Mr. Outsider Gloves off: Why did Gov. Parris N. Glendening gibe at lawmakers with whom he'll have to work? And what will happen now?

January 14, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith

He wants Maryland legislators to give him $273 million to build two football stadiums. He wants them to approve stricter controls on handguns. And he wants the first-ever collective bargaining rights for state employees.

So, Gov. Parris N. Glendening might well have appeared for the start of the 1996 legislative season last week with a new pair of velvet gloves.

Instead, he came out with bare knuckles, attacking the men and women whose votes he will need.

He was not "one of the good old guys," he told a Washington Post reporter, and not "a buddy to a bunch of insiders." Never wanted to be.

"The comments made us look like we've got smudged hands," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, a Washington County Democrat.

The governor's comments came in response to questions about his difficulty with legislators and were not meant to offend them further, according to Dianna Rosborough, the governor's press secretary.

"He certainly understands how important they are and how important the legislative process is. He and the legislature are concerned about the same thing, working hard to help the citizens of Maryland," she said.

Yet even some of Mr. Glendening's legislative friends were stunned at what they regarded as an unnecessary and ill-timed swipe. Intended or not, the governor's newspaper gibes came in a context where offense is readily taken, where legislative leaders are always jealous of their prerogatives and where Mr. Glendening did not fare well last year.

Why, then, would he risk antagonizing the men and women whose votes will be needed to pass so much difficult legislation? The answers ran from "ineptitude" to "arrogance" to "stupidity."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he thought there was another explanation.

"I think he's setting the stage to run for re-election as an outsider," Mr. Taylor said. "Whatever goes wrong down here he'll blame on us."

Those insiders Mr. Glendening eschews are scanning the political horizon for potential substitutes: C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, the Baltimore County executive, is mentioned. So is Douglas M. Duncan, Montgomery County's leader.

For the speaker, Mr. Glendening's pre-session remarks struck even more deeply. The two men met in recent days to discuss the legislative agenda and to seek an improved Assembly atmosphere.

"He's preaching all this new-beginning stuff, saying he's going to work with us, and then he turns around and says that. It says to me he's two-faced," the speaker said. That view of the governor's approach to politics is widely held.

Among these same insiders, this bit of gubernatorial intemperance -- or calculation -- is only the latest in a series of mis-steps.

Here are two of the most frequently cited:

* He waited until the day of the event to invite General Assembly leaders to his triumphal announcement that the Cleveland Browns would come to Baltimore. Notwithstanding the need for secret negotiations, the timing was at best insensitive.

* He did not ask his predecessor, William Donald Schaefer, to join him on the speaker's platform with the Browns' owner, Art Modell, and others. It was Mr. Schaefer who in 1987 had pushed the Assembly to pass a bill providing for an NFL stadium and who had labored hard to win Baltimore a new team.

His slighting of Mr. Schaefer and the absence of the Assembly leaders can be chalked up to egos-in-collision, and the familiar "I did by myself" syndrome in politics. Yet the governor's critics make several observations about its long-term results of his posture.

Had he chosen to stand with Speaker Taylor, Mr. Schaefer and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., he might have had partners in sharing the criticism which seems to have hit him like a blind-side block. If he hogged the credit for getting the Browns, he now inherits most of the blame.

And, if he had chosen to involve the assembly leaders at some earlier point, they might have helped him anticipate problems that could now make passing the deal more difficult.

With Montgomery County hostile to the big spending football demands and with other jurisdictions doubting that the demands make sense, Mr. Glendening is reportedly scouring the insider list for help with lining up votes.

He may now be in a lose-lose situation.

"If he loses, he's lost and he was ineffective with the legislature," says Mr. Poole. "If he wins, the victory could be a monument to all the frustration there is with government and spending."

The governor's apologists say he falls short in the crucial interpersonal politics of Annapolis because his "cerebral" approach is mistaken for arrogance. A university professor who has written textbooks, Mr. Glendening is said to get along best with the more "cerebral" legislators. Yet he continues to have difficulty with Mr. Taylor, one of Maryland's most thoughtful public officials.

He's a political scientist, according to this view, but not a political practitioner.

On the contrary, say others. He has been politically adept.

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