Gov. Parris N. Glendening has delivered six State of the State speeches in Maryland, but until his address last week, rarely has he so unabashedly staked claim to being one of the most liberal chief executives in America.
It was a liberal litany: He refused to embrace big tax cuts, pledged to continue to fight for gay rights legislation and proposed that construction workers be paid the prevailing union wage on school projects.
He challenged lawmakers to take on gun manufacturers and "make them do what is right" by requiring that future handguns be equipped with childproof locks to prevent accidental shootings. He again invoked government's power to do good when he later called for new controls on growth, telling lawmakers the limits would unite wealthy suburbs with poverty-stricken urban areas.
Now safely reelected and unable to run again, Glendening (D) is pushing hard to establish a legacy and highlight his liberal--in his words, "progressive"--credentials as he weighs the next step in his political career. The governor said the speech was the first major address in which he wrote a substantial part.
"I believe in the bully pulpit," he said in an interview last week. "I believe there are some issues that demand that leaders speak out."
Glendening's embrace of government programs for the public good runs counter to the political trend throughout the nation as Republican governors such as James S. Gilmore III, of Virginia, and Christine Todd Whitman, of New Jersey, have gained recent acclaim for tax cuts and their belief in reduced government.
Many Democratic governors, and even President Clinton, are shying away from traditional liberal issues. California Gov. Gray Davis, for example, is refusing this year to consider gun control. The prominence Glendening has given to such issues as gun control and gay rights puts him at the forefront of those efforts on the national stage, said University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato.
"Clinton agrees on these issues, but he is not out there leading the parade. He's not going to sacrifice one point of popularity," Sabato said. "Glendening has never been popular, so he doesn't care. This is probably it for him in elected politics."
Sabato said Glendening's agenda is "quite remarkable even for Maryland," one of the nation's most liberal states. And it worries some state Democratic leaders who say his progressive philosophy may be out of step with some of the voters the party needs if it is to win future elections.
But Glendening's agenda is not remarkable in the context of his political career. From his early days on the Prince George's County Council to his dozen years as county executive, Glendening has pushed an activist role for government.
He proposed the county's first ban on smoking in government buildings, pushed through a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation, and enacted limits on development in the eastern portion of the county.
"Parris has always believed that government should be used to improve people's lives and society in general. He believes his role is to lead that charge," said Joel D. Rozner, a prominent Annapolis lobbyist who was Glendening's chief of staff in Prince George's. "People can debate his policies . . . but nobody can debate his willingness to get down and say, 'These are my priorities.' "
In past years, Glendening's State of the State speeches have announced specific policy objectives.
Glendening stepped back in his latest address to outline what admirers and critics alike described as a utopian view of what he hopes for society through the legislation he has been promoting. He said he wants: handguns and cigarettes to become "relics of a past, unenlightened age"; the word "tuition" to be an anachronism; vibrant cities and undeveloped countryside; and children to grow up in a society that "is not divided by race, or gender, or choice of sexual partner or religious creed."
Regarding his legislative proposals, he urged pay raises for teachers and said, "We also have an obligation to do the right thing for the hard-working men and women who build our schools," referring to his proposal to require prevailing union wages for school construction, as is now required on virtually all other state building projects.
He mentioned in passing that 21 taxes were cut during his administration, but Glendening had nothing to say about tax cuts in these times of plenty. Instead, he outlined a host of spending proposals and saved his passion for an attack on gun manufacturers.
He said that just as pharmaceutical companies had to be forced to make childproof caps and car makers forced to install air bags, "the industry will not do what is right until we make them do what is right."
Republican leaders and business groups reacted to that statement with outrage. For all his talk about fairness, Glendening showed a "bias" against business, said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman (R-Howard).
In the speech, Glendening expressed his concern for the environment after several years of promoting anti-sprawl initiatives.
"Do we want a society where some live in isolated, gated communities on five-acre lots while others live in run-down apartments and struggle daily in declining communities? . . . The answer is clear--no."
With the General Assembly session entering its second full week in Annapolis, Glendening is laying out a short but controversial agenda.
Unlike his first term, which came after a close election, Glendening this time is buoyed by his 10-percentage-point victory margin in 1998 and said he feels he has more political capital to expend.
Winning passage of prevailing-wage legislation will be a tough fight, as will the gun-control legislation. Legislative leaders are calling for an acceleration in an already approved income-tax cut, and county leaders are wary of his latest proposals to limit sprawl.
"One thing being a lame duck does is it frees you up to say what you think," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee. "He may not win on these issues, but it won't be because he didn't try."