MARYLAND GOV. William Donald Schaefer has never been one to hide his feelings for more than a minute or two -- a trait that long ago endeared him to many who found his quirks, moods, outbursts and antics a refreshing departure from the baloney of others in high places. But now some are starting to worry about his explosive and downright vindictive behavior -- wondering aloud if maybe the governor's notorious short fuse may have blown a gubernatorial gasket. In fact, the degree of executive steadiness at the helm of the Free State became a topic on a radio talk show in Baltimore the other day. This drew a call and an on-air response from the governor himself, assuring the audience that he felt fine.

But what he may consider "fine" is not. He has taken to writing childishly abusive letters to constituents who dare to criticize him. One such letter was to a woman in Anne Arundel County who said she gave the governor a thumbs-down gesture right before the last election when he was standing in the middle of the road waving at motorists driving by. Somebody -- the governor or some aide -- jotted down her license number, then got her name and address. Then came a letter from Gov. Schaefer (who still says it was no thumbs down, but rather an obscene gesture), in which he wrote that this gesture "reminds me of an old expression I once heard: 'Your action only exceeds the ugliness of your face.' Have a nice day."

Yet another nasty note went to a 63-year-old man who wrote a letter to the Carroll County Times criticizing the governor. From the desk of you-know-who came this: "Your letter sounds like a frustrated little boy. How old are you? I pay taxes on real estate federal and state!! Most likely more than you!!" Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker's list includes a letter Gov. Schaefer sent to a man who had written to the Annapolis Capital complaining about the governor's fiscal policies. Mr. Schaefer's reply: "You are everything that speaks of stupidity." And this one, in reply to a cartoon in the Daily Times of Salisbury that included a certain caricature in a less than friendly light: "Saw the cute cartoon. ... I presume the face on the cartoon was a 'self portrait' of the cartoonist or the publisher/editor. ... Oh! by the way ask your mayor if I ever helped Salisbury get its multipurpose center -- or are you too prejudiced to ask."

There is also the more widely publicized vulgarity of the governor as he walked down an aisle past some lawmakers from the Eastern Shore and asked them "How's that s---house of an Eastern Shore?" Just a joke, he explained later, though the folks across the bay didn't exactly double up in laughter. This one can be considered a tasteless attempt at banter with fellow politicians (who just happen to be from the area where Gov. Schaefer lost seven of the nine counties last November). But Gov. Schaefer's crude, over-sensitive slamming of individual citizens is unbecoming, disturbing behavior that needs to be brought under control.