Glendening picks cronies over quality for some key posts

June 06, 1999|By Barry Rascovar

GOV. PARRIS Glendening has been busy on the appointments front in recent weeks, often mixing a heavy dose of politics -- and controversy -- with the need to find capable office-holders.

In the process, the governor has:

Booted out of office a reformer from the board of the troubled Injured Workers Insurance Fund, replacing her with a good-old-boy politico.

Kicked out two experienced utility regulators on the Public Service Commission, replacing them with two political appointments -- just as that panel must make major decisions on implementing electric deregulation.

Named one of his top fund-raisers to the University System of Maryland board of regents just as that panel is about to oversee major governance reforms.

In each case, the governor seems to have made highly political choices.

Take, for instance, the IWIF appointment of former state Sen. Michael Wagner of Anne Arundel County to replace Louise Keelty on the board of the now-privatized fund that sells workers compensation insurance to companies.

The governor opted for a reliable, don't-rock-the-boat kind of guy, not an insistent advocate for cleaning up the Augean stables that IWIF seems to have become.

Political friends

It was a curious move. Ms. Keelty had been a steady financial supporter of Mr. Glendening and manned the city election board into the early morning hours during the 1994 vote recount that assured his election as governor.

Mr. Glendening told concerned legislators on several recent occasions that Ms. Keelty would be reappointed to the IWIF board. Instead, he denied her another term -- and he didn't have an aide call to tell her the bad news.

So much for gratitude, or good manners.

It apparently was more important for the governor to stay in sync with Senate Finance Committee chairman Thomas Bromwell than to keep his word with lower-ranking lawmakers. Mr. Bromwell served in the state Senate with Mr. Wagner; he is no fan of Ms. Keelty.

Mr. Bromwell also is the legislative godfather of IWIF matters. But it is difficult to see how he's helping to straighten things out at the insurance fund by knocking off a proponent of change. It certainly weakens the hand of Mr. Bromwell's ally and IWIF board chairman Daniel McKew.

The governor's PSC appointments raised concerns as well. One of his picks, J. Joseph "Max" Curran III, is the 33-year-old son of the state's attorney general. He also ran a strong race for state delegate in Mr. Bromwell's district last year -- despite having been denied a place on the senator's ticket in the general election.

A home at the PSC

Now young Mr. Curran is out of the political arena -- and thus out of Mr. Bromwell's hair. He is safely ensconced on the PSC, though he has no background in this highly complex regulatory field.

Joining Mr. Curran on the PSC is former state Sen. Catherine Riley of Harford County, a political lobbyist for the governor during the past few legislative sessions. Her appointment comes after the governor failed in the General Assembly to block electric deregulation or to stack the PSC in his favor by expanding the commission's size.

Does this bode ill for the implementation of electric deregulation? Will crucial PSC decisions be delayed while the new members take a crash course in regulatory issues? Will the new commissioners give the panel a more political tilt?

Politics played a role in the governor's appointments to the University System of Maryland board of regents, too.

It was no surprise that retired Adm. Charles Larson was tapped as a regent: Powerful state legislators had virtually demanded that Mr. Glendening put the former Naval Academy superintendent in a position where he could implement higher education reforms that his task force had recommended to the General Assembly earlier this year.

For the second regent post, though, the governor chose David Nevins. He has risen to prominence in state government through his determined fund-raising efforts on behalf of the governor in the past two elections.

Judging from Mr. Glendening's most recent batch of appointments, it looks as though politics is playing a bigger, not a smaller, role in determining who fills jobs during his second term.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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