Governor lays out liberal agenda

State of State targets higher education, environment, bias

Smart Growth emphasis

January 18, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron and Jeff Barker | Thomas W. Waldron and Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening laid out an unabashedly liberal agenda for the General Assembly yesterday, challenging lawmakers to guarantee gay rights, pour money into higher education, protect the environment and build up minority businesses.

Delivering his seventh State of the State address, Glendening largely ignored high-profile issues such as primary education and crime-fighting, focusing instead on his call for new collective-bargaining rights for state college employees and an end to the use of race by police in making traffic stops.

Glendening wove details of his own life - including a reference to his late brother, who was gay and served in the Air Force - to offer a vision of a state free of prejudice against minorities and homosexuals.

"Just imagine how much stronger we will be when no Marylander fears that they will be denied their share of our common dream because of skin color, gender, faith or accent, or who they happen to love," he said.

In recounting his successes of the past six years, the governor declared that the state's economy is among the strongest in the nation and its crime rate the lowest in a quarter-century.

"It gives me great pride to report to you that the state of Maryland is strong and prosperous," Glendening said.

The speech came a day after he unveiled a $21 billion budget loaded with new spending for his priority areas of higher education and environmental protection, but one that far exceeds the legislature's self-imposed spending limits.

As if there were any doubt about the emphasis for his address, Glendening seated the presidents of two national unions - John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO and Gerald McEntee of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - on the House of Delegates floor.

And a phalanx of environmental activists, university presidents and advocates for gay rights watched from reserved seats in the gallery.

Glendening's priorities in the 39-minute speech contrasted with those being advanced around the country by centrist "New Democrats," such as President Clinton.

New Democrats, who championed federal welfare reform four years ago, tend to be fiscally moderate and tough on crime as they try to offer a middle ground between liberals and conservatives.

Some longtime lawmakers said yesterday's address was the most left-leaning speech they had ever heard from a Maryland governor, and some were struck that Glendening said next to nothing about primary education, crime-fighting and economic development.

"It certainly was not in the middle of the spectrum of political thought," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a moderate Democrat from Prince George's County.

Liberal legislators were more pleased.

Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat, said Glendening did more than recite a "laundry list" of concerns. Rather, he said, the governor laid out a governing philosophy built on higher education and Smart Growth.

"It was one of the most progressive agendas of any governor in the country," Van Hollen said.

Glendening showed no reluctance to embrace far-reaching goals that have little chance of becoming reality before he leaves office in less than two years.

For instance, he repeated his call to eventually make college free in Maryland. In the meantime, he said, the state should continue to expand financial assistance to make college more affordable. "Too many of our citizens are priced out of the college classroom and unacceptably out of promising careers and successful lives," he said.

Maryland's college presidents were naturally delighted with the governor's support.

"The momentum created by the governor in the last few years is beyond my expectations," said C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland, College Park.

On his signature issue of Smart Growth, Glendening called for spending $70 million next year on three new programs and a substantial increase for mass transit - all designed to curb suburban sprawl and encourage reinvestment in older communities.

"Families want to live in prosperous, close-knit communities, with good schools, open spaces, parks and playgrounds," said Glendening, who has won national attention for his record on the issue. "Smart Growth gives them that choice."

While there were no policy surprises, environmental advocates were pleased with the emphasis Glendening paid to the issue.

"One-third of his speech was about the importance of the environment on the economy and communities," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, an environmental group. "That was really impressive."

The governor won perhaps his longest applause for his call for a more inclusive society, offering examples that included unusually blunt discussion of race. In particular, he proposed increasing the amount of state contracting work set aside for minority companies - from 14 percent to 25 percent - and pledged to end the police use of "racial profiling" in traffic stops.

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