Quietly meeting his goals

August 02, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

THEY don't love Parris in the springtime; will they love him in the fall? Probably not. Gov. Parris N. Glendening isn't a cuddly politician. He isn't someone voters swoon over.

But Mr. Glendening is not looking for the electorate's love and adoration, just its support in his re-election bid. He's running on his impressive record, not his robotic personality.

To many Marylanders, Parris Nelson Glendening remains a man cloaked in mystery. They know he's governor, but they don't have a sense of who he is.

He zealously protects his personal life. His childhood in Florida, in impoverished circumstances, was a tightly guarded secret until recent news articles shed sympathetic light on the subject.

In small groups, he loosens up a bit, even cracks some jokes. Before large groups, the mechanical man returns -- all business, all policy stuff.

He was a dull professor of political science at College Park, students say, and he's a dull governor. But does that matter?

Mr. Glendening is betting that it doesn't. So far in his career, his calculation has been proven right. For more than 25 years, he has run and won elections, governed with all the excitement of a soggy bowl of cereal and yet been re-elected.

His first term as governor is a perfect example of the Glendening approach. He alienated state legislators on a host of issues by failing to consult frequently with them, by taking most of the credit for legislative work, by not living up to agreements made in private meetings.

Yet none of this counts in the final analysis. It's all part of the sound and fury leading to the promulgation of laws and the running of government.

In the end, citizens witnessed a veritable blizzard of progressive legislation and social programs.

Four years ago, he issued a 50-page campaign booklet, "A Vision for Maryland's Future," focusing on "the five E's" -- education, law enforcement, the environment, excellence in government and economic development.

He has lived up to or exceeded nearly every one of the pledges on those 50 pages. That's what he will be reminding voters of this fall.

He has been a highly flexible governor. Critics view this as a weakness. They say he has no core beliefs other than furthering his political career.

They say every step he takes is carefully calibrated to advance his future.

Yet flexibility is essential in government these days. A rigid, ideological purist in the governor's chair won't get very far with a legislature full of pragmatic pols.

Yes, Mr. Glendening yielded often to legislative demands and accepted sweeping revisions of his bills. But what emerged met the governor's bottom-line objectives.

His task now is to persuade a disinterested and cynical public that the Glendening years have been a time of quiet progress and growing financial stability. He must convince voters that he has been a prudent financial steward but also a governor willing to take courageous stands.

He starts with a handicap.

Voters still remember the dreadful initial months of the Glendening administration -- news reports of a looming $100 million deficit he had left behind in Prince George's County; a lucrative pension plan for his aides and himself in Prince George's; cabinet appointments for two of the main architects of that sweetheart pension deal.

It was a bumbling start, and in the eyes of many Marylanders, Mr. Glendening has never recovered.

But this governor is single-minded. He hasn't let those stumbles or other flubs get in his way. He has slowly built an impressive Democratic alliance of elected leaders for the Sept. 15 primary. Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, far behind in the polls, may not be able to compete.

If nothing else, Mr. Glendening is a cold-eyed realist. After the primary, he says, Rehrmann defectors will unite behind the Democratic nominee. You don't have to like a candidate to work for his re-election, he says. Given the alternative -- a very conservative Republican in Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who has never worked well with Democrats -- party leaders will line up rapidly behind him, he predicts.

Then it is a matter of getting out the message that his cumulative record in Annapolis has been an exemplary one, worthy of a second term in office.

Dull is good, he will tell voters, as long as you get positive results.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor for The Sun.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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