Report of hits, misses from chamber meeting


WHAT FOLLOWS is a report card from the beach. Not a "what I did on my summer vacation," but sundry items from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting with state legislators last week in Ocean City:

* Gov. Parris Glendening missed a golden opportunity to take on challenger Ellen Sauerbrey in debate. Instead, he made a lame excuse for not coming -- the first governor to snub the state's business leaders in anyone's memory.

The result: Ms. Sauerbrey got all the attention and free publicity from her speech. There was no rebuttal, no attempt to hit her on her weak points. Ignoring this important event earned Mr. Glendening nothing -- except the enmity of state business leaders.

* Reports of a "Sauerbrey love fest" at the conference were exaggerated. Yes, she received a standing ovation, but that's routine. The governor got that same kind of reception when he appeared before the chamber last year.

The dominant mood of the gathering -- a decidedly conservative crowd -- was boredom. No one even wanted to ask the Republican candidate a question after her speech.

* Look for Mr. Glendening to perform strongly in Southern Maryland this time, thanks to the yeoman-like work of Rep. Steny Hoyer in landing jobs and economic development at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

* Look for Ms. Sauerbrey to improve her performance slightly over 1994 in the state's most pivotal county, Montgomery, where voter turnout is expected to be among the highest in Maryland. She won 41 percent of the vote there the last time.

* The governor's sudden decision to propose legislation letting

patients sue their HMOs received a negative response from lawmakers. Senate President Mike Miller dumped cold water on the idea, and House Majority Leader John Hurson pointed out a new grievance process passed this year hasn't been given a chance to work. Other lawmakers were privately incensed at the governor's political pandering.

* Speculation was rampant that Ray Schoenke would be the next economic development secretary if Mr. Glendening wins, thanks to Mr. Schoenke's endorsement of the governor despite searingly critical comments he made of the incumbent during the Democratic primary.

On the Republican side, word circulated that Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann, a conservative Democrat, might be in line for secretary of transportation in a Sauerbrey administration, now that she has all but embraced the GOP nominee. A top candidate for a privatized economic development agency under Ms. Sauerbrey: James Brady, who quit the governor's Cabinet in disgust this year, and now has endorsed the Republican.

* The General Assembly probably won't pass legislation deregulating the electric industry next year unless utilities cut rates. Both Mr. Miller and Mr. Hurson said as much in Ocean City.

* What's the difference between ex-legislator Larry Young's unethical attempt a decade ago to squeeze funds out of health-industry lobbyists at monthly breakfasts and the recent move by Del. Howard P. Rawlings and leading House Democrats to press those same lobbyists for $150 each at a "health policy leadership forum"?

House leaders finally realized they looked like shakedown artists and decided the proceeds would be donated to charity. Still, an unsavory aroma lingers.

* Here's a role-reversal: Liberal Democrats and fiscal experts urged that Maryland's growing surplus be handled very conservatively; conservative Republicans, meanwhile, urged liberal use of these surplus funds for tax cuts.

* There could be serious erosion of the Cardin commission's plan to reform legislative ethics. Mr. Hurson spoke of "weaknesses in the report." That could open the door for other lawmakers to water down the plan.

* A panel on state transportation funding reached no conclusions. But panel members agreed that the public doesn't realize how serious the problem could become. Without new taxes, most road and transit projects could soon come to a halt.

* Maryland's economy never caught up fully with the nation's economic expansion and now will sag a bit as a result of the worldwide slowdown, according to local economists.

Ironically, wild stock market gyrations will help state tax collections next year, because nervous Marylanders cashed out their gains when the markets plunged.

The state won't be hurt too much by Asia's economic flu since the state has so little exposure to Pacific Rim commerce. Modest job growth is still projected for next year in Maryland.

Barry Rascovar, deputy editorial page editor, has just published a book of his columns, "The Great Game of Maryland Politics."

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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