ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 4 -- House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. denounced Gov. William Donald Schaefer today for making a rude remark last week about Maryland's Eastern Shore, but Schaefer refused to apologize, saying the remark was taken out of context.

People on the Eastern Shore "are absolutely livid; they're outraged. In fact, there's a lot of people who would like to see him impeached," said Mitchell, a Democrat from the Eastern Shore's Kent County.

"I think he owes more than an apology, he owes every person over there an apology," said Mitchell, who reported receiving dozens of angry phone calls.

But Schaefer (D), reached at the midwinter meeting of the National Governors' Association in Washington, said the "off the cuff" remark was part of a running joke with Del. K. Bennett Bozman (D-Worcester). Bozman emphatically disagreed.

"Is that what he's saying? That it's a joke? Well I guess he's got to say something," said Bozman, a freshman legislator who said he has known Schaefer for about a decade.

Schaefer made the remark Friday. As he worked his way down the center aisle of the House Chamber, where delegates and senators had gathered for the swearing-in ceremonies for State Treasurer Lucille Maurer, Schaefer leaned toward the Eastern Shore delegation and said, "How's that {expletive}-house of an Eastern Shore?"

The remark, likely to trigger another chilly period in the ever-fluctuating relations between Mitchell and Schaefer, is widely attributed to Schaefer's pique at Eastern Shore voters, who delivered seven of nine counties for Schaefer's Republican opponent, William S. Shepard.

Calling the remark "a joke, completely a joke," Schaefer said he and Bozman have often talked about anti-Schaefer sentiment on the Eastern Shore. "Bozman and I have swapped stories like this," Schaefer said, "and he has told me some of the things they say about me."

Bozman acknowledged he has talked and joked with the 69-year-old governor about Schaefer's showing in the last election. "But I've never, never heard the man use a vulgarity. I was shocked. People said my jaw fell down," Bozman said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), who has suffered his share of scorching remarks by the governor, said Schaefer's comments should not be blown out of proportion.

"The governor was in a good mood when he came up to the rostrum," Miller said. "I know it was not malicious in nature. The governor truly loves the Eastern Shore."

But lawmakers from the rural Shore, whose constituents have complained about Schaefer's support of gun control and wetlands restrictions, worry that Schaefer's resentment could last for the rest of his term.

"People have given me a long list of ways they think he's taking revenge on us," said Sen. Lewis R. Riley (R-Wicomico). "I'd like to think that won't happen, so I won't say what they are. We'll just wait and see."