It was, for the most part, a quiet reunion.
From all over the state, 188 legislators came here today. Technically they arrived to approve legislation that will extend unemployment benefits for 11,100 unemployed workers in Maryland.
But this was really a final--an unexpected--opportunity for the members of this fraternity to gather, to trade tales and rumors, to retreat to the watering holes of their picturesque winter playground for some warm-weather revelry.
"When I got in my car this morning it was just like any other work day," said Del. Henry R. (Bobby) Hergenroeder (D-Baltimore). "But when I walked onto the floor and sat in my seat I felt a tingle, electricity. I was back in the General Assembly with my colleagues and that was exciting."
That was the general sentiment as the State House, normally empty during these dog days, came alive for one day, filled with the sights and sounds normally associated with the winter months when the Assembly holds its 90-day session.
"I never thought I would sit on this floor again," said Del. Luiz Simmons (R-Montgomery), who is leaving the legislature to run for county executive. "To have one final chance to come back here is great. But it's also a little strange. No one knows who will be back and who won't. It's like seeing shadows. You don't know if you are seeing real people or just their shadows."
The surreal nature to this special session was created by the nearness of the primaries, 38 days away, and the smooth and efficient manner in which the session was carried out--the final gavel falling less than four hours after the session began.
"I've seen a lot of special sessions," said Gov. Harry Hughes at the bill signing ceremony, "but none that were carried out as swiftly as this one."
The swiftness and noncontroversial nature of the rainy day--the weather delighted incumbents who saw it as a deterrent to insurgent opponents campaigning while they were in session--gave the legislators reason to relax and have fun. But, with the elections so close, there was a somewhat mummified tone to the partying.
There were some poignant moments. For a number of legislators, this was an unexpected chance for a valediction.
Sen. Harry J. McGuirk (D-Baltimore), who is abandoning the seat he has held in the Senate for 16 years to oppose Hughes in the Democratic primary, made no speech. But the vice chairman of his committee, Frederick C. Malkus Jr. (D-Dorchester), spoke in his place, talking about how much McGuirk would be missed in the Senate.
Sen. Victor L. Crawford, retiring after three terms as one of the resident wits, told his colleagues: "I can't think of a better place for a swan song than here among a bunch of swans. I've seen a lot of changes here and hated every one of them. I'm going to go home to try to make some money so I can send my kids to college."
Across the hall, Del. Daniel J. Minnick Jr. (D-Baltimore County), speaker pro tem of the House, retiring after four terms to take a job at the State Board of Licensing and Regulation, rose only to say quietly, "Mr. Speaker, I will miss you all."
The House's resident gadfly, Del. Robin Ficker (R-Montgomery), chose not to abide by the unwritten rule that only the emergency unemployment bill would be introduced.
He introduced two bills, and as the television cameras honed in on him as he tried to discuss their merits, the hooting began.
"Turn off the cameras and he'll shut up," said Del. Robert R. Neall (R-Anne Arundel), who stalked off the floor.
Also providing entertainment were the lobbyists, who had nothing to do yet found something to do. As Bruce C. Bereano, lobbyist for everyone, rushed from chamber to chamber looking for legislators, one legislator cracked, "I think he's been standing in the hall the last three months saying, 'Where is everybody?' "
The day was so relaxed that even the normally reserved Hughes managed to come up with a punch line. As the bill was signed, House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin said that he hoped to work with Hughes for the rest of the term.
"Ben," said the hoping-to-be-reelected governor, "I'd be more than willing to work with you beyond the end of this term."