Rosapepe is proudly a Friend of Parris PG County delegate often defends governor

February 09, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

When Gov. Parris N. Glendening delivered his State of the State address last month, the post-speech comments ranged from downright critical (from Republicans) to politely positive (from Democrats).

With one glaring exception.

"I think it was a home run," said Del. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's County Democrat. The governor's speech, he enthused, was a politically adroit appeal to Maryland's middle-class families.

Ask anyone involved in State House politics to name the Friends of Parris in the General Assembly, and Jim Rosapepe's name invariably is at or near the top of the list. In a 188-member legislature chock-full of lawmakers ready to grouse about the governor, Rosapepe is the rare exception, someone generally inclined to come to his defense.

"I think he's a good governor," Rosapepe said. "I don't always agree with him. But I try to help him when I agree with him, and even when I disagree with him."

The two men have known each other for nearly 20 years, meeting when Glendening was a member of the Prince George's County Council and Rosapepe was getting involved in the county's Democratic Party politics. These days, they talk on the phone every other week or so during the 90-day legislative session and occasionally meet for breakfast.

"I rely on Jim as someone who knows the legislative process and is very intelligent," Glendening said. "Occasionally, he gets some weird ideas but I also respect that he's independent."

Some lawmakers consider Rosapepe to be something of a pipeline to the governor's office on the second floor of the State House. "They say, 'You ought to tell your friend Parris this or that,' " Rosapepe said, smiling.

Like Glendening, Rosapepe leans to the suburban liberal side, supporting organized labor, environmental advocacy and increased government spending on education. Unlike some critics who see politics in everything the governor does, Rosapepe sees a man of conviction. Glendening "believes" in what he is pushing, whether it's controlling suburban sprawl or cutting income taxes, the delegate said.

"I think Parris has a pretty straightforward style," said Rosapepe, who represents the College Park area of Prince George's. "You don't sit around wondering what the real agenda is."

Rosapepe is careful to point out that he is hardly a rubber stamp for Glendening. In years past, the two clashed over local ethics laws. Last year, Rosapepe voted against Glendening's proposal to spend $273 million to help build two football stadiums, saying the money would be better spent on schools. This year, Rosapepe is critical of the governor's proposed 10 percent cut in the state's personal income tax rate, saying tax cuts should be targeted to benefit middle- and lower-income families.

What sets Rosapepe apart from others with occasional policy differences is his desire nonetheless to help Glendening succeed.

During much of his time as Glendening's predecessor in the governor's office, William Donald Schaefer could usually count on support from a solid group of legislative allies. Glendening appears to have fewer legislative friends, and must cobble together a new coalition on each issue.

"Glendening built his friendships more to reach consensus and accomplish what he wants to accomplish," said Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat.

While Glendening remains a fairly remote figure to many legislators, others say he presents a welcome contrast to the mercurial Schaefer, who demanded loyalty and was slow to forgive those who voted against his initiatives.

Tall and good-humored, Rosapepe, 45, clearly relishes politics. In committee hearings, he delights in sparring with witnesses over policy questions. When he's not working in Annapolis, he is involved in a handful of Washington businesses that provide political polling and investment services. Like a few other Washington-area legislators, he also lobbies part time on Capitol Hill.

After 10 years in the General Assembly, he has emerged as one of the legislature's experts on tax policy and one of its most articulate members.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany Democrat, rewarded him two years ago, naming him vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax and some education issues.

As a longtime county official with relatively little State House experience before his 1994 election as governor, Glendening was largely unknown to many legislators outside his home county of Prince George's.

Many legislators still have complaints about the governor. Too often, he hogs the credit for accomplishments, they say, or announces major initiatives without consulting key lawmakers. But Rosapepe contends much of that criticism would melt away if Glendening were to continue his rebound in public opinion polls.

Said Rosapepe: "Parris has no problem with the legislature that another 30 percent in the approval ratings wouldn't solve."

Pub Date: 2/09/97

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