Political traits in common

January 20, 1999|By Barry Rascovar

PRESIDENT Clinton had his hour of attention last night with his State of the Union address; Gov. Parris Glendening gets a few hours of statewide attention today, starting with his noontime swearing-in ceremony, and continuing tomorrow.

The neat dovetailing of the Clinton-Glendening speeches is happenstance. But Mr. Glendening would like nothing better than to be lumped with the president as the Maryland governor begins his second, and last, term.

It is their moment to shine. Mr. Clinton knows how to connect when he delivers a big speech. Mr. Glendening will try, at least, not to sound wooden at his inauguration today and in his State of the State message tomorrow.

The governor has big goals: Creating a legacy as Mr. Education and Mr. Smart Growth. Achieving those objectives could propel him into the next Democratic administration in Washington.

Maryland's thriving economy gives Mr. Glendening the cash to pump up education spending. Performance and accountability standards championed by state schools chief Nancy Grasmick give the governor more reason to present himself as an executive focused on improving schools.

Meanwhile, he is jockeying for recognition within the National Governors' Association. He's been the star of several national land-use conferences. This month he made the cover of Governing magazine -- read by policy wonks and elected officials -- for his innovative "smart growth" program.

All this will be reflected in his two speeches, as he pounds home the message he wants Marylanders -- and top Democrats in Washington -- to hear.

Now if only his local audience could grow to love him.

Mr. Glendening's policies get generally good marks, but he's not beloved. He won a clear victory, yet you wouldn't describe him as popular.

In the legislature, his big re-election triumph won't give him star status. House Speaker Casper Taylor supports the governor in public but privately is critical; Senate President Mike Miller, who made the conversion to a Glendening booster last year, once again is voicing dissent.

That's the paradox of Mr. Glendening: He's hit a home run with the majority of his policies, but he still doesn't inspire a standing ovation.

Instead of consulting with legislators on a budget lawmakers could live with, Mr. Glendening tomorrow submits a financial plan that blasts apart the legislature's stated spending limit.

Instead of consulting with lawmakers on a cigarette-tax increase -- and how to spend the new revenue -- Mr. Glendening unilaterally decided to seek a $1 a pack increase and tie $210 million in college science buildings to this request. Irritated legislators feel the governor is pulling a fast one.

It's an "in your face" method that bears a remarkable resemblance to Mr. Clinton's approach to Congress.

The president loads up his State of the Union speech with every imaginable initiative -- never bothering beforehand to work out a legislative consensus. Then he claims credit for anything that Congress eventually passes, using his veto and budget powers to get concessions in legislation.

Similarly, Mr. Glendening dumps initiatives on the General Assembly, then lets Democratic lawmakers rearrange the pieces. He, too, uses his veto and budget powers to get some of what he originally wanted. Then he claims a full victory.

The result, in each case, leads to moderate positions and incremental progress. It doesn't inspire affection, however, for the lawmakers or the executive.

Mr. Glendening has noted to some acquaintances the striking similarities in his life and Mr. Clinton's. Both were born into poor and abusive households. Both used education to launch their careers. Both governed small states. Both have trouble dealing with legislatures. Both have credibility problems.

Can Maryland's governor draw enough attention to his policies that it makes him a prime candidate for a Cabinet-level post after the 2000 presidential election?

Mr. Glendening may not have any statewide electoral ambitions in his future. He's barred under the state constitution from seeking a third term. But he's off and running on a long-distance campaign to make an impression in Maryland that catches the eye of the next Democratic president.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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