A Gentleman in the Governor's Mansion

January 22, 1995|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Five days into the Glendening administration, it's clear Marylanders put in the governor's office a decent, even-tempered, fair-minded individual.

That contrasts quite sharply with the jagged edges and bitter words of defiance that continued to come last week from Mr. Glendening's defeated opponent, Republican Ellen Sauerbrey. And it also is quite a contrast with the mercurial and often mean-tempered former governor, William Donald Schaefer.

In the bizarre court challenge that Republican die-hards posed, Mr. Glendening managed to put a lid on his personal feelings of outrage. He never accused Mrs. Sauerbrey of being Ellen ''Sour Grapes,'' he never accused the Republicans of lodging wild allegations that bordered on McCarthyism, he never accused her lawyers of shoddy practice by bringing to court such a flimsy case.

The Sauerbrey forces succeeded in distracting Mr. Glendening from his task of organizing a new government. They also succeeded in robbing him of the victorious feeling that should have been his after the official ballot count had concluded. He had every right to be angry and to lash out at his defeated opponent.

But he didn't. He remained calm and diplomatic. He remained gubernatorial.

Not so Mrs. Sauerbrey. She continued to broadcast the ''big lie,'' proclaiming time and time again -- still without concrete proof -- that the election had been ''rigged'' and the ballot boxes ''stuffed.'' Even after her pathetic legal challenge collapsed for lack of substance, she persisted in yelling ''fraud.'' She had the temerity to congratulate Mr. Glendening -- two months late -- and then a moment later charge that she had really won the election.

It illustrated one of Mrs. Sauerbrey's greatest strengths -- and weaknesses. She is unyielding in her beliefs and inflexible in her approach. Once persuaded that she had been robbed of the election, she was immovable. The fact that her court case was pathetically weak, the fact that even a sympathetic judge found her case totally lacking, doesn't faze her. She believes she's right and everyone else is wrong, whatever the facts might be.

That kind of bullheaded attitude would have made a Sauerbrey governorship a constant battleground. Government is a marketplace of ideas and an amalgam of political interests. It functions best through compromise and consensus. That's not the Sauerbrey style. It is, though, the Glendening style.

The new governor's approach was very much in evidence on inauguration day. Gracious. Thoughtful. Reaching out to unite -- not divide -- the state. He lavished praise on his predecessor and never mentioned the Sauerbrey distraction. He never gloated.

Mr. Glendening doesn't seem to dwell on negative newspaper )) stories or political slights or angry broadsides from his foes as his predecessor did. Unlike his Republican foe last year, he is willing to modify his approach if facts or situations change. That's the mark of a good politician in a rapidly changing world.

He has entered the governor's mansion in gentlemanly fashion. Not only did he pay homage to Mr. Schaefer in his inaugural remarks, he also spearheaded the public rehabilitation of former Gov. Harry Hughes and gave deference to the positive contributions of ex-Gov. Marvin Mandel.

After eight years of frenetic and kinetic activity from the Schaefer administration, there's something to be said for a more measured, somber, broad-based approach to problem-solving. In the Schaefer years, there were friends to be rewarded and enemies to be punished. The Glendening approach seems less punitive. Enemies, the new governor knows, can well be your allies on the next legislative issue. You don't punish enemies severely; you try to persuade them to join you by modifying your proposals to accommodate their wishes.

That is a throwback to the Mandel years, when Marvin Mandel proved a wizard at forming shifting coalitions to win passage of an astounding number of controversial bills. He did it through inclusion, flexibility and pragmatism. He used the power of his office to form winning combinations.

Harry Hughes, in contrast, used the governor's office to reassert moral leadership. He entered office with a mandate to remove the whiff of scandal from Maryland's highest office -- and succeeded.

Now Mr. Hughes has re-emerged, after eight years in anonymity, as a key Glendening adviser and a unifying figure in the badly battered Democratic Party. He was a non-person in the Schaefer years, a figure of ridicule for not having been a ''do it now'' governor. No longer. He is respected by Mr. Glendening for his contributions to Maryland government, which were considerable.

Would a Governor Sauerbrey have made overtures to the likes of Harry Hughes and Marvin Mandel? Hardly. That's not her style. But it is Parris Glendening's modus operandi. He's likely to tap all three ex-governors for advice and guidance during his term. Why hold grudges and make sweeping accusations when you can achieve more through quiet discussion and a determination to find common ground?

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun.

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