EVERYBODY on board the Glendening Express! Next stop: Washington.
What had been a quiet, carefully planned effort to elevate Gov. Parris N. Glendening up the political ladder leaped into the national spotlight last week in Annapolis.
There was President Clinton standing behind the governor, almost like a proud father, as Mr. Glendening signed a first-in-the-nation bill mandating safety locks for all handguns sold in Maryland.
Gun control is a key issue for the president, and for Vice President Al Gore. It's Mr. Gore whom the governor wants to impress.
How he has tried! Core Gore issues have been turned into Maryland laws. Look at the governor's Smart Growth strategy, which Mr. Gore has incorporated into his campaign. Look at Mr. Glendening's claim to being the "education governor." Look at Mr. Glendening's pandering to win support from organized labor.
He's got the field covered. He could be in line to be Mr. Gore's secretary of education or his secretary of labor or head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
One report even has Mr. Glendening confiding to intimates that he hopes to be Mr. Gore's running mate in the fall.
Maryland's governor certainly has raised his profile. Taking on the National Rifle Association brought him glowing stories nationwide. His Smart Growth program makes him a prominent speaker at national conferences. This summer, Mr. Glendening becomes chairman of the National Governor's Association, an elevated platform for speaking out on national issues.
The greater glory
Meanwhile, Maryland's governor keeps on raising money, only now the cash goes toward Mr. Gore's campaign, not Mr. Glendening's. Or it goes toward Mr. Glendening's entertainment budget as chairman of the NGA. All for the greater glory of Parris.
But before Mr. Gore elevates Maryland's governor -- assuming the Democrats win the White House in November -- there could be some strong objections lodged.
For one thing, Mr. Glendening's perfidy in abandoning Mr. Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal remains an open wound. The president must have swallowed hard before he sang Mr. Glendening's praises at last week's bill signing.
Not only did Maryland's governor snub Mr. Clinton on a presidential visit to Montgomery County in 1998, he then disinvited the president to a Glendening fund-raiser as the president's impeachment woes deepened.
It wasn't long, though, before Mr. Glendening reversed course and threw his support behind Mr. Clinton as his prospects of surviving impeachment improved.
Such disloyalty and craven flip-flopping haven't been forgotten by White House political advisers.
Open to dispute
Mr. Glendening's claim to the title of education governor also could be disputed. He's been great at building and renovating public schools -- some $625 million for school and college construction in his new budget -- but he's avoided the more controversial classroom reforms pushed by state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
From the beginning, the governor has hesitated to support Ms. Grasmick. He tried to jettison her when he first took office, only to discover he didn't have the authority to do so.
Instead, he dumped the biggest reformer on the state school board, Chairman Robert C. Embry Jr. When the next chairman, the venerated Walter Sondheim, marshaled support for Ms. Grasmick's plan last year, the governor appointed two new board members who tormented Mr. Sondheim until he resigned as chairman.
In the 2000 General Assembly session, Mr. Glendening worked to prevent the legislature from endorsing Ms. Grasmick's early intervention plan to help floundering elementary and middle-schoolers.
Under heavy legislative pressure, though, he put up $12 million -- not even enough for a full intervention effort in middle schools.
As for money to help elementary school pupils who have reading and computing deficiencies, the governor took the position that local schools already received enough state aid to solve this major learning problem on their own.
Then when senators insisted that the governor fund the full intervention program in 2001, Mr. Glendening objected strenuously. He finally agreed to $19.5 million in 2001 -- still not enough for a full middle-school program.
As a result, the state board may have to scrap plans for high school graduation tests, which hinged on getting pupils help with learning problems early. That would be a major setback for reformers.
The governor also ignored requests from Baltimore's school board for extra funds to assist failing pupils. A true "education governor" would have made this program a priority, given the city's horrendously low test scores.
Perhaps Mr. Glendening should refashion himself as the "bricks-and-mortar education governor." He doesn't seem to have the same zeal for substantive classroom changes.
But such detail may escape the Gore operatives, who now see Mr. Glendening's star rising. Will the governor's good luck continue to hold? Will Mr. Gore turn to him this fall or winter? He's got the apparent credentials -- as long as Mr. Gore doesn't look too far beneath the surface.
Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial page editor.