The governor's shrinking base

June 02, 1996|By Barry Rascovar

PARRIS GLENDENING isn't winning many new friends these days. He's pleasing some of his old, faithful pals, but not the vast sea of Marylanders who will decide the next gubernatorial election.

Mr. Glendening's recent actions -- rewarding a loyal labor union and a loyal mayor -- may have set the stage for a challenge in the 1998 Democratic primary.

Ordinarily, that wouldn't happen. Incumbents are shoo-ins for renomination. But Mr. Glendening may prove the exception.

He's failed to broaden his narrow base from 1994 -- in Baltimore, Montgomery County and Prince George's County. In fact, his core has been shrinking, thanks to hostility in Montgomery to the governor's twin stadium deals and anger in P.G. over the budget and pension mess County Executive Glendening left behind.

Nearly a year and a half into his term, Mr. Glendening is losing, not gaining, ground.

Last week, he vetoed a bill heavily pushed by legislative leaders to impose accountability in the Baltimore school administration. His veto came at Mayor Kurt Schmoke's request, and over the strong objections of legislators, the state's top educator and business leaders.

Then he rubbed sand in the legislators' wounds by not only vetoing their bill but trying to accomplish the same purpose through his own budgetary powers.

A few days earlier, the governor rewarded a pro-Glendening labor union by creating limited collective bargaining -- though legislators twice rejected the idea two months ago. Other labor unions opposed his move, too.

Legislative revenge

In both cases, the governor faces likely legislative revenge. But Mr. Glendening was intent on shoring up his base.

This follows traditional political strategy. But it may not fit the times. That's why some politicians are thinking about taking him on.

Prime among them is House Speaker Casper Taylor. He is offended by the governor's disrespect for the General Assembly. He sees an executive motivated largely by politics who wants to make his own rules. And he sees the governor pulling the Democratic Party toward the political left, not the center.

He and some of his colleagues fear Mr. Glendening is alienating the state's vast moderate vote. That could set the stage for a big Ellen Sauerbrey victory in 1998, with dozens of Democratic senators and delegates losing, too.

Dutch Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County executive, also sees danger in the governor's lurch to the left and his failure to go after the suburban vote. So does Doug Duncan, the Montgomery County executive. They, too, are considering a primary challenge. It won't be easy. No incumbent governor has ever been defeated in a Maryland primary, although Gov. William Preston Lane would have been beaten in the 1950 Democratic race, except that the popular vote didn't count back then.

It was the county-by-county unit vote that mattered, and Lane edged challenger George P. Mahoney. Lane, though, was thrashed in November on the ''Pennies for Lane'' issue: the incumbent's decision to impose a 2 percent sales tax to modernize public facilities, especially schools and colleges, following World War II.

Today, Democratic primaries favor liberal candidates. Messrs. Taylor, Duncan and Ruppersberger are moderate conservatives. That makes it more difficult for them to take on the incumbent, whose liberal credentials came into public view recently.

The governor also is trying to scare off foes with a giant campaign kitty. That was one reason he went overboard on collective bargaining. He expects a big payback from the deep pockets of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Mr. Glendening's campaign goal supposedly is $11 million -- an astounding figure. But money no longer is paramount: Look at Mrs. Sauerbrey's remarkable effort in 1994 on a modest budget.

Besides, the three top potential challengers can all raise substantial sums. They have powerful support in the business community.

It is still early in Mr. Glendening's term; the public has a short memory. But the governor's microscopic victory and initial stumbles haven't been forgotten. The Prince George's pension scandal is a black mark that lingers. And the governor keeps angering powerful legislators and interest groups. He's not a warm and cuddly figure the public can embrace.

Is this enough to prompt a primary challenge? Mr. Glendening hopes not, because it would hurt his chance of winning the general election. But then, some Democrats worry that if Mr. Glendening heads the 1998 ticket, all Democrats could suffer.

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

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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