When Republican Bill Shepard announced he was running for governor, no one paid much attention. Then he picked his wife, Lois, as his lieutenant governor, and all hell broke loose.
"An affront to Maryland voters," angry party leaders sputtered as they quickly recruited their own candidate to sink the Shepards and salvage their party's honor.
Next, the press corps weighed in. "A double embarrassment," wrote the pundits. "An ego trip for two." A Baltimore Sun editor, Theo Lippman Jr., dubbed the Shepard slate "a Looney Tunes stunt."
"Looney Tunes?" Before hurling a cream pie at the hapless Shepards, let's take a closer look at Maryland politics. We're governed, after all, by a couple of guys named Donald and Mickey.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer is prone to funny hats, diving into seal tanks, crazy eyeglasses and Elmer Fudd tantrums. His election-year antics are equally Disneyesque.
He's proclaiming 1990 "The Year of the Infant," but won't take a stand on the abortion issue.
He's helping vacationers "Reach the Beach" with roadside signs telling them what they already know -- they're stuck in traffic.
He's lifting the rockfish ban from October to election day, and he's starring in TV commericals encouraging Marylanders to visit Maryland. The ads would be better aimed at potential tourists in other states, but out-of-state tourists don't vote.
He's investigating last week's oil-price hikes and wants mandatory drug tests for Maryland's 70,000 state employees.
Last month he ordered those same employees to wear "Yes, We Can" happy-face buttons displaying the governor's name. It's probably an idea he picked up in China. But the employees rebelled at wearing Schaefer's thinly disguised campaign pins while marching off to restrooms for their mandatory drug tests. So Schaefer suspended the tests ... until after the primary elections.
Schaefer has a lot of people wondering whether he's running for governor of Maryland or of Poland. Next week he's off on his eighth overseas trip -- the third in four months. While Maryland cuts Medicaid for the poor, Schaefer wants a mini-Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe, funded, in part, by Maryland taxpayers.
But Schaefer isn't the only cut-up in this year's Looney Tunes elections.
Roger Kelly is running for Frederick County commissioner. He's also the grand dragon of the Maryland Ku Klux Klan. And what's the grand dragon's big issue? Overdevelopment. "That's what's raising our property taxes around here," he says. Watch for burning crosses at construction sites.
Meanwhile Nelson Stewart has filed in Baltimore City for a Democratic state Senate seat. The problem is he lives outside Baltimore and is a registered Republican.
William Steiner Jr., a candidate for Anne Arundel County executive, wants to lower property taxes by bringing back slot machines. "That would raise a lot of money and help the economy too," he says. It's about time the state lottery got some competition.
Gary Monroe, a Statehouse guard, spent seven years observing state legislators until one day it stuck him: "This is a job I can do." So he's running for the House of Delegates in Baltimore's 11th District. But even if he wins, ex-cops are not likely to outnumber ex-cons in next year's General Assembly.
Former Prince George's County state senator Tommie Broadwater (convicted for food-stamp fraud in 1983) is running to regain his seat. And ex-congressman Charles Diggs Jr. (convicted of taking kickbacks in 1980) is running for the House of Delegates. Meanwhile in Baltimore City, Nathaniel Oaks (convicted of theft, perjury and misconduct in office in 1988) is running to rejoin the assembly.
Lt. Gov. Mickey Steinberg, though he hasn't been convicted of anything, has problems too. In June the Federal Communications Commission panel rejected his group's radio station application as a "sham" intended to exploit the FCC minority preference law. Steinberg is appealing, which should get him safely through election day.
In the wacky world of Maryland politics, a whiff of impropriety from the governor's running mate is no scandal. It's only a scandal if the gubernatorial candidate's running mate is his wife. And that, friends, is Looney Tunes.
The writer, the vice president of a Silver Spring development firm, is a regular contributor to Close to Home.