Harry R. Hughes, former Maryland governor, dies at 92

WASHINGTON — Harry R. Hughes, who as Maryland governor brought a tone and perception of order and propriety to the state government after the scandal-ridden administrations of Spiro T. Agnew and Marvin Mandel, died Wednesday at his home in Denton, Md. He was 92.

A daughter, Elizabeth Hughes, confirmed the death but did not provide a specific cause.

Mr. Hughes, a Democrat, was Maryland’s chief executive from 1979 to 1987. Unlike two of his predecessors, he served the two full terms to which he was elected.


Agnew, a Republican, resigned as governor in 1969 to become President Nixon’s vice president. He later quit that office after charges that he had accepted bribes while governor of Maryland. Mandel, a Democrat, stepped aside as governor in 1977 after charges that linked him with mail fraud and racketeering; his conviction was overturned on appeal.

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Elected on a pledge to restore integrity and pride to the state’s reputation, Mr. Hughes was seen in the public sphere as the quintessential straight arrow. Neither flashy nor flamboyant, he maintained a low profile that reflected responsibility and diligence. Taking office, he promised ‘‘a very quiet administration.’’

A 1986 Washington Post summation of his administration said Mr. Hughes ‘‘set modest goals without apology’’ and created an image that never went beyond that of an ‘‘honest and amiable caretaker.’’

An Eastern Shore native, he was a staunch advocate for the Chesapeake Bay. His gubernatorial stewardship included signing into law the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, which contained measures to protect the bay from pollution and excessive exploitation of its crab, fish, and oyster supply.

He began trade relations with China, presided over a doubling of the state budget to more than $8 billion and initiated programs to improve the state’s support of education. He raised payments in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program and backed reform of a pension plan for state employees. He appointed a record number of women and minorities to Cabinet posts and judgeships, as well as state boards and commissions.


In the Hughes administration, Maryland began an aggressive program to crack down on drunk drivers, and the state raised gasoline taxes to pay for crucial road and bridge repairs.

But the governor was often at odds with the 188-member Maryland General Assembly, whose leaders groused that the governor’s dislike of backroom wheeling and dealing made it difficult to get things done. Some lawmakers said he was often slow on the draw.

‘‘He doesn’t really pick priorities. They just sort of come up. . . . He waits for the prison guard to be stabbed, for the bay to decline, and the S&L to be robbed before he acts,’’ Delegate Timothy Maloney, a fellow Democrat, said in 1986.

Stephen Sachs — who was elected Maryland’s attorney general in 1978, the year Mr. Hughes was elected governor — was kinder. ‘‘I think his greatest legacy will be that he restored the state to political sanity, not just by being honest, which was not a bad place to start, but with appointments, the openness, the candor,’’ Sachs said in 1986. ‘‘People now take these things for granted, but eight years ago you couldn’t.’’

The low point of the Hughes governorship, of his entire political career, came during his final years in office. A crisis in the savings and loan industry deprived thousands of Marylanders of their money for several months and seriously eroded the governor’s popularity. That crisis involved the failure of S&Ls across the country, and Maryland was especially hard hit.


Among the measures ordered by the governor to avert a panic were limits of $1,000 a month on withdrawals from 102 state-chartered S&Ls and a 20-day ban on withdrawals from Community Savings & Loan of Bethesda, where a two-day run had raised the specter of insolvency.

Using emergency powers granted him in a special session of the General Assembly, Mr. Hughes signed an executive order tightening state regulations of the S&Ls and closing loopholes that had allowed certain unsafe practices.

Nevertheless, critics said the governor had been too slow in his handling of the crisis, and the plunge in his popularity is widely believed to have contributed to his defeat in his last run for public office. In 1986, he finished third in a three-way Democratic primary for a US Senate seat. That primary was won by then-Representative Barbara Mikulski, who captured the seat in the general election.