For he's a jolly good fellow -- not!

March 30, 1997|By Barry Rascovar

IT WAS BILLED as ''Unfavorable Report XXII'' -- an evening of politically incorrect humor from members of the Maryland General Assembly. These Legislative Follies are now a staple of the 90-day session. Last week's production proved a real eye-opener, but not for the expected reasons.

Yes, there was plenty of laughter -- a skit on vote-trading (''The Legislative Shopping Network''); a list of the 10 top things to tax in order to pay for an income-tax hike; a ''Caveman Caucus'' consisting of macho male legislators yukking it up; an appearance by a Bill Clinton look-alike, and a skit that mocked the swinish behavior of county executives lobbying for more school aid: Those were real-life county executives wearing piggy noses, only to be topped by Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, in matching nose-gear, shouting loudly, ''Show me the money! Show me the money!!''

But what was most instructive in this year's Follies was the non-appearance -- for the third straight year -- of Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The governor's snub

The governor did himself no favors by snubbing this annual legislative evening of mirth. In fact, he rubbed raw an open wound. Legislators took his rejection of the Follies as an intentional slap. The message (he even refused to tape a greeting for the event) was of a governor who has no desire to mingle with them or show his human side.

Mayor Schmoke learned the hard way that such an approach is counterproductive: ''My first year as mayor, I skipped the Follies and I heard about it for the rest of the session'' from miffed lawmakers. By showing up and donning a pig's nose for a couple of minutes, ''I probably accomplished the equivalent of three weeks of lobbying,'' he said.

Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said the same thing after he pulled off his pig nose at last week's Follies. ''It's a no-brainer,'' he said. ''The only way you can lose is if you don't show up.''

Few lawmakers were surprised, though, at the governor's snub. It symbolized for them the Glendening attitude of removing himself from legislative doings, then taking all the credit for whatever they achieve.

Who needs legislators?

It also symbolized what many lawmakers consider the governor's arrogance: That he feels he doesn't need to get chummy with senators and delegates, or even consult them before he acts on matters before the General Assembly.

''You get the impression he thinks he's better than we are,'' said one ranking legislator. ''He figures he doesn't need us, that if we pass his bills -- even after we've re-written them from top to bottom -- he'll embrace them as his own. And if we kill his bills, he'll blame us for not passing progressive legislation.''

As lawmakers see it, every Glendening action is carefully calibrated to help his re-election. Thus, the governor's ''No slots, no casinos, no exceptions'' slogan is viewed by legislators as a cynical campaign statement that will be quickly forgotten after next year's election.

Thus, the governor's 10 percent tax-cut plan was crafted to sound good to voters but was so badly flawed that legislators are revamping the entire bill to make it fiscally responsible and politically viable. To voters, any tax cut -- even one with a definite legislative imprint on it -- will be viewed as the governor's baby.

Still, top General Assembly leaders keep making Mr. Glendening look good. Despite their barely concealed anger, they loyally approve most of his legislative agenda, though often in a greatly altered form.

Their reasons are simple. Top Assembly leaders care deeply about doing the right thing for the state of Maryland. Executive-legislative gridlock is something they fiercely resist.

Moreover, Democrats in the House and Senate cannot afford to let a Democratic governor self-destruct. So both House Speaker Casper R. Taylor -- who wants to run against Mr. Glendening next year -- and Senate President Mike Miller -- who has a long history of antagonism with Mr. Glendening -- have worked feverishly to ensure their governor has a good session.

But legislative leaders disapprove of Mr. Glendening's high-handed approach. He's not a popular fellow with lawmakers. That's why he was the butt of so many jokes at the Follies last week, and why the legislature may yet find a way to hand Mr. Glendening a stinging rebuke before this session concludes in just eight days.

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

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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