Democrats caution Glendening Back-home concerns: House members outside the governor's power base warn that his policies may hurt the party and cost them at election time.

The Political Game

January 30, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

PROFESSOR PARRIS N. Glendening was taken to school last week by a group of House Democrats who are concerned about his message and how it's playing back home with voters who may or may not re-elect them.

All the Democrats were from outside "The Big Three"; that is, those jurisdictions other than the three that elected Mr. Glendening governor in 1994 -- Baltimore, Montgomery County and his home base of Prince George's County.

At the request of nearly 40 Democrats -- nearly 40 percent of those in the House, including at least four delegates in leadership -- Mr. Glendening made a personal appearance in the Economic Matters Committee room Wednesday to discuss his policies, programs and spending.

The chat was apparently short on specifics, though the stadiums, gun control and the state's vehicle emission program were mentioned. The overriding message from legislators, however, was clear: "Watch what you're doing; this is impacting all of us," according to one attendee.

"It's a question of where he's taking the Democratic Party, and whether that's a direction we can go in, given the state of mind of the electorate," the delegate said.

In other words: The Republicans are gaining ground in Maryland; let's not make their 1998 gains our seats -- or the governor's office.

"Whether it's creating policy or budgetary priorities, for him to be successful, he has to broaden the circle of popularity of the Democratic Party," said Del. Michael E. Busch, of Anne Arundel County, chairman of the Economic Matters Committee.

"For us to be successful, the governor has to come to the center politically, to be an effective leader in the districts we represent," Mr. Busch said.

Del. Donald C. Fry of Harford County, chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee, said the group reminded the governor that "this state is very diverse, and Democrats are very diverse."

"That is a strength of the Democratic Party -- there is a difference between jurisdictions," Mr. Fry said. "Just because you have a 'D' next to your name doesn't mean you'll vote together."

And he believes Mr. Glendening got the message that legislators will "have to make decisions on every issue," he said.

"We're not taking personal swipes," Mr. Fry said. "We were elected to do what we have to do."

Del. John S. Arnick of Baltimore County, House chairman of the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, said the Democrats "wanted to make sure he understood their situation" regarding Republicans.

"If you screw up in Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, if you get beat, it's probably [going to be] by a Republican," Mr. Arnick said.

"We have conveyed to him there are other principles involved. Sometimes [votes] don't have to do with him."

The governor apparently heard the message, bringing up his gun control legislation as an example, Mr. Arnick said. "There are good Democratic members who can't vote for that," Mr. Arnick said.

Mr. Glendening told his fellow Democrats that he understood, that he felt their pain. (As a candidate who for political reasons said "no thank you" to the chance of having President Clinton come campaign for him during the 1994 general election, he should.)

"To the extent that he could, he seemed to be holding out an olive branch," said one participant.

Yet, he did invoke a variation of Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.

"He wanted us to know it's a two-way street -- that it's not real healthy to beat up on the head of the majority party," Mr. Busch said.

Issues such as guns and the stadiums should not "get in the way of mainstream issues, such as the economy, tax credits, a friendlier regulatory environment," he said. "We have to be able to hang our hats on the downsizing of the government, increased education spending, even in tough economic times."

The idea that the Democrats are looking over their shoulders is new to many in Maryland, which has long been a one-party state.

But it's clear the GOP is here to stay.

"The Republicans have an election plan -- to increase seats, to track votes, to target political seats in areas they want to capture," Mr. Busch said. "Our guys are the members that will be targeted."

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