*TC ANNAPOLIS -- When the governor began his speech yesterday with a plaintive "Why me?" Sen. Howard A. Denis thought, "Uh-oh, here we go again."
But the governor avoided the self-pity and other indulgences that have turned off legislative audiences before. He permitted no distractions, no gimmicks.
Instead, the man who has lived in dread of this 90-day legislative session offered conciliation, concern and a challenge that touched many in his audience of senators, delegates, judges and Cabinet members.
"Now is the time to be bold, to be progressive, to look beyond today," he said.
After months of playing chicken with the legislature over taxes, William Donald Schaefer had decided to go first -- in a big way. He set forth such a broad array of revenue proposals -- $700 million in all -- that opponents and advocates of tax increases were left gasping.
"In many ways it was the best and most substantive speech the governor has given," said Mr. Denis, a Montgomery County Republican. "I don't agree with much of what he said, but he exercised leadership. The speech made me think he wants a more businesslike relationship with the General Assembly."
"I respect him for not playing games," said House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County. "At least he has been forthright, saying give me more [taxes], give me more spending."
Mr. Schaefer challenged the Assembly to govern as confidently in hard times as it has in times of plenty. And while good times are easier, he said, he seemed to be gaining more support now than he had when there was plenty of money.
"The applause was longer and warmer, the relationship is better," said House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent.
Rhetorically, the governor asked why he had been chosen to guide the state through a difficult recession. His answer was positive.
He described a sense of mission, a will to prevail against forces beyond his control. He offered a speech laced together by a succession of phrases that -- compared with his usual disjointed and rambling style -- seemed disciplined and soaring.
"We do not have the option of choosing whether to serve people only in good times and close down in bad times. We're here now. We have to make the right choices," he declared.
After he cut more than $1 billion in state spending, he said, critics are still demanding an end to waste in government. People still act as if the deficit figures he announces are "made-up numbers," he said.
Mr. Schaefer was interrupted by applause several times during his speech, and, though he ad-libbed responses several times, his focus did not waver.
He did not spare those he sees as barriers to the kind of state he envisions:
"There are people in Maryland who have lived a good life. They've benefited from the good times, used taxpayer money to educate themselves, their children, counted on government to protect them with police and fire service, and to pick up the trash, expected government to be everything for everybody. Now these same people want to deny all those advantages to the next generation.
"We have wiped out programs that help people. We turned our backs on the poor. I'm not proud of this. Even now some people will say cut the waste. What is waste to some is survival for others," he said.
While some found optimism in the governor's remarks, others did not.
"I'm glad he was upbeat," said Del. Ronald A. Gunns, D-Cecil. "We need that."
"I heard a real sense of sadness," said Del. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore.
The major accomplishment of the speech might have been the psychological breakthrough it provided, said Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening. "We've had a lot of dancing and maneuvering about who would be the first, the legislature or the governor, to say the word 'taxes.' It may have been harder to get through that barrier than it will be to put the [deficit reduction] package together," he said.
Mr. Glendening praised Mr. Schaefer's decision to offer challenges that go beyond budget balancing: controlled growth, crime, education and economic development.
"Some day the recession will end," the governor said. "We have to look to the future. . . . Don't be afraid of new directions. Don't be afraid to step out and make a tough decision."
He left his audience with this vision and this echo of better times:
"I've always believed Maryland's destiny is to be a leader. We have been a leader in the good times," he said.
"Let's be a leader in these times as well. We can -- do it now!"
Today in Annapolis
10 a.m.: Senate convenes, Senate chamber.
11 a.m.: House convenes, House chamber.
1 p.m.: Gov. William Donald Schaefer attends Health Care Summit, Lowes Hotel, Annapolis.
There are 88 days remaining in the 1992 General Assembly session.