JUST WHEN Parris Glendening thought his week couldn't get worse, Rick Kollinger showed up aiming sledge-hammers at funny bones. Never mind Glendening dumping his campaign manager at midweek. Never mind Eileen Rehrmann raising $300,000 to run against the governor. When there's a brand-new cartoon book mocking your administration, that's serious trouble.
Rick Kollinger's a major mocker. His political cartoons are carried in a half-dozen daily newspapers and a half-dozen weeklies around the state, mostly on the Eastern Shore, and now he's collected them in a slick book called "Glendening: U.S.'s 50th Most Popular Governor," a reference to surveys showing Maryland's top guy has had the lowest gubernatorial popularity figures in America.
The book's cover shows Glendening reading the glum news in the morning headlines. "Fiftieth?" he asks an aide. "How could I finish 50th?"
The aide replies, "Guam and Puerto Rico didn't vote."
With Kollinger, as with any editorial voice, the intent's not particularly personal. It just feels that way to the one getting plastered. Glendening's the guy in charge, and it's the role of cartoonists and other editorial misanthropes to cast a critical eye at whoever's running the show.
In fact, when William Donald Schaefer was governor, Kollinger put out an annual calendar of cartoons spoofing his administration. In Kollinger's world, the cartoon Schaefer threw a big Super Bowl party, complete with a Spam sculpture of himself, and invited all his friends in the legislature. Nobody showed up. In Kollinger's world, Lt. Gov. Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg was so ignored by Schaefer that his picture started appearing on milk cartons. In Kollinger's world, three lost souls emerged from a wooded area: Elvis, Amelia Earhart and Steinberg.
Nothing personal -- though that's not the same as saying no criticism intended. Kollinger intends it. He found all sorts of flaws in Schaefer's administration -- and an absolute gold mine when Schaefer was overheard making comic disparaging remarks about the Eastern Shore.
But Glendening's a different story altogether. In Kollinger's world, this governor makes Schaefer look statesmanlike.
"Oh, yeah," Kollinger was saying, laughing, last week from his home in Easton. "Schaefer's looking like a good deal. It's like, 'Come back, Don, all is forgiven.' At least he was personally honest."
In Kollinger's world, this governor's not. So a Kollinger cartoon's got a portrait of Glendening and Larry Young, the deposed state senator. Glendening's hollering at a guy from Acme Paint Co., "Hurry up." He's whitewashing Young out of the picture.
In Kollinger's world, Glendening's official portrait has two faces. In the General Assembly, a legislator asks, "I wonder why people take such an instant dislike to the governor?" Another replies, "It saves time." In Kollinger's world, when a big campaign contributor complains, "It's become harder to make illegal campaign contributions," he is told, "Fortunately, we'll always have Parris."
Such shots make you wonder why anyone would want to be governor. But Kollinger, being a contentious sort, questions everything in search of material, including the Pfiesteria scare, which has been a blow to the Eastern Shore's fishing industry.
"Nobody here thinks there's anything wrong," he says. "Certain fish have been getting sick and dying for centuries, it's their job. They talk about lesions, they pin all this worry on people who have eaten fish and had memory loss. Heck, that's easy to explain. They gave watermen from Pocomoke City some IQ tests, and they looked at the results and said, 'Must be memory loss.'
"But I heard the test was given in Baltimore. Whenever watermen make the trip to Baltimore, they get 10 cases of beer and make the trek up to The Block. So they may have taken the test at that point. It doesn't sound like real science to me."
Kollinger seems to be joking -- though it's not easy to tell. His pen's dipped in acid when it comes to Glendening.
"It's like politics at its worst," he says, rattling off the familiar litany of Glendening troubles: sweetheart pension deals, illegal campaign contributions, unhealthy ties to health care outfits looking for state business, overblown campaign claims.
"Schaefer was a lightning rod," Kollinger says, "but if he said something, it happened. This guy, it's just words. He's a guy who wanted to be elected just so he could be re-elected. That's his policy, to be re-elected."
But Koppinger's got another problem with this governor: What if he's not re-elected? What if somebody dull got elected?
"Yeah, dull and honest, there's nothing worse," Kollinger says. "I had that problem with Harry Hughes. Rehrmann, who knows? Ellen Sauerbrey, of course, she made all that fuss about dead people voting. Heck, I don't have too much problem with the dead voting. But I don't know why they always have to vote Democratic."
If Sauerbrey were smart, she'd buy up every copy of Kollinger's book -- and distribute them around the state. As it is, he says, "It's selling pretty well down here. Of course, I stop people and wrestle 'em to the ground and make 'em buy it."
Pub Date: 5/31/98