A better governor than he seems

September 29, 1996|By Barry Rascovar

NO ONE IN MARYLAND was happier to see the official start of fall than Gov. Parris N. Glendening. His was a dreadful summer, filled with embarrassing stories, controversies and missteps. More than a few powerful Democrats worry that the governor now has sunk so low in public esteem that a Republican romp is likely in 1998.

What has Parris done wrong? Why do so many people say such mean things about him?

Most of the complaints concern integrity. Is he applying too much pressure in personally squeezing big campaign donations from business leaders who deal with the state? Did he let his aides in Prince George's County receive excessive cash payouts when they left government? Does he go too far in catering to special interests who helped get him elected? Does he try too hard to please every supplicant, making promises he knows he can't keep?

These are troubling questions. Public debate during the warm months focused exclusively on them. Left unexamined has been Mr. Glendening's work in office.

Maybe it's not sexy or exciting enough to catch the attention of citizens. But Mr. Glendening has compiled a pretty good record.

And he has been straight as an arrow on his campaign promises. In the glossy, 50-page campaign booklet he put out in 1994, ''A Vision for Maryland's Future,'' Mr. Glendening committed to a ''Five E'' plan -- education, enforcement, economic development, environment and excellence in government. He hasn't strayed far from these points.

In education, he vowed to expand community, business and college involvement in schools; remove disruptive students; emphasize career and technical education; increase state education aid, and ''revamp school construction planning to keep older neighborhood schools strong.''

In higher education, he said he'd minimize budget fluctuations in college allotments; provide strong support for community colleges and seek to reform the legislative scholarship program.

Without exception, the governor has followed through.

Similarly, he pledged to revamp the state's business agency; devise a strategic business plan; enhance the Port of Baltimore's competitiveness; offer job-creating incentives and tax rebates to companies, and make state taxes more business-friendly.

Right on target

Again, he's right on target, right where he told voters he'd be.

Look at law enforcement. He said he would allow only one handgun purchase per month, ban all assault weapons and try to ban certain types of ''killer'' ammunition -- and he did. He pledged to push for truth-in-sentencing legislation -- and he did.

Even in the environmental field, where he's been sharply criticized, the governor laid out a clear plan. He said he'd simplify regulatory enforcement of environmental laws. He said he was committed to making older neighborhoods more attractive to live and work in. He said he would try to direct future development to areas with infrastructure already in place. He followed his own blueprint.

Here's more: He said he'd reform the welfare system, invest in updated technology, reform the state personnel system and ''gradually streamline the state work force.'' Mr. Glendening did as he had promised.

That's pretty good for a politician. It may not be exciting or sensational, but Mr. Glendening can't be faulted for not delivering on his campaign themes.

Perhaps we expect too much from our elected leaders. Perhaps in our cynicism we go overboard in finding fault with office holders. Perhaps in Mr. Glendening's case he was too much of an unknown to most citizens. Or perhaps we have become so fascinated with ''integrity'' issues that we ignore the dull, substantive decisions that make a difference in people's lives.

Parris Glendening said two years ago that he wasn't an exciting candidate but he was the best organized. He knew what he wanted to do. He even set out his objectives in 50 pages -- and since then has gone about implementing them, one by one, step by step.

We haven't been paying much attention to this effort. And his big campaign fund-raiser tomorrow night will once again divert the spotlight away from the governor's record and onto his list of political contributors.

But Bill Clinton is in the midst of proving that performance in office can overcome questions of integrity. Could it for Parris Glendening in 1998, too?

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

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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