Between two 900-pound gorillas Issues: When Gov. Parris N. Glendening invited House Speaker Casper R. Taylor to take the lead as expert on health care, the speaker saw his challenge as one of getting some powerful interests into the 'same boat.'

The Political Game

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

HEREWITH, a story of boats, health care, gorillas -- and stationery.

In a recent discussion of problems facing the state, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor says, his sometime rival, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, invited him to take the lead on issues involving health care.

Recalling the conversation for a group of businessmen and lobbyists in Baltimore, Taylor confessed he was gratified to hear the governor call him Maryland's health care expert.

The governor continued with his division of labors, according to Taylor, proposing that he, Glendening, take the lead on education. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller would handle utility deregulation.

As the conversation proceeded, Taylor said, the governor returned to the matter of regulating health care, musing about the difficulty of dealing with powerful hospitals and doctors and other providers.

"There are 900-pound gorillas on each side of each issue," Taylor quoted Glendening as saying. "We've got great friends on each side. We can't win."

Taylor said he smiled to himself.

"That comment turned the light on about why he gave me all those accolades," Taylor said.

If no one could win on the health care front, then maybe it was a good idea not to be the expert.

Taylor said he had no quarrel with the governor's analysis. Commissions and boards charged with mediating between powerful interests need retooling, he said, and it is an inherently perilous task.

"When you have a 900-pound gorilla here and a 900-pound gorilla there and a problem to solve, you're not going to be popular with everyone," he said.

Addressing his audience sternly, Taylor said, "We need to get all of you gorillas in the same boat -- then we can move the envelope forward."

Translation: To "move the envelope" is an expression having to do with making progress -- in public affairs, if not in language.

If the great lexicographer Samuel Johnson were around, he could take the lead on that.

Speaker offers his views on challenges for Maryland

In the same over-breakfast speech, Speaker Taylor offered his views on challenges facing Maryland as the 1998 General Assembly session approaches.

He said he worries that accomplishing the public's business in Annapolis may be headed for a qualitative change -- and not for the better.

He warned of what he called the two P's: parochialism and politicization.

Both threaten to undermine Maryland's tradition of addressing problems in a bipartisan fashion, he said.

He noted the state might have a $160 million surplus -- and will face intense pressure to dole it out for local needs.

That pressure will come as the campaign season begins.

Over many years, Taylor said, governors and legislatures have attempted to find ways to moderate inevitable biases. Commissions, boards and career state employees are asked to make the most objective analysis of need. Without these devices, a political law of the jungle would ensue.

Highway and school construction, Taylor said, are arenas where politics could have its untrammeled way without safeguards.

"We've asked which road, which school deserves to be built," Taylor said. That is the right way -- "as opposed to who voted right" on this or that bill or which jurisdiction's support will be needed in a coming election.

He did not argue that politics is not a factor in such matters -- only that pure politics has been held at bay.

RTC Tradition will be honored or abandoned, he suggested, as Maryland faces difficult chores during the next General Assembly session, such as:

Devising an equity-based system for dealing with the needs of poor children.

Addressing the state's need for highway construction.

Focusing again on the financial needs of higher education and prisons.

Taylor said that Bishop L. Robinson, the state's soon-to-retire corrections chief, "was right when he said we walked away from our obligations" on prison construction.

"I admire the governor for saying we need to find alternatives to incarceration," Taylor said, "but he hasn't found them and now we have to act."

He said Maryland must agree to build maximum-security facilities to take the pressure off prisons in Baltimore and Jessup.

"If we can avoid the two P's," he said, "we'll succeed in all of this."

Rehrmann going to Timbuktu on her journey to Annapolis

Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, a Democratic candidate for governor, hopes to get to Annapolis by way of Timbuktu -- in this case, a restaurant of that name in Anne Arundel County.

A $250-per-ticket fund-raiser for Rehrmann is scheduled for Oct. 23.

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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