The Professor of politics

Governor: In his two terms, Parris Glendening mastered the art of legislative relations and usually got what he wanted.

April 14, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

ON THE LAST DAY of his last General Assembly session as governor, Parris N. Glendening made a personal appeal to legislative leaders to restore $8 million to the budget for his signature environmental programs.

It was a perfect opportunity for payback. With redistricting done and no projects to dangle, the once-mighty governor was reduced to the supplicant status of a lame duck. After years of wrangling with Glendening over issues great and small, legislative leaders could have told him to take a hike.

But they didn't. Glendening got the money.

"People realized he'd been a very effective governor," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "He deserved some consideration for his signature projects."

Glendening ends his eight years of dealing with the General Assembly as perhaps the most effective governor in terms of legislative relations since Marvin Mandel in the 1970s.

Perhaps more surprising, the standoffish former professor ends with a fair portion of personal good will -- at least from leading Assembly Democrats. Even House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who as recently as 1997 could barely bring himself to speak Glendening's name, says he considers the governor a friend.

That sentiment is hardly universal. Glendening has consistently put more emphasis on implementing his programs than winning friends. Even many Democratic legislators who support his agenda consider him a rather cold figure with more intellectual passion than human compassion.

Glendening will leave office with few admirers among Republicans, many of whom he treated with disdain for eight years. Still, even his most conservative foes learned to respect his political skills.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican and strident critic through both terms, said Glendening is "definitely a very strong governor who learned to wield power very effectively -- to the point that he emasculated the legislature and stripped it of its independence."

Few legislators would go that far, but there's little question that Glendening usually got what he wanted. The governor can accurately claim to have fulfilled most of his campaign promises. And of the dozens of bills he identified as priorities over the years, all but a handful passed.

Glendening didn't accomplish that with personal charm, though he insists he can muster that quality when needed. He won his legislative battles with focus, flexibility, a top-notch legislative staff, a poker shark's nerve and the liberal use of public funds.

While Glendening is not an eloquent orator, legislative leaders say he has been a persistent communicator who knows how to drive his message home.

"He lectures, that's what professors do," said Taylor. "When you add up the score, they must have been good lectures, because they got listened to."

Glendening also was extremely lucky. Unlike his two predecessors, he enjoyed a thriving economy through most of his term -- letting him draw on reserves when a recession hit. And just when his political fortunes were sagging, a microorganism named Pfiesteria came along and helped him win a legislative victory with an anti-pollution act, and re-election in 1998.

Through the years, Glendening was aided by several factors peculiar to Maryland:

The extraordinarily strong budgetary powers of the governor's office, giving him the ability to dominate the agenda and to reward allies. At various times, notably the 1996 fight to build the Ravens and Redskins football stadiums, that power to bargain for votes was crucial to legislative victory.

The dominance and discipline of the Democratic Party, which let him govern with only minimal need to court Republicans. There were times Glendening needed every last Democrat to break a Senate filibuster, as in the 1999 tobacco tax increase debate, but he got them when he needed them.

The continuity of leadership in the General Assembly. For his entire tenure, Glendening dealt with the same presiding officers, Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, and a little-changing cast of committee chairmen. By their final sessions, the governor and key legislators knew each other's moves like four-year starters on a college basketball team.

Things didn't go that smoothly when Glendening was a freshman governor.

The former Prince George's County executive entered office in 1995 with a paper-thin majority, a pension scandal, the distrust of the Baltimore establishment and a limited knowledge of the ways of Annapolis.

The Senate president was a longtime political foe from Prince George's County. The House speaker was a prickly conservative from Western Maryland. After two decades in Maryland politics, he had few friends in the legislature.

Glendening quickly found he wasn't dealing with a County Council but a proud institution that's been around for more than 300 years.

"He made various what I call slips in judgment in the early going," Miller recalled.

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