In the column-writing business you can always make one phone call too many. Yesterday, mine was to Parris Glendening.
I had already written my Wednesday column. This was the lead paragraph: "When Parris Glendening stands to take his oath of office on Jan. 18, they are going to have to prop him up. That is because the man has no spine."
I argued that Glendening's abandonment of comprehensive gun control legislation this year came out of sheer political cowardice.
"Glendening is moving to the middle of the road," I wrote. "But the only thing you will find in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe. And right now it is running straight down Parris Glendening's backside."
I really liked that line. But then I did a semi-foolish thing. I called Glendening to get his side of things.
It was only semi-foolish because many times politicians do not return the phone calls of columnists. I do not know why.
When they don't return your call, you can be as vicious and unfair as you want.
And when 5 p.m. rolled around yesterday and Glendening had not called back, I figured I was home free.
Then the phone rang and it was Glendening. We spoke and I got him to make a flat-out promise -- something else many politicians won't do -- and so now I am forced to be reasonable.
Glendening would deserve a vicious attack if he actually had abandoned support for the comprehensive gun control legislation that has been outlined by the Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA), an organization he has been honorary co-chair of since 1990.
And a few weeks ago, I saw a TV interview with Glendening in which he said: "We have enough gun control laws on the books and what we ought to do is implement those."
Which is pretty much the position taken by his gubernatorial opponent, Ellen Sauerbrey, a person he denounced as a right-wing nut.
And if that truly was Glendening's position, no nasty thing I had written about him would have been nasty enough. We are not talking about legislation to change the state flower. We are talking about legislation to save lives.
But Glendening says that is not his position.
"I do support the comprehensive proposal that was outlined by MAHA," Glendening said. "And we do intend to work with MAHA to get a package together that will be introduced almost certainly in the 1996 session."
(That "almost certainly" made my ears perk up. Maybe I could run the nasty column after all.)
Glendening said he simply could not gather the General Assembly votes he needed for passage of the legislation in 1995. Instead, he said he is going to form a commission on gun violence to draft detailed gun control legislation for passage in 1996.
"The legislative leadership came to me and told me that it would not pass this year," Glendening said. "So rather than fight for it on principle knowing that it will almost certainly go down, I decided to wait."
But what happens in the fall of this year if the leadership comes to you again and says they cannot get the votes for gun control in 1996? I asked. What will you do then?
"Then it will be time for us to move ahead," Glendening said.
What does that mean? I asked.
"It means I will pull the best vote together I can get and go for it," he said.
So even if you are told you don't have the votes for 1996, you will move the legislation to a vote? I asked.
"That's right," he said.
You are committing yourself to a vote on comprehensive gun control in 1996, I asked. (I really liked that nasty column.)
"That's right," Glendening said. "It will happen in 1996 whether I have the votes or not. Look, we all need time to settle in. We need to time to build a strong working relationship with the leadership and the rank and file.
"I know some people say I am moving to the right, but it's just not true. I tend to be very deliberative. But I also tend to be very effective."
The possibility exists, of course, that Glendening is playing me for a fool and that he will come up with a new excuse as 1996 approaches.
Sometimes, however, you have to give a guy the benefit of the doubt.
But I don't intend to make a habit of it.