IT MUST be the water: Those hefty plastic jugs brought into the Maryland State House for drinking. How else to explain the peccadilloes of Maryland governors toward the opposite sex?
The latest casualty, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, is living apart from his wife of 23 years, Frances Anne. She's in their University Park home; he's in the mansion.
He's not the first governor with woman trouble.
It goes back at least as far as Albert C. Ritchie, the popular bachelor governor of the 1920s and 1930s. Here's one Ritchie episode, from the book, "Thimbleriggers":
A Baltimore legislator left a late afternoon committee hearing at the State House, but returned that evening to retrieve his hat.
The delegate flicked on the light switch of the darkened room:
"Before his astonished gaze there sprang up from the committee chairman's desk the young woman secretary of the committee, half-dressed, her hair askew. But stop! Whose back was that bent over the secretary, that figure also largely undressed? One flicker of the unmistakably black eyebrows, of the gubernatorial silver hair, told the Baltimore delegate more than he wanted to know."
Then there was the celebrated episode involving Gov. Marvin Mandel; Barbara Mandel, his wife of 32 years; and Jeanne Dorsey, his paramour of nine years.
Late on July 3, 1973, a Mandel aide dashed into the press room and announced, "Here's your Fourth of July firecracker."
The governor was leaving his wife: "I am in love with another woman and I intend to marry her."
Mrs. Mandel stayed in the mansion; the governor moved to the Annapolis Hilton. It made national news. They eventually divorced; Mr. Mandel took Ms. Dorsey as his new bride, who became his second First Lady.
William Donald Schaefer's woman trouble was of a different ilk. The bachelor governor installed his longtime friend and public grouch, Hilda Mae Snoops, in the mansion as "official state hostess." This ignited a storm of tongue-wagging from those who disapproved of this unorthodox arrangement.
Other Maryland governors, alive and dead, reputedly dabbled in extramarital affairs. One two-termer had a relationship with a member of his own staff, whom he later promoted.
Noted a state official, "Anyone who's governor and has women around him is going to be the subject of rumors." Indeed, Mr. Glendening's split from his wife has State House corridors buzzing.
Critics say he's a hypocrite. They point to his moralistic outrage against President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
After strongly backing the president against allegations of extramarital sex, Mr. Glendening suddenly reversed course in September, 1998. He called the president's behavior "inappropriate" and "wrong."
"We have an 18-year-old son," the governor said indignantly. "We're trying to teach him to be responsible for his actions. You need role models."
At the time, Mr. Glendening's remarks were viewed as crass political expediency: he was locked in a tight race and felt the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal could hurt him.
His foe that year, Ellen Sauerbrey, accused him of having "his finger up to the wind, making his decisions based on what the polls say and not what he has any conviction about."
Sure enough, when internal Glendening polls showed him pulling ahead, he did another about-face and threw his support behind the president.
"Everyone makes mistakes," he explained as to why he was now forgiving Mr. Clinton. "I've made some mistakes and I'm still here."
These remarks could now haunt the governor.
Has there been "inappropriate" or "wrong" behavior this time? Where is that role model for the Glendenings' son?
There's obviously far more to this story than we will ever know. The governor and Mrs. Glendening are not commenting. It is a personal -- and painful -- situation.
But the strain of a public marriage can take a toll. The pressures and temptations for those in the governor's seat are enormous.
And, as the governor put it, "People make mistakes."
Still, the fallout could harm Mr. Glendening's aspirations. "Family values" is a key theme in this year's presidential campaign.
What will our governor do? Patch things up? Make the current arrangements permanent? Release a Mandel-type statement? Or continue to stonewall as rumors multiply?
It's a perplexing, and anguishing, predicament.
Whatever Mr. Glendening does, here's one piece of advice: When in the State House, stick to Coke or Pepsi. That bottled water can do strange things to a governor.
Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial page editor.