The public niceties that masked their private divisions in the past have vanished amid energetic political posturing, according to delegates.
"My impression of the Montgomery County delegation is that the members really don't like each other," said Del. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore), who has watched the delegation from his vantage point as speaker of the House since 1979.
"Collectively, they're not able to function as effectively as they could, because of the politics of the members," Cardin said in a recent interview. "You have so many of them campaigning against each other that nobody can tell you today what the delegation is going to do."
These are extraordinary times for the county, which is at an important crossroads in dealing with future development, and also for its delegates, nine of whom soon will be engaged in fierce elections to win seats in the state Senate or Congress, or to retain their positions in the Maryland House.
These days, Montgomery delegates have proved time and again that, when political interests collide with local development issues, scoring debating points becomes more important than discussing the issues seriously.
For example, Democratic Del. Lucille Maurer staged a mild tantrum at a delegation meeting two weeks ago after Del. Idamae Garrott, a fellow Democrat who is her rival for the Senate seat in District 19, urged the group to delay consideration of Garrott's bill on the reuse of community schools.
Maurer, whose presence gave the meeting its needed quorum, got her way by gathering up her papers and threatening to walk out. The meeting continued without further incident.
Two days ago, again at the regular Montgomery delegation meeting, Maurer made a point of siding with Garrott when her rival opposed a controversial bill that would give future county executives veto power over land use master plans.
Maurer, sounding a recurrent Garrott theme, said: "It's clear the land planning process has to be adjusted, but it would be unwise to overturn the charter" to do so.
However, Maurer, Garrott, Sher and five of their temporary allies were on the losing end of a close vote on the bill, which was a major component of a legislative package drafted by Gilchrist's office. The delegation voted 12 to 8 to give Gilchrist's successors the veto power, and 12 to 9 to give future county executives the authority to appoint two members of the local planning board, a power now held by the County Council.
The votes on the measures came during a tense, 2 1/2-hour session in which delegates on both sides agreed that their local government in Rockville had failed in recent years to manage Montgomery's unprecedented growth.
Gilchrist -- through members of his cabinet, his lobbyist here and friends in the business community -- and the County Council and the planning board, through their proxies, played on the rifts in the delegation in lobbying intensively for the two planning bills.
Delegation Chairman Ida G. Ruben, a Democrat, who brought the bills up for debate out of sequence and sped the discussion along to meet an 11:30 a.m. deadline, was a key to Gilchrist's success, as were the affirmative votes of Democratic Del. Mary H. Boergers and Republican Del. Constance A. Morella, both previously undecided.
Del. Donald B. Robertson, a Democrat who is an ally of county planning board chairman Norman L. Christeller and a wily veteran of a thousand parliamentary wars, tried several times to kill or dilute the bills, to no avail.
"This was quite unlike anything I've seen," said Democratic Del. Diane Kirchenbauer after the vote. "I personally do not like making land use decisions, but these bills put us in the middle."
Kirchenbauer, who voted for the veto bill and against the appointment measure, said the split in Montgomery County's delegation can only hamper its effectiveness as it tries to win money for roads and schools in the remaining 51 days of the 90-day legislative session.
"A lot of our problem is perception," said Kirchenbauer, who is vying with Ruben for the District 20 Senate seat. "There's this image that we're not working for a common purpose, that we're too busy tied in knots to be effective. Well, that problem is in our own hands."