How things get done in a democracy

March 31, 1996|By BARRY RASCOVAR

THE BEST WAY to understand the Maryland State House is to think of it as a three-legged stool. Each leg represents a power center. All three are needed to make the stool functional.

So it is in Annapolis. The power centers are the governor, House speaker and Senate president. If any one of them forcefully opposes a bill, it fails; support from all three power centers is needed to pass a controversial bill.

This explains why so many political insiders said all along the football stadium deals were a sure thing -- despite much vocal and emotional opposition. Gov. Parris Glendening, Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller all had reasons for backing the stadium bills to the hilt. When the three most powerful men in Annapolis band together so tightly, anything can be accomplished.

Still, some decry approval of the stadiums. They call it anti-democratic. They say the public was hoodwinked.

This position has been advanced by Jonathan Yardley, the book editor for the Washington Post, who has opined forcefully and often on the stadiums issue. He should have stuck to books.

He was, for instance, appalled that deals were consummated behind the scenes to get the legislation passed! He was shocked that government would spend so much in tax dollars to benefit private corporations! He was stunned that public officials in a democracy don't follow the trendy emotions of the public as gauged frequently in opinion polls, but instead use their own best judgment.

Legislators were bullied, he claimed, into voting for the stadiums deals. They were ''bought off'' with goodies so they would swallow their ''principles'' and embrace the ''stadium scam.''

Ironically, Mr. Yardley and his fellow critics on the Post editorial page repeatedly bashed the Baltimore stadium, but had no qualms championing a Washington-area stadium that has far greater impact on the Maryland budget. (The city stadium's funding comes from special instant lotteries set up nine years ago; the Redskins stadium money comes directly out of this year's general-fund and road-building budgets.)

Somehow what was good for Post readers in suburban Maryland wasn't good for Baltimoreans. Nor was it made clear why Mr. Yardley, who lives in Baltimore and follows the Orioles, voiced no qualms about enjoying the benefits of a $200 million baseball park built with public funds, but objected strenuously to a $200 million public football stadium right next door -- each with the same funding source.

What happened in Annapolis did not pervert democracy. Rather, it stands as an example of how the give and take of government works -- and has since the very founding of these United States. Yes, there were deals to get proposals passed. That happens in every legislature in the country -- including a little institution in the Post's home town called Congress.

Yes, legislators were pressed to vote with the governor, speaker and Senate president. ''Bullied'' they weren't. That term just doesn't apply to Maryland's current leadership. But there was, indeed, a quid pro quo. That's how democratic legislatures operate.

And how exactly were legislators ''bought off?'' Did they fill their pockets with gold? No, what was at stake were such ''evils'' as money for schools, roads and local programs. In fact, had it not been for the stadiums controversy, Montgomery County never could have found the leverage to obtain more school construction aid. If that constitutes being ''bullied'' and being ''bought off,'' so be it.

Great political marketplace

Every jurisdiction has needs. In the great political marketplace known as the General Assembly competing needs are weighed and balanced. The best negotiators, consensus-seekers and deal-makers are usually the most successful.

The stadiums package passed because Governor Glendening saw this as a lasting legacy, and a plus for his re-election bid. For Speaker Taylor, this deal means a long-term relationship between the Redskins and his native Western Maryland. And for President Miller, it means success for his close friend, Gerry Evans, who happens to be the Redskins' lobbyist, and a coup for his home county of Prince George's.

But it also reflects what happens when you hold a position with statewide responsibilities. Suddenly, you must look at things from a big-picture perspective. What's good for all of Maryland? What is best in the long run for Maryland's economic well-being?

From that vantage point, backing the stadiums was easy. Right away, the stadiums provide economic stimulus (two construction jobs worth nearly $400 million) at a time when the state is being hurt by federal downsizing. Once operational, the two facilities will continue creating economic value. And the Baltimore stadium will restore a sense of worth for a town still traumatized by the Colts' midnight departure a decade ago.

So ends the most tumultuous issue of the 1996 General Assembly session. Given the political and institutional dynamics working in favor of the stadiums, it's a wonder the excitement lasted so long.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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