Maryland legislators opened the 1980 session here today with a studied show of irreverence for Gov. Harry Hughes, who in turn grudgingly admitted that perhaps he could improve his relations with them.
In first-day moves that appeared more symbolic than substantive, the Senate voted to override four gubernatorial vetoes and the House two. The votes were only a step in the process of rejecting Hughes' vetoes -- overriding will require votes by both houses on each of the six bills.
But the implicit meaning of the votes was revealed by one Baltimore senator who said: "We were looking for something to go against Hughes on. And we really had to look hard."
For his part, Hughes, at a press conference after the General Assembly actions, conceded that "there may have been some instances where we did not communicate as well as we should have" with legislators last year. This year, he promised, the relationship would take a turn for the better.
But in a classic continuation of the style that has angered some legislators, Hughes carefully dodged questions and had little to say about the difficult issues facing the General Assembly.
And, in hurt tones, Hughes took exception to the frequent criticism that he is too detached from the legislative leadership. "I keep reading about my aloofness or 'Where's Harry?'" said Hughes, who returned only last night from a one week vacation in the Virgin Islands. "I've never been accused before of being aloof in my life. I always figured that if there was anyone who wasn't aloof, it was me."
The 188 senators and delegates converged on the State House from less exotic spots in their home districts throughout Maryland, and took up as their first order of business several gubernatorial vetoes. Sen. Harry McGuirk, a South Baltimore political powerhouse, was the first to rise, calling for his colleagues to override the veto of a bill that allowed Maryland's hunters to use lead shot for killing wild water fowl.
The governor had vetoed the bill, citing scientific evidence that the lead pellets, which spray out and fall into the water, are later eaten by ducks and cause lead poisoning.
The bill was sponsored by the Senate's senior member, Frederick C. Malkus Jr. (D-Eastern Shore), who is known as the Silver Fox because of his bushy mane of white hair. The bill had become a cause celebre among legislators, who repeated since the veto, "the governor can't treat the Silver Fox that way."
Today, his jowls quivering and bushy eyebrows twitching, Malkus rose from his seat and declared that the "duck doctors" who claim that ingesting lead shot harms the water fowl 'are a bunch of quacks. I mean that seriously."
Malkus also quoted heavily from a study done on the subject in Ducks Unlimited, a magazine that is apparently the Bible of duck hunters.
Malkus was joined in his efforts to defeat the veto by Sen. Victor Crawford (D-Montgomery) who had gone hunting with Malkus last fall. "You made a believer out of me," Crawford told Malkus during the debate.
The governor's lobbyists, yielding to a foregone conclusion that the Senate was lost on this issue, put up only token resistance. The vote to override was 37 to 8.
The House voted to override two of Hughes vetoes by overwhelming margins and consideration of two others was postponed until Friday.
Neither bill provoked much controversy, but Hughes' staff had lobbied against one, a measure requiring state agencies to establish written procedures for handling citizens' complaints. Hughes' staff had complained that the bill, introduced by Del. Luiz Simmons (R-Montgomery), would cause an "administrative nightmare" of paperwork for state officials.
That charge provoked Del. Helen Koss (D-Montgomery), the chairman of the committee that approved the bill, to complain that "the governor and the executive branch were reading into the bill all sorts of requirements that any clear reading . . . could not include.
At his press conference, Hughes backed away from his stance against the bill, saying that under "the legislature's interpretation," he had "no problems." Nevertheless, the override proposal is expected to face strong opposition in the Senate.
Hughes said he had not yet made up his mind about the issue most important to Washington-area legislators, funding for mass transit systems.
The governor said he intended to wait until receiving the final report of a commission established to study the problem before deciding his position on state subsidies to the subway systems of Washington and Baltimore, or on ways to raise the money.
The legislators returned to Annapolis today full of proposals great and small that they had invented over the summer, but with little to discuss except the newspaper stories that heralded their arrival.
One sentator, John J. Bishop (R-Baltimore County, introduced a proposal he had devised for what seemed to be the exclusive circumstances of former governor Marvin Mandel's return to the State House in the opening days of last year's session. Bishop's bill provides that state officials who leave office after being convicted of impropriety may not return until all appeals in their cases have been exhausted.
But as much on their minds as their weighty proposals, was a Baltimore newspaper story that had selected the eight best and eight worst legislators.
Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III (D-Baltimore), who had been singled out as having the worst attendance record, rose in the Senate to announce that he would have a surprise for reporters on Thursday.
He later hinted that he would be putting together a list of his own bests and worsts in journalism.