Maryland's very own Bill Clinton


WASHINGTON MAY HAVE Bill Clinton, but Maryland now has a carbon copy who might be dubbed Bill Clinton Jr.

In so many ways, this state's governor, Parris Glendening is a Free State mirror-image of the American president. The similarities are striking -- but not flattering.

Both men were billed as "policy wonks" on government. Both won election narrowly despite lukewarm public support. Both made promises across the board during their campaigns that they have since failed to live up to.

Mr. Clinton was billed as "slick Willie" for his shifting positions on issues and his proclivity to tell people what they want to hear. Mr. Glendening is the same way.

County executives, for instance, feel the governor misled them into thinking the counties would be immune from upcoming budget cuts. Instead, the city and counties are right in the middle of these cutbacks.

His actions, like Mr. Clinton's, are viewed with great suspicion because he's always got his eyes fixed firmly on the next election. (Witness his eagerness to embrace an Ellen Sauerbrey-style tax cut next year.) The political aspect of the presidency or governorship always seems to come first for these two men.

And they often go about their jobs like Lone Rangers. They don't share the spotlight or credit easily. They don't like cooperating with Republicans or even with legislative Democrats, if it can be avoided. Massaging the egos of other politicians is not one of their strong points.

Here are two recent examples.

In Washington, House Speaker Newt Gingrich let slip that one reason for his toughened stance on the budget bill that shut down the federal government was his fury over what he perceived as a snub by Mr. Clinton during the long overseas flight to attend the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The back door

Not once in that 25-hour trip did the president deign to speak with him about the budget impasse. The crowning blow came when Speaker Gingrich and Senate President Bob Dole were told to exit the plane by the back door, while Mr. Clinton hogged the media spotlight at the plane's front door.

Sure, it's "petty," Mr. Gingrich conceded, but it's also human -- especially when dealing with the giant egos of politicians. And since this wasn't the first time Mr. Clinton had insulted and ignored Mr. Gingrich, the House speaker had had enough. It was payback time.

In the Maryland State House, similarly, Mr. Glendening has made a habit of bruising the egos of House Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

This month, the two men exploded after Mr. Glendening neglected to invite them -- until the very last minute -- to the big announcement on an NFL football team for Baltimore. Mr. Taylor is still seething. He felt personally insulted and also felt that the legislature -- which passed the funding bill that made the deal possible -- had been insulted. Other local politicians were invited well in advance, but not the General Assembly's two top leaders.

The upshot? Mr. Taylor pointedly talks about possible problems for the Browns deal in the legislature. Mr. Miller, meanwhile, is mumbling about holding up the governor's deal with Robert Gallo for a virology institute in Baltimore. Neither thinks much of Mr. Glendening. For these two legislators, it's time to send the governor a message.

Mistrust in the air

In both Washington and Annapolis, suspicion is very much in the air. The executive can't be trusted, say top legislators; the executive is all politics and no principles. The executives are so wary of the legislative branch that they go to great lengths to avoid sharing power.

In Washington, it has led to the brinkmanship stand-off over the budget. In Annapolis, it could lead to a nasty showdown in January when lawmakers begin their 90-day session. The clash of political ambitions and egos makes the business of governing a rocky road.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

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