Unless Republican loser Ellen Sauerbrey somehow manages to find a friendly judge willing to issue an unprecedented injunction, Parris N. Glendening will become Maryland's 59th governor on Wednesday. It will mark the beginning of an enormous transition.
Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Glendening will be the first governor in 126 years from the Washington suburbs. That bit of trivia may shrink to irrelevance, though, as Mr. Glendening does what nearly all governors do after assuming office: Think of problems in broad, statewide terms instead of narrow, regional perspectives.
More important is the fact that Mr. Glendening's experience has been in the local arena, first as a town commissioner in Hyattsville, then as a Prince George's County councilman and for the past 12 years as county executive of a rapidly growing, multi-cultural, fast-urbanizing suburb of the nation's capital. The new governor understands as well as any of his predecessors the concerns of small-town governments and suburban counties and of minorities and those in need.
Yet given the circumstances under which he takes office, Mr. Glendening won't be in a position to play Santa Claus. But he will be able to mold state government so it is more of a cooperative partner and helpmate than an adversary and obstructionist.
Mr. Glendening takes over at a pivotal time in Maryland's economic history. The state is making the painful switch from dependence on heavy industry and federal employment to a high-tech, service-oriented economy. It also is trying to shed its image as a place with a hostile business climate. A committed and aggressive governor can change that in a hurry -- if it remains a top priority.
The governor-elect promises this will be the year when Maryland government finally starts to shrink itself in size. Not a modest nip-and-tuck, but a full-fledged effort to give voters what they said they wanted in November: a smaller though more responsive government. The first installment in what could be a four- or eight-year renovation effort starts this week when a modified budget plan is unveiled two days after the inauguration.
Every corner of the state bureaucracy is likely to get a thorough examination from Professor Glendening, who prides himself on having authored several books on public administration. Taking the government apart and then putting it back together in a different way so it is more in sync with the public's needs and desires is sure to be a cornerstone of this administration.
Maryland has not had such a meticulously organized, strategic-thinking chief executive in recent memory. He will need, though, to develop a broad consensus that ignores party lines, regional differences and ideologies. Preparing Maryland for the 21st century while in the midst of an economic transformation requires a unified approach from our elected leaders in the State House.