Glendening wants legacy as the education governor


GOV. PARRIS N. Glendening is thinking about the L-word these days. That's L as in legacy, not liberal.

He easily won re-election and he can't run for a third term. So Mr. Glendening doesn't have to position himself for the next campaign or try to please everyone.

Instead, he is taking a long-range view -- what George Bush called "the vision thing."

How does he want to be remembered? What will he leave behind as his monument?

He mentions three priorities during a recent interview in his State House office.

No. 1 is education. Mr. Glendening wants to be the "education governor." In the 21st century, he says society will be information-based. "Anyone left behind in education will be left behind in their future." They won't be able to succeed in the information age.

Buying tools

Maryland's public schools need the tools -- modern buildings and computers. That's where the governor can deliver big-time, thanks to the state government's growing surpluses. Look for a $1 billion, four-year school construction program, for instance, and a separate school-technology initiative.

That just scratches the surface. The governor wants a concerted effort on early childhood health-care and pre-school programs and the initial, critical years in elementary school. He wants to cut class sizes and find ways to attract more competent teachers.

Mr. Glendening now is in position to become a leader on a second education front -- state colleges and universities.

The governor was constrained by the state's recession from offering much help in his first term. Next year, he will get personally involved in refining higher education's top-heavy governance system and giving campus presidents more autonomy, allowing them to achieve greatness.

That means a lot more money not only for academic programs, but also for new buildings and research-development efforts.

By 2002, Mr. Glendening wants to deliver on a cherished promise to provide a free college education for every high school student who graduates with a B average. This could help improve the quality of state high schools, he says, because even the poorest students "will know they can go to college."

No. 2 on the legacy list is fully implementing the governor's "smart growth" program, which has received increasing national attention. This is one issue where Mr. Glendening gets intense.

The specter of sprawl

Suburban sprawl is ruining our society and slowly bankrupting governments, he said.

The governor's early efforts to concentrate state resources in existing or planned population centers were only a start. Now he is ready to make tough decisions.

Projects outside of growth centers won't get funds. Every state agency will have to demonstrate that projects pass the governor's smart-growth test.

Look for more school-construction money focused on renovating existing schools -- as is happening in Baltimore County -- not on building more schools. Look for millions to improve existing neighborhoods. Look for a new imperative to vastly improve mass transit in the suburbs and in the city.

Look for an end to highway projects that gobble up farmland and spur unplanned development.

The long-term answer is a policy that makes existing communities so attractive for businesses and residents that they stop moving to outlying areas.

No. 3 on the governor's priority list is more amorphous: Using his office as a bully pulpit on civil rights and equality for all. That means toughening hate-crime laws, giving gays equal protection under state law and ensuring that poor people are not left out in the cold -- literally -- when electric utility rates are deregulated.

Mr. Glendening starts getting emotional when he mentions the overwhelming mandate he was given by voters on Nov. 3. He has learned much in his first four years and is ready to focus on big-picture issues.

"This is a symbolic, important time," Mr. Glendening said. "We have a unique opportunity" at the end of this millennium.

He will be the last Maryland governor of the 20th century and the first one of the next. It is time to dream, for people to ask the question: "What kind of society do we want?"

Mr. Glendening thinks he knows, and he is going to try to make it happen.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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