Glendening to govern governors next year

Chairmanship might put him in national spotlight

August 10, 1999|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening's fellow Democrats chose him yesterday to head the National Governors' Association next year, the culmination of Glendening's assiduous campaign for a job that could thrust him into the national spotlight during the 2000 presidential race.

Nineteen state and territorial governors selected Glendening to become the association's vice chairman starting today, a position from which he will automatically rise to chairman next summer.

The job will give Glendening something of a national stage. Despite the association's nonpartisan image, it's clear that Democrats hope he will challenge Republicans on Capitol Hill.

"He's a good leader who I think will stand up to the right wing of the Republican Party," said Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a former chairman. "The NGA has traditionally been a moderate organization, so it's important to have someone like Parris who can stand up to congressional leaders who have tended to be more right-wing."

Glendening won the necessary pledges of support months ago for the vice chairmanship, a job he will hold for a year. The incoming chairman is Republican Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah. The two parties alternate the chairmanship each year.

For Glendening, being chairman will be an opportunity to show himself as a bipartisan statesman. He expects he will have little trouble finding common ground with Republican governors on a range of issues, particularly higher education and controlling sprawl, both of which he plans to target as chairman.

But with the Democrats trying to hold on to the White House and win control of Congress next year, he sees some touchy times ahead.

"My challenge is to represent the interests of the association as a whole on a bipartisan basis, but at the same time to represent some of the goals of the Democratic governors," Glendening said. "And that's particularly challenging during a presidential election year."

Glendening might have partisan headaches as he promotes Smart Growth, his anti-sprawl policy, which has caught on with many other governors. Because Vice President Al Gore is pushing Smart Growth in his presidential campaign, some Republican governors are wary of giving the issue too much attention.

That kind of subtle division was on display Sunday, when several governors discussed controlling sprawl at a meeting that Glendening led. Republican Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania did not use the phrase Smart Growth.

Today, the NGA is expected to adopt a policy statement on sprawl that, with some negotiation and the help of a thesaurus, will avoid using the phrase. (The alternative: "better land use.")

Glendening's Democratic colleagues, though, appear confident he will avoid partisan wordplay and work well with Republicans, who make up almost two-thirds of the association's membership.

"He is held in high regard by governors of both parties," said California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat. "It's hard for me to define why, but I just know that he is, and that's what matters."

Pub Date: 8/10/99

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