A rift at the top


The increasingly chilly relationship between Maryland's governor and lieutenant governor adds to the stock of what has become cocktail party chatter -- already replete with outhouse jokes and "Schaefer for president" quips.

But beyond the political trivia lies the critical question of how effective the administration will be in its remaining years. It is clear that the governor, well-known for holding grudges to the point of vindictiveness, has had it with the man he once called "the best lieutenant governor the state has ever had."

Schaefer, who demands loyalty from his troops, first found Mickey Steinberg's behavior less than loyal during the re-election campaign, when Steinberg recoiled at setting up a new fund-raising arm in his name that would have served to bloat the already well-endowed coffers of the Schaefer campaign. But Steinberg's refusal to lobby lawmakers for the Linowes tax plan was the final straw, and the governor publicly criticized him last week on WBAL's half-hour "Ask Governor Schaefer" program -- comparing Steinberg to an army officer who disobeys orders. Steinberg retorted that Maryland is not a military state. Still, the incident drives the final wedge through the once-harmonious relationship -- with inevitable political repercussions.

Steinberg, for example, has in the past been charged with the responsibility of shepherding the governor's initiatives through the General Assembly, and his former position as Senate president made him particularly well suited for the job. But Schaefer has managed to alienate the legislative leadership, too. Now, without Steinberg to lobby on his behalf, the governor is going to have a tough time getting his initiatives passed.

On the heels of the 1991 legislative session, in which all of the governor's major initiatives have been rejected, Schaefer's public pummeling of Steinberg may well backfire, bolstering Steinberg's popularity and making the governor even more a lame duck.

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