Glendening's Pyrrhic Victory

March 01, 1995

After defeating the Romans in a bloody battle at Asculum in which his army suffered exceedingly high casualties, King Pyrrhus of Epirus was said to have remarked, "One more such victory over the Romans and we are utterly undone." Today, Gov. Parris N. Glendening could share those sentiments: Senate confirmation of two cabinet secretaries came at an exceedingly high price -- to the governor's reputation and his standing in the legislature.

Yes, the Senate reluctantly approved yesterday the appointments of Michael Knapp as secretary of personnel and Frank Stegman as secretary of labor, licensing and regulation. But it cost the governor dearly. His momentum has stalled. His integrity has been questioned. His appointees were called "muldoons" mindlessly doing the bidding of their bosses. His record of labor giveaways and costly fiscal practices in Prince George's County is under attack. And a special, lucrative county pension plan for Mr. Glendening and some aides proved a major embarrassment.

It was a short honeymoon. The new governor has fought a rear-guard action against a storm of criticism since word of the Prince George's pension debacle and fiscal crisis broke. The Knapp-Stegman battle may have been won, but the stain to Mr. Glendening's image and his reputation cannot be washed away quickly or easily.

It is unfortunate that only Sen. John A. Cade of Anne Arundel had the gumption to state publicly what most senators expressed privately: That Mr. Glendening made a grievous mistake in sponsoring and then benefiting from the Prince George's pension plan; that he helped foster a fiscal disaster in Prince George's by concocting sweetheart labor deals, and that there is widespread concern Mr. Glendening now will do the same kinds of things in Annapolis.

Granted, Messrs. Knapp and Stegman are only "loyal foot soldiers," as Mr. Cade put it. Mr. Glendening must shoulder responsibility for what happened in Prince George's. But the prospect of these darlings of organized labor heeding Mr. Glendening's campaign pledge to give state workers collective bargaining and binding arbitration is deeply troubling. Such steps would worsen the state's fiscal woes and impede government reforms.

Most senators believe Mr. Glendening is entitled to whomever he wants as a cabinet secretary and that his prior missteps in Prince George's are county, not state, matters. Thus, they saw no reason to oppose the two nominees. Besides, few of them wanted to take on a new governor on such a peripheral issue so early in his four-year term.

Mr. Glendening expended an enormous amount of time and political IOUs to win Senate confirmation of Mr. Knapp and Mr. Stegman. Now he must turn his attention to the truly important matters in Annapolis, such as welfare reform, balancing the state budget and guiding his minimalist legislative package through the General Assembly in just five-and-a-half weeks. Given the atmosphere of doubt and mistrust that this embroglio has created, his task won't be easy.

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