ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris N. Glendening touted his administration’s triumphs Thursday, claiming just three legislative losses in eight years and expecting his record in higher education and the environment to carry him to his next career.
Record education spending, tough environmental protection laws and bans on racial profiling and discrimination will be the Glendening legacy, he said in an interview with Capital News Service.
“It’s been a good, good eight years,” the governor said. “We’ve been able to do just about everything on the list and in some cases far more.”
He admits his administration had a rough start. The former Prince George’s County executive and University of Maryland professor was elected by a slim margin and with little state-level experience.
“The very first session was difficult and I made some mistakes,” he said.
But he limited his focus to his “passions,” and eight years later, with six months left in his term, his legislative record is near perfect, he said.
Education spending rose by more than 75 percent in his administration. Combined with a massive new education funding formula pushed through by the General Assembly this year, education spending rose by $250 million — the biggest increase in state history.
Higher education spending has increased 70 percent under Glendening, and the University of Maryland’s national reputation has climbed accordingly. The state has spent $1.9 billion building new university facilities, primarily math and science buildings.
“We’ve done more in education — especially higher education — than any other state in the country,” he said.
His environmental efforts led to preservation of a million acres of land, implementation of his Smart Growth initiatives and toughening of air and water standards. In the just-completed legislative session, he pushed through bills to strengthen critical areas laws protecting the Chesapeake Bay and to extend protection into the coastal bays.
He has also made the state hostile to guns and tobacco, enacting the strongest gun-control laws in the country, he said, and phasing out Maryland’s 350-year history of tobacco farming through buyouts.
“In eight years, I’ve lost three bills,” he said. Two of those bills, both dealing with pollution, died this year, the victims of effective big-business lobbying, he said.
Even his political opponents don’t question his effectiveness, though they might object to his methods.
“Yeah, he has gotten a lot of his bills through, but at what cost?” asked Delegate James F. Ports, R-Baltimore.
Excessive spending combined with a recession leaves the state facing a $774 million deficit next budget year, Ports said. And Glendening got support for his pet projects such as tobacco taxes and gun control by wielding his power over the budget and the redistricting map, Ports said.
“He governs by bullying and threatening,” Ports said. “What he does in public and what he does in the back room are two different things.
“Effective or vindictive, it’s your choice.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, House Speaker Casper Taylor, D-Allegany, and Maryland Republican Chairman Michael Steele could not be reached for comment.
Glendening conceded that he might not be considered “the most charming or lovable” governor, but said his strength was his focus. “We have been able to get all of our programs through, with the exception of one or two minor environmental bills, because of a good rapport with the legislature.
“It’s been an exciting eight years and I look forward to the next steps in my career,” he said.
He isn’t ready to say what those steps might be, but his next career will be an extension of his legislative platform, he said. He has been approached by a number of national environment and educational organizations, as well as universities outside of the state, he said. He already has national reach as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and president of the Council of State Governments.
“I haven’t made any final decisions yet,” he said, adding that he will choose in the next three or four months. “I think I’ll have at least two careers, and they’ll almost certainly be in my areas of passion — higher education and the environment.”