MARYLAND

A ROSE IS A ROSE:

Gov. William Donald Schaefer may have turned down a convicted murderer's bid to have lunch with him, but the governor's strict standards for meal partners apparently don't apply to everyone who has had trouble with the law. At a $1,500-a-plate Democratic Governors Association fund-raiser two weeks ago, at Schaefer's table was none other than former governor Marvin Mandel, a longtime friend of Schaefer's who served time in federal prison after being convicted of using his office to help associates.

The conviction was eventually overturned, and Mandel has gone on to regain a place in the state's power structure: His right to practice law has been restored, and last week a computer company he helped represent was recommended for a $61 million contract with the State Lottery Agency.

STEINBERG'S DILEMMA:

No. 2 may try harder, but when you're second fiddle to a domineering figure like Schaefer, even that sometimes isn't enough. Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg knows that well. On orders from the governor, he has been put in charge of selling the General Assembly on an $800 million set of tax increases, major parts of which Steinberg does not personally support.

Steinberg has danced carefully around the issue so far, talking about the art of compromise and the legislature's need to put its own stamp on some issues. But after reports last week that he was actively marketing to legislators a much smaller tax increase than the one Schaefer is impatient to have approved, the governor had heard enough.

"The governor and the lieutenant governor are in total agreement that we are supporting the {full} package. Period," Schaefer said, putting words in Steinberg's mouth that the lieutenant governor has avoided uttering on his own.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS:

Schaefer has been under something of a siege lately for his sharp tongue, a weapon he is as willing to turn on private citizens as on lazy bureaucrats or obstinate legislators. Schaefer, however, said it amazes him how his comments, whether made in jest or in rage, divert attention from the real issues of the day.

Some examples of why he may be right: In Easton last week, readers of the Star-Democrat learned from a blazing headline across the front page that Schaefer had apologized for referring to the Eastern Shore as an outhouse. Only those who made it to the back page found out that the state Senate had approved one of the nation's strongest abortion-rights bills. Television viewers may have missed the demonstration of assault weapons last week that Schaefer's office organized to build support for a proposed ban on the weapons; they were less likely to miss the parade, carried on several stations, of angry Shore residents who loaded outhouses onto their pickup trucks for a journey to Annapolis.

CRIB SHEET:

Leaders of the abortion-rights movement in the state Senate got some extra help in defending their cause on the floor of the chamber last week. Leaving nothing to chance, abortion-rights advocates had drawn up a sort of cheat sheet, with quick and easy answers to the attacks expected from abortion foes.

Labeled "confidential," the three-page document was intended to give Senate abortion-rights supporters a ready reference in the debate. But one observer compared it to the movie "Broadcast News," with abortion-rights groups standing off-stage whispering answers to the senators actually anchoring the show.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

After his apology to the Eastern Shore, Schaefer was asked whether he also planned to apologize to people who have received biting, even insulting, letters from him in recent weeks: "Did you read the letters that they wrote to me? . . . They were nice. I'd like to get you that one that starts off, 'Hopes to see me rot in hell . . . . I hope you die very soon.' Reflections on my mother . . . . Those are the things that I'm just supposed to stand in the middle of the floor and be totally immune to."

COMING UP:

The Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee will meet today to review a proposal to slice a state welfare program . . . . The Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee meets tomorrow to discuss a replacement for former Democratic delegate Sylvania W. Woods Jr., who resigned . . . . The House Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee holds hearings at 1 p.m. tomorrow on proposed campaign finance restrictions. The Senate Environmental and Economic Affairs Committee will consider a reforestation bill at 1 p.m. Wednesday . . . . The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee holds hearings at 1 p.m. Friday on proposed cigarette tax increases.