Governor looks to create `ripples of hope'

Far-ranging speech touches on the bay, AIDS, global poverty

January 17, 2002|By David Nitkin and Sarah Koenig | David Nitkin and Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening cast his gaze well beyond Maryland in his final State of the State address yesterday, telling legislators that their support for public education and the environment could create "ripples of hope" that might affect problems as far off and intractable as AIDS in Africa.

In a nontraditional speech that aides said he partly wrote, Glendening spent as much time recounting a recent conversation with former South African President Nelson Mandela and describing his vision for "an Environmental Marshall Plan" as he did outlining goals for the legislative session that began last week.

The aftershocks of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks heavily influenced the address. In his most specific policy goals, the governor urged the General Assembly to pass a package of security initiatives that includes the creation of a state security council, tougher criminal laws and greater support for National Guard members called to duty.

But sounding almost as if he were laying out a platform for national office, Glendening also focused on the roots of the terrorist assault, calling for a U.S.-led campaign to wipe out global poverty.

"We will never eradicate evil from the world. But we must try to eradicate the conditions that allow evil to gain strength," he said. "America must lead a campaign aimed at defeating the conditions of poverty that enable hatred and violence to thrive."

Glendening said that he and Mandela spoke at a recent College Park event about extending lessons learned since the attacks.

"When the battles are over and the victory is won - and they will be - the international coalition we have forged must not once again be dismantled," the governor said. "Rather, it must be re-energized and redirected to secure victory over other threats: poverty and hopelessness throughout the world, global environmental destruction, and ignorance and bigotry.

"Now I know these issues will not be solved here, in Annapolis, in the next 90 days," he said. "But if we do our part for our state, we can send forth our own ripples of hope."

Reaction to the speech was mixed. While some lawmakers said they were inspired, others criticized noteworthy omissions and wondered if the address was part of an effort by Glendening to secure another job after he leaves office next year.

But Glendening said afterward that the words were genuine. He called it his favorite address in his 20 years as governor and Prince George's County executive, largely because he felt free to take a broader view.

"It's what I believe," he said. "In other years, you are constrained by details of a budget or of programs. But this was an opportunity to speak from the heart."

In the middle of the 50-minute speech, Glendening called on lawmakers - even in the current economic crunch - to support funding increases for several of his priorities: public schools, higher education and the environment.

The budget he unveiled this week proposes a $161 million increase in school funding and $68 million for higher education, as well as added protections for coastal bays and the Chesapeake.

He also wants to allow collective bargaining for school support staff on the Eastern Shore - the only region in the state without that right - and to expand teachers' negotiating power to include more classroom-related topics.

"Even as we craft an agenda that recognizes the security and fiscal realities we face, we must remember the responsibility we have to future generations," Glendening said. "Our future prosperity takes shape today in our schools and on our campuses."

Glendening used much of his speech to recap the accomplishments for which he hopes to be remembered. He said he took satisfaction from four hard-fought achievements - putting tobacco "out of business" in Maryland; improving the reputation of public universities; his Smart Growth and environmental protection programs; and his efforts toward ending discrimination and increasing opportunities for minorities.

Glendening's discussion of worldwide problems dominated lawmakers' comments after the speech. While some praised its scope and sentiment, others were puzzled by his approach. "A lot of people are making fun, but I actually enjoyed the `world' stuff," said Del. Robert A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat. "He was saying, `Act locally, think globally.' "

Del. Robert R. Flanagan was among the uninspired. "He weirded out the legislature," the Howard County Republican said. "He talked about everything but outer-space exploration, and the budget crisis he created."

Flanagan and other GOP leaders were ready with rebuttals immediately after the address. They labeled the governor a "tax, borrow and spend" chief executive, and said he glossed over the state's budget woes.

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