Among the letters and messages piling up on the desk of Del. Gene W. Counihan (D-Montgomery) this week was this one: "Unless you do something to help constituents in this crisis they will vote against you at election time."
He also got another message, along the lines of: "I don't want you using my tax dollars to fund a bailout. These guys were going for top dollar and they went into it with their eyes open.' " Counihan said, "It's a Catch-22."
That about sums up the political dilemma lawmakers face here as the Maryland General Assembly wraps up the first day of the second special session held to resolve the five-month savings and loan crisis.
For months, many lawmakers here said, most constituents believed the responsibility for the problem belonged to individual bank officers, the state bureaucracy or Gov. Harry Hughes. If the lawmakers believed otherwise, they did nothing to discourage that view.
Increasingly however, as the crisis has worn on, depositors have grown more and more restless, and other taxpayers have become increasingly resentful. Many legislators are coming to the view that whatever the political fallout is, it will rain on them, too.
"People are mad. I'm not sure who they're mad at. I think they'll be mad at us unless we solve the depositor question," said Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's).
It now appears that the impact of the crisis is not being felt evenly across the state, according to a demographic profile of the depositors of the affected thrifts. The study had been requested by legislative leaders.
Preliminary information on where the depositors live and the size of their accounts confirm what most legislators suspected: that the affected thrifts and depositors are located mainly in the Baltimore metropolitan area, Montgomery County, Howard County and northern Prince George's. While some legislators breathed a sigh of relief, others, particularly in Montgomery, became concerned that the news would create further division. Her constituents "are feeling once again that the Washington area's interests aren't being dealt with," said Del. Mary Boergers (D-Montgomery).
The increasing attention being focused on individual lawmakers is most apparent in the pile of yellow slips collecting on each desk as constituents contacted representatives today. Some were dramatic: a 77-year-old widow with savings tied up in two of the most recently frozen thrifts, called Del. Ida Ruben (D-Montgomery) "in hysterics," saying she had no money, Ruben said.
Others were irate, "One said, 'If I get ahold of Steinberg, I'll kill him,' " Del. Lucille Maurer (D-Montgomery), said of a caller angry at Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg's recent move to block one proposal to buy out a crippled thrift.
Depositors at Chesapeake Savings and Loan whose accounts were frozen under executive order today were greeted with signs telling them to call their senators if they had a problem, sparking a spate of irate messages to Anne Arundel senators Gerald W. Winegrad, a Democrat and John A. Cade, a Republican.
Added Del. Charles Ryan, who along with Devlin represents Greenbelt, an area with a large number of affected depositors: "Up until now we've been able to say, we're not in session, we're in a react mode. Once we go into session, if we do not raise the proper questions, I think legitimately they will be able to come back to us and say, 'Why didn't you do something?' "
But, as Counihan pointed out, the lawmakers' response is complicated by the fact that constituents tend to be divided in their views, depending on whether or not they have money tied up in a thrift.
Many interest groups that have pleaded for years for funding for their causes are angry that the state is apparently willing to spend millions to address the needs of depositors they see as the well-to-do trying to get richer.
Montgomery lawmakers are feeling particularly vulnerable because that county is in a state of political upheaval that hasn't been seen in recent years, sparked mainly by U.S. Rep. Michael Barnes' announcement that he will be seeking a U.S. Senate seat. That set off a chain reaction involving nearly half the current Montgomery delegation.
"With so much up for grabs," said Del. Diane Kirchenbauer, among those expected to seek a different office next year, "If ever there's a year to knock off an incumbent, this is it."