Political Report Card

April 16, 1995|By BARRY RASCOVAR

When Edward I. Koch was mayor of New York City, he used to rush around the Big Apple asking residents, ''How am I doin'?''

If Parris Glendening asked the same question, the answer would probably be, ''Not bad, considering the disastrous start you had.''

In fact, were Mr. Glendening to receive a report card on his first-semester performance as Maryland's governor, I'd give him an overall grade of B-minus.

* Foreign Languages 101 -- C-minus. The governor hasn't mastered the dialect of legislatese or the nuances required to operate on unfamiliar turf known as the General Assembly. He's a foreigner in those chambers, having spent his political career in county government. His staff was as lost as he was. Experience counts in Annapolis -- state experience.

* Psychology 110 -- C-minus. Mr. Glendening doesn't grasp the legislative mindset. He doesn't understand how to win allies, how to butter up senators and delegates. Nor does his staff. It showed this past session. Mr. Glendening emerged with few solid friends in either chamber. When it suited their own purposes, they voted with him. Otherwise, they ignored his entreaties.

* Political Science 115 -- B-minus. His appointments raised eyebrows because he trusts only loyalists from Prince George's County. Yet most of his choices showed a concern for expertise. But he didn't use these picks to enlarge his legislative base.

* History 130 -- A-minus. He recognized Marylanders want a less visible, less exhibitionist governor. No Schaeferesque histrionics. This is one governor who won't hog the limelight between sessions. We can look forward to a welcome respite as Mr. Glendening plunges into the nitty-gritty of state government -- a policy wonk's paradise.

* Philosophy 160 -- A. He told us where he stood his first day in office. He did it again with his budget message. And a third time with his State of the State address. He was wise enough to move rightward on the tax-cut issue to keep pace with the public's conservative mood. Shameless opportunist or sensible pragmatist? A little of both.

* Attitude (non-credit course) -- A. This guy is a perpetual optimist. A nasty editorial doesn't faze him. Legislative defeat doesn't send him into depression. He is strong-willed and absolutely determined to keep his eye on long-term objectives. You might call it relentless optimism.

All in all, a decent evaluation for a freshman governor. But he's got to improve next semester. He's got to learn how to deal effectively with the legislature. He's got to get a more seasoned -- and respected -- staff. And he's got to learn how to erase the public unease toward him.

Mr. Glendening came out of the General Assembly session in good shape for two very different reasons. One was a decision to lower his expectations and propose a modest agenda. The second was the cooperative attitude of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller. Both had personal reasons to undermine Mr. Glendening -- Mr. Taylor wants to be governor some day, Mr. Miller has had a long feud with his Prince George's nemesis. Yet they set aside personalities and worked with the governor.

The two men ended up doing much of the heavy lifting. Mr. Taylor in particular had to round up votes to pass administration measures. The governor hasn't yet figured out when to threaten, when to hold firm, when to yield, when to barter, when to throw himself on the mercy of legislative leaders.

So the governor has a lot of work to do. He's got to roam the state and personalize himself to the doubters. He's got to surround himself with veterans of the legislative wars. He's got to develop partnerships with top House and Senate leaders. And he's got to develop the fine art of massaging the egos of 188 legislators.

It's a tough assignment, but Parris Glendening had better succeed if he expects to boost his grades in his sophomore session.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun.

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