Governor's victories may prove costly Road to school deal, Smart Growth, tax cut has political potholes

'Some explaining' to do

Montgomery, P.G. unhappy

Cardin looms as '98 opponent

April 14, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening emerged from the 1997 General Assembly session with three glittery ribbons of achievement, a pair of brave new supporters -- and some political problems with career-ending potential.

Tuesday, 11 hours after the 90-day session ended, he signed bills giving Marylanders a 10 percent income tax cut and a quarter-billion-dollar school aid package for Baltimore -- accompanied by lavish praise from two frequent critics.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller vehemently opposed many of the governor's legislative initiatives in January but said last week, "I don't know of a more productive session -- with your leadership and cooperation between Republicans and Democrats."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who feuded with Glendening throughout the session and might challenge him in a 1998 gubernatorial primary, echoed Miller.

But the celebrating could be fleeting for Glendening, who heads toward the last legislative session of his four-year term and the 1998 election facing significant political challenges:

The Baltimore schools deal was a classic mixed political blessing. It gave big money to Baltimore, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 9 to 1. But it was passed over strenuous and possibly continuing objections from lawmakers in two counties the governor must carry, Prince George's and Montgomery. Both were crucial to his narrow victory in 1994 and could be in 1998.

However well or poorly Glendening's programs fared with the General Assembly, new competition could be approaching from his own party. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat, has been accelerating his exploration of a challenge to Glendening, asking others in the party whether Glendening can be rehabilitated sufficiently from fund-raising and pension controversies to hold off a second run by Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

Republicans think they came out of the session in great shape. They were happy to see Democrats quarrel -- always a good thing for the GOP in a state where Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in registered voters.

The Republicans said Glendening failed to find a formula that might have gained wider support for his five-year, $254 million outlay for Baltimore's troubled school system. The tax cut was a liability, too, the GOP said.

"I think what the governor has done," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican, "is give Ellen incredible credibility. He just said her 1994 campaign promise of a 24 percent tax cut was on target and that she was the one who had the vision for Maryland, not him."

Many Democratic legislators were opposed to a tax cut, except as political cover against an expected Republican attack if they didn't pass one. Most voted yes, after amending the governor's proposal to distribute more of the break to low-income taxpayers.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat who was one of the few who opposed the cut, said, "I don't think a tax cut was good government or good politics. We've set ourselves up for a very difficult financial situation in the future. And I just don't think we've taken the issue away from the minority party."

Bobo added, however, that Glendening had helped himself recently by taking a strong and unwavering stand against gambling. His advisers had urged him to find a firm position on something, some visible issue, to combat the view that he changes position so frequently that voters and some members of his party don't have a good handle on him.

Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, a Baltimore County Democrat, said Glendening's position will improve in his county when voters focus on his Smart Growth anti-sprawl initiative, the third major ribbon earned by the governor this year. The voters will like the $25 million in state school construction money that is headed for the county, he said.

"No governor prior to this one has paid as much attention to our needs," Dewberry said.

He added, however, that "someone as viable as Ben Cardin has to take a look at running."

Nothing in what Bobo or Dewberry said conflicts with the session-ending hosannas from Miller and Taylor. Although undoubtedly sincere, the remarks of the presiding officers must be read partly as reflecting their own pride in the session's work and partly as an effort to support a Democratic governor who, as matters stand, will head their re-election ticket in 1998. Party leaders know that a strong slate, top to bottom, improves the prospects of every party candidate.

Glendening tried to placate lawmakers from Montgomery and Prince George's counties with an array of financial gifts, but he and the assembly leadership declined to commit to large annual outlays of cash paralleling the commitment to Baltimore, a long additional step they demanded.

Glendening dismissed the political significance of the studied Prince George's-Montgomery antipathy and said voters will realize he treated them fairly.

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