The Fall Guy

March 19, 1995|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Poor Parris Glendening. He can't get a break. No matter what he does, a skeptical public, a cynical press and a leery legislature jump on him.

He delays gun-control legislation and he's accused of reneging on a campaign promise.

He offers amendments to a no-smoking-in-the-workplace regulation and health advocates say he caved in to the smokers' lobby. Yet when he threatens to veto bills overriding the workplace-smoking ban, he's mocked for unnecessarily alienating lawmakers.

He pledges to veto casino legislation this session only to be accused of laying the groundwork for a casino bill next year.

He removes an education-reform leader from the state school board -- replacing him with another reformer -- and is still accused of selling out to the teachers' union and betraying the reform movement.

Even when the governor takes a breather, he gets hammered. He goes for a Sunday cruise with his family on the state yacht and critics denounce him for wasting taxpayer money so he and his family can live in luxury. How dare he enjoy himself while earning a public salary!

Some angry citizens won't be content till the incumbent governor renounces his $120,000 salary, puts the Governor's Mansion up for sale, returns the state car he uses, rejects State Police protection and his police driver, sells the state yacht and sleeps on a cot in his office -- while paying rent. Let's get realistic.

Public service requires sacrifices that most Americans wouldn't make. Elected leaders live in fishbowls. Their jobs require 15- or 18-hour days, often seven days a week. They are never completely out of the public spotlight. They are under constant, often mean-spirited, public criticism. They get no credit for the good they try to do. Instead, they are accused of being crooks and betrayers of the public.

We expect the impossible when we demand that elected officials lead lives of penury. This isn't the priesthood. Public officials are asked to make billion-dollar decisions affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

The governor is the most important person in this state. Yet he is paid a fraction of what corporate CEOs make. His perks are meager compared to the norm in the world of business. And yet his stockholders are very demanding.

The flap over using the state yacht is typical. Maryland has had a state yacht for decades. Marvin Mandel would hold Board of Public Works meetings aboard it during summer months. The yacht has been used for economic development, hosting business leaders, rewarding hard-working state employees, aiding charities, treating volunteer board members as a thank-you for their time and effort and giving the state's governor a way to relax and unwind.

Thirty-two times last summer and fall, the yacht cruised the bay. It hosted family service centers, the American Cancer Society, the National Troopers Coalition, boating-awareness classes, family-support groups for the National Guard. The U.S. House Appropriations Committee used it last August. It twice served as a sound stage for ''Good Morning America'' broadcasts. The yacht's main purpose is economic development. If just one big deal is sealed, bringing hundreds of jobs to Maryland, it will pay for itself many times over. Even Sen. John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County, a renowned fiscal curmudgeon, sees the benefit: ''As long as we have the boat, I have no problem with him using it'' to promote economic development.

The craft was bought, refurbished, in 1986 for only $400,000 in cash plus the former, aging state yacht. Try finding a 112-foot pleasure craft for that price today.

It is a great advertisement for Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay. It sends the right message to corporate leaders thinking of relocating.

Sure, it is easy to view the state yacht as typical government waste. It's much harder to see the indirect value of using the yacht to bring jobs and prestige to Maryland. It's even more difficult to grasp the necessity to encourage charities and valued state employees in the unheralded jobs they are doing.

So let the governor have an occasional cruise on the bay. There's no harm. Besides, it is better that he board the state's yacht than one owned by a millionaire businessman looking for favors.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun.

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