The past 89 days have been the best of times and the worst of times for Gov. Parris N. Glendening. As he wraps up his first legislative session tomorrow, Mr. Glendening can take pride in a number of accomplishments, but not in a public approval rating of just 18 percent.
He got off to a good start with three strong speeches outlining a far more conservative budgeting approach and cautious attitude toward governance than advocated by his predecessor. But then Mr. Glendening sank into a quagmire of his own making: Public disclosure of a lucrative pension program he had set up for himself and top aides in Prince George's County. This, plus growing evidence he left Prince George's in a fiscal shambles, damaged the new governor's credibility.
Legislators remain wary, though Democratic leaders buried their concerns to prop up the administration's agenda. Even then, Mr. Glendening displayed a surprising lack of skill in the crucial task of persuading legislators to back his bills. Time after time, top Democrats bailed him out.
In the end, much of the Glendening package was approved. His decision to avoid budget gimmicks delighted lawmakers, who went along with his cautious fiscal plan. Two exceptions: They strongly disliked ending the DALP program for the disabled poor (he partially restored housing and health components), and they rejected his proposed $60 million raid on the state-run auto insurance program.
He also won his argument -- with the strong backing of Sen. Barbara Hoffman -- to delay personal tax cuts until next year. Instead, lawmakers approved a $250 million reserve fund in case of big reductions in federal aid.
Mr. Glendening sidestepped a number of potential booby traps. On the new auto-emissions program, he went along with a compromise hammered out by Del. Ronald Gunns. On the workplace smoking ban, he finally acceded to demands from legislators for restaurant, bar, hotel and arena exemptions. On gun-control and casino gambling, he took them off the table until 1996.
He could not, though, avoid taking a stand in favor of Medicaid abortions. He was defeated in the House by a close yet convincing vote.
The governor also lost some of his business initiatives. But overall it was a grand year for economic-growth issues. A semi-privatized cabinet department was approved; targeted tax cuts are nearing enactment for firms with high-growth potential; a $20 million "sunny day" development fund was OKed, real estate closing costs were lowered.
Given the distraction of Ellen Sauerbrey's legal challenge to his election, Mr. Glendening wisely opted to take a go-slow approach in his first legislative session. This strategy worked. The governor now can start to build on his pro-business initiatives and deliver on his pledge to make state government smaller yet more efficient. It wasn't a spectacular session for Mr. Glendening, but he fared better than many had expected.