Foes find common ground Frosh, Guns compromise on Smart Growth


One's a mild-mannered, liberal lawyer from Montgomery County -- the son of a judge who believes avidly in the responsibility of government to protect the environment.

The other's an Eastern Shore conservative, a hard-working Vietnam veteran with an angry streak and little patience for over-reaching "enviros."

And for the last few days, the General Assembly held its collective breath while Sen. Brian E. Frosh and Del. Ronald A. Guns struggled to find common ground on what had become one of the session's pivotal issues -- Smart Growth.

Over that time, the two have spent uncounted hours together -- in Guns' office, in the Senate lounge, in the House speaker's office -- reaching compromise on Gov. Parris N. Glendening's anti-suburban sprawl legislation, the No. 1 environmental issue of the session and one that temporarily tied the Assembly into knots.

"We're trying to walk in each other's shoes," said Guns, chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee. "East is meeting the West."

East finally met West yesterday afternoon, as Guns and Frosh compromised. And the Smart Growth bill is headed toward final Assembly approval today.

With the deal on the growth bill negotiated, Glendening sent down a supplemental budget proposal with goodies for local governments, clearing the way for passage of the one bill the General Assembly has a constitutional responsibility to pass -- the state budget -- and unclogging many other backed-up issues.

The Smart Growth legislation will direct hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending to growth areas, with the goal of discouraging disorderly, unplanned development known as sprawl.

The bill promises to slow environmentally unsensitive development and funnel more spending into existing areas such as Frosh's home turf in the suburbs of Washington.

But in Guns' back yard on the Eastern Shore, the legislation is seen as encroachment by the state over local land-use decisions.

"They come from two completely different worlds," said David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties.

"I've been trying to explain how development happens in less populated areas," Guns, 48, said of his meetings with Frosh. "I think he's trying to understand."

Lining up with Frosh -- the Senate's point person on environmental issues -- the Senate passed a strong bill backed by the governor and environmental advocates. The House followed Guns' lead and passed a significantly weakened version that sought to dilute the power of the state to influence land-use decisions.

As often happens at the pressure-packed end of the General Assembly's 90-day session, it was left to two legislators to resolve the differences.

It is a position Guns and Frosh have found themselves in before.

Last year, it was the "brownfields" issue of redeveloping abandoned industrial sites. Frosh and Guns angrily broke off negotiations at the end of the session, and the bill failed.

By several accounts, the two Democrats weren't even speaking at session's end.

Before this year's session began, Frosh presented Guns with what amounted to an ideological peace offering, a copy of the book "A Civil Action," an account of a lawyer's crusade to punish water polluters in Connecticut.

Over time, the two men resumed their working relationship and they fashioned a compromise on brownfields that was swiftly enacted into law this session.

"It's been abrasive at times, probably more so on my side than his," acknowledged Guns. "I envy him because he has that ability [to stay calm]."

Frosh, 50, is a hero to environmental advocates, and he seems to have the full support of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Miller said he would accept a compromise on Smart Growth sight unseen, as long as Frosh recommended it.

"I have the greatest confidence in anything Brian Frosh agrees to," said Miller. "At this time of year, you have to delegate to people who have expertise."

Guns, a former lineman for the phone company, is an assistant manager for Bell Atlantic, commuting by train from Cecil County to Baltimore. In his office hangs a Norman Rockwell print of a lineman. By his own admission, he is a methodical workhorse, who likes to move slowly through issues to keep himself and his diverse 22-member committee focused. "He's an incredibly hard-working guy," said Bliden.

In the past few days, Guns and Frosh each walked away with a few provisions they wanted in the final bill.

On others, they disagreed.

"He works in increments," Guns said of Frosh. "He'll put something on the table that never seems far enough for me. He'll say, 'It goes too far.' "

In the end, under pressure from the presiding officers, the governor and seemingly everyone else in the State House yesterday, the two met somewhere in the middle on the unresolved issues.

Neither seemed thrilled, but neither seemed depressed.

Said Frosh: "I think we have some reason to take some modest pride."

Added Guns of his adversary: "He did try to walk in my shoes. I appreciated that."

Pub Date: 4/05/97

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad