ONLY A generation ago, Maryland enjoyed something less than a grand tradition of good government -- with money talking much too much in places where it shouldn't have said a word. It took a lot of earnest candidates and the passage of time to rid the Free State of its reputation as home of corruption -- but the turnaround has been spectacular. With improved leadership and a relatively strong economy, Maryland has fared well by national standards, and one strong reason for this over the past four years has been the governor, William Donald Schaefer.

By his own design -- quirky and moody but productive and successful -- Mr. Schaefer has become a personification of Maryland as he once was of Baltimore. His record of results continues to rely on a do-it-now, hands-on style that at times can be autocratic and short-fused and, when it comes to dealing with subordinates or certain lawmakers, not all that tolerant of dissent. Still, he listens to Marylanders and responds with a canny, populist sense of what's achievable. Clearly he has earned another term.

Gov. Schaefer and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, may not be thick buddies anymore, but they present a most talented ticket of proven vote-getters with distinguished legislative as well as executive service. With tougher economic times ahead for Maryland as well as other states, the political and fiscal experience of these two Democrats becomes especially valuable.

The Republican ticket is unique: William S. Shepard, running for governor, chose as his running mate his wife, Lois B. Shepard. They campaigned successfully for their party's nomination and are banking on what they describe as voter dissatisfaction with taxes and other unfulfilled expectations from four years ago. But they offer little in the way of helpful proposals for bringing Maryland a better day. In fact, it is Gov. Schaefer's keen sense of taxpayers' moods, poor people's needs and lawmakers' political limits that continues to make him the strongest person for the next stretch.