Leg over leg, the Guv gets it done

April 07, 1996|By Barry Rascovar

BOOS CASCADED down on Parris Glendening as he was introduced to the opening-day crowd at Oriole Park last week. He remains unpopular with the Maryland citizenry. And yet he is gradually piecing together a solid record of accomplishments as governor that is largely unappreciated.

There's no better example than the General Assembly session that concludes tomorrow night. The governor has gotten much of what he requested. He's also had a few big wins. The losses haven't been on priority items.

Mr. Glendening displayed far more skill dealing with legislators and the lawmaking process this year. He smoothed out areas of disagreement and let legislators modify administration bills. That led to charges of ''waffling'' and deal-making at any cost. It's true that this is one governor who tries to please.

But the strategy worked: Two football stadiums, the most frugal state budget in 60 years, a major advance on gun control and a concerted effort to make education this state's top priority.

On the stadiums, Mr. Glendening stuck his neck way out in fashioning first the Baltimore deal, without consulting legislators, and then stretching the state's resources to help underwrite a Washington-area stadium. But he made amends by letting House Speaker Casper R. Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller take the lead in reworking the deals. That meant cutting the state's overall outlay by nearly $40 million. The result was as the governor wanted. He can take credit for these two facilities when they open -- in time for his re-election campaign.

An inevitable sacrifice

On the gun bill, similarly, detractors note that the governor sacrificed a major element of the bill -- licensing all handgun owners. That's true, but it was inevitable. The bill never would have passed that way; the slimmed-down version, with a one-gun-a-month purchase limit, had no problem, thanks to some give-and-take between Mr. Glendening and Sen. Walter Baker, the pivotal player on handgun laws.

That's good, pragmatic politics. True, the governor promises interest groups far more than he's likely to deliver. But where Mr. Glendening wants to make pro- gress, he usually finds a way. Take personnel reform and collective bargaining. Business endorsed the first, labor the second. He promised both groups they'd get what they wanted.

As it turned out, only personnel reform received close attention. Labor feels let down, but business has reason to cheer. Clearly, Mr. Glendening had more attachment to revamping state personnel policies than adopting a controversial collective-bargaining bill that was fought even by some unions.

Business groups will complain that the governor failed to deliver an income-tax cut. But given the wobbling state economy, that would have been irresponsible. Instead, the governor went after other pro-business initiatives: repeal of the snack tax; a tax-credit program for new jobs; a 35 percent increase in the Sunny Day fund to lure new businesses, and an executive order forcing bureaucrats to justify rules that are tougher than similar federal standards.

These aren't stupendous breakthroughs. Mr. Glendening is proving to be a gradualist, much like former Gov. Harry R. Hughes. He'd rather win a series of partial victories that add up to something than go for broke and lose.

He's done that in education for two years, and in building up the Sunny Day fund for economic development, too. The cumulative effect by 1998 -- when Mr. Glendening seeks re-election -- could be quite substantial.

Still, he is not a beloved figure in Annapolis. Many lawmakers find him frustrating to deal with. He promises too much when he's unlikely to deliver. He seems unwilling to offend politically important interest groups. He often doesn't recognize the legislative headaches he creates with his public comments and actions.

But look at the record. This marks two modestly successful legislative sessions for Mr. Glendening. Could it be that bit by bit he is accumulating a weighty record voters will look upon favorably two years hence?

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

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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