It wasn't a pop quiz, exactly, but a live interview after a rah-rah rally meant to ensure that Hispanics are counted correctly in the national census.
But Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's response was exactly the kind of thing that makes aides cringe.
After Townsend gave the keynote speech earlier this month before an audience of Hispanic activists and others, News Channel 8 reporter Matt Brock pulled her aside for a quick interview about how the state could help Hispanics get a fair shake in the coming census. The national head count has been a sore point among Hispanics, who contend that they have been undercounted and have lost political clout as a result.
In the short interview, Townsend described the importance of instilling trust in a community traditionally wary of government.
The key, she said, is to tear down the language barrier between government and the state's fastest-growing minority group.
"What we're doing, we're hiring people who speak Hispanish," Townsend said, in what seemed at first to be a slip of the tongue. But she continued.
"If we're going to have a diverse state, a diverse country, which we do have, that's going to be our glory. It means we've all got to stop learning just one language, we've got to learn many. And Hispanic is an important language to learn."
George W. Bush, the Republican presidential contender, has taken loads of grief for calling Kosovars "Kosovarians," Greeks "Grecians" and East Timorese "East Timorians," and for failing a pop quiz identifying important (but somewhat obscure) world leaders. And many of us understand that if the public eye were trained on our every move and utterance, the list of malaprops would be long, indeed.
Certainly Townsend, who has traveled extensively in Latin America, knows Spanish is the language of choice among many Hispanics, her aides said.
"Ella tiene empleados como yo que hablan espanol," said Alan H. Fleischmann, her chief of staff. "Mi jefa comprende la importancia del idioma." (Translation: "She has employees like me who speak Spanish. My boss understands the importance of the language.")
Others just groaned at the gaffe.
"I sort of blushed and shook my head," said a News Channel 8 staff member. "I was watching it on the monitor, and I am a fan of hers. Then she says it, and I thought, 'Oh, my God.' I'd just read that she had come a long way as a public speaker, and then she says Hispanish."
Another New Spokesman
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening has a new mouthpiece, but it's a voice you've heard before.
Michelle Byrnie, who for the past 18 months has been deputy press secretary, is moving up to the top job. She replaces Ray Feldmann, who left in July and now is a spokesman for Metro.
Byrnie will report to communications director Michael Morrill, who has been handling day-to-day press duties since Feldmann's departure.
Morrill now will return to long-term communications planning, he said. Interviews are underway for a new deputy.
The governor's press office has seen its share of comings and goings. Glendening (D) went through three communications directors and two press secretaries in his first three years in office. Things have stabilized in recent months.
Morrill has had far more access to Glendening than his predecessors, and he promised that Byrnie would, too.
She is to have daily time on Glendening's schedule to brief him on what the State House press corps is asking about and to get answers to reporters' questions. She'll also sit in on key policy meetings.
"To be able to sit in on meetings and know the process from beginning to end and what the governor's thinking is very important in this position," Byrnie said.
Morrill said Glendening has grown comfortable working with Byrnie, 31. A former broadcast journalist, she has worked for Hearst Broadcasting's operations on Capitol Hill and was a producer for WJLA-TV. She lives in Baltimore County.
Morrill said he plans to concentrate on long-term communications strategy for some of Glendening's key policy initiatives, including how to spend the money the state is receiving from the national tobacco settlement, pursuit of a gay rights bill and promotion of the governor's Smart Growth plan.
Much of the work will focus on building a national profile for those efforts, especially the fight against development sprawl, when Glendening is slated to assume chairmanship of the National Governors' Association next year, he said.
Glendening Picks Up Another Job
In addition to assuming chairmanship of the National Governors' Association next year, Glendening has added another job to his portfolio. Last weekend he was elected vice president of the Council of State Governments during the group's annual meeting in Quebec.
That puts him on track to become the organization's president in 2002, his final year in office. The council represents executive, legislative and judicial branches of government from all the states, U.S. territories and three Canadian provinces. It is, in other words, a wonk's dream.
Glendening has pledged to use the governors' association job as a platform for promoting his efforts to control sprawl and said he plans to use the council presidency for the same thing.
It's just one of those delicious ironies we love to point out: While Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's, Calvert) was host to 878 people at a fund-raiser at a lounge at the Baltimore Ravens' stadium on Dec. 2, Common Cause/Maryland was having its own event--on public financing of legislative elections in Maryland--a few blocks away at the University of Baltimore.
Miller's event raised about $300,000. (It comes on the heels of an October fund-raiser in Georgetown that garnered $200,000.) The Common Cause forum drew about 50 people.
Rebuke From Common Cause
Glendening is not getting a free ride when it comes to his endorsement of Vice President Gore's presidential campaign.
Glendening's endorsement statement went out on state letterhead, which prompted a rebuke from Common Cause/Maryland Executive Director Kathleen Skullney, who called it improper.
Glendening's statements at a Baltimore news conference Dec. 1 were just "one politician to another," Skullney said. Putting it in writing on state letterhead is something else entirely, she said.
"The official stationery gives the full weight and influence of the governor's office to a purely partisan endorsement," Skullney said.
Glendening's communications director, Michael Morrill, said the governor would make amends. "Because of inquiries from the media . . . the governor's campaign is reimbursing the state $140.90," he said. That would cover the cost of faxing the statement and photocopying it and also pay for photos taken by a state photographer at the endorsement news conference.
Skullney said, "It might be a tempest in a teapot, but it's the taxpayers' teapot."