On the Record: Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening

 

It's been a big year for Maryland Gov Parris Glendening. After scoring victories in establishing "smart codes" for old buildings and "smart gun" standards requiring built-in trigger locks, he accepted his fellow governors' nomination as chairman of their national organization, where he promised to fix the spotlight on his visions of "smart growth." Now, Glendening appears ready to lead the governors policy charge up Capitol Hill. He took a moment to talk to Stateline.org recently as he prepared to receive recognition as one of Governing magazine's nine Public Officials of the Year.

Stateline.org: During the new governors' orientation meeting that just wrapped up out in Utah, you suggested that governors may be the best stimulus to getting things done at the national level.

Glendening: Let me just say first of all it was a very interesting meeting because we had of course six new governors there of the eight elected. We also had some very senior governors: Gov. Howard Dean, for example, is the longest serving governor from Vermont right now and (also) people like Gov. (John) Engler of Michigan. The enthusiasm level was very high across the board on a bipartisan basis. Part of it comes out of how well states are doing right now. But also, what we should recognize, I think, is that the extraordinarily close division on the vote for the White House as well as in both houses of Congress means that there is a very distinct possibility that there's going to be an inertia, a lack of ability to bring some major movement together to solve some of the key problems that are facing this country.

The last two decades have really seen a significant movement toward state-oriented federalism. Even as this is starting to peak - the focus on the states - what is happening is that you have a Congress and the White House that are, according at least to some projections, immobilized. The governors believe that this gives us a unique opportunity to be a catalyst for positive change. Someone is going to have to step up and say in a major way, we've got to address these problems.' The public is not going to sit around for either two years or four years and wait for the next election.

We were talking about it just for example on the prescription issue. There are seniors out there right now that are making tough decisions. Are they going to fill their prescription, alleviate pain, and perhaps prolong their life, or are they going to pay for food or for their rent? That's outrageous and we cannot sit around for four years and say, well, let's wait and see what happens in 2004. So, we are committed on a very bipartisan basis to be a force for change, to be a focal point that says let's address these issues.'

Just as an example, we've already pulled together some groups that are going to be trying to help strengthen the National Governors' Association policy with regard to healthcare, including senior prescription coverage, (and) to focus even further on some of the key issues relative to education and in particular some of the funding issues for education. And we're very, very concerned about some of the issues of continuing to fund the children's health program at the level it should be and things of this type.

So, overall, I think what we have is a very exciting opportunity. I was pleased at the press conference, I was joined of course by John Engler, governor of Michigan, who serves as the vice-chair of the NGA, and by Gov. (Mike) Leavitt of Utah who was there in his capacity as the host governor. And all three of us two relatively conservative Republicans and myself, a relatively progressive Democrat, were in absolute agreement of two things. We cannot be at an impasse, the country cannot be at an impasse, for two years. We can work aggressively, successfully as a catalyst for change.

Stateline.org: Practically speaking, how are the governors going to accomplish that? It's going to be difficult without any formal channels to work through.

Glendening: Well, there's a number of things. First of all, we're unified - and that makes a big difference on a bipartisan basis. I won't tell you that all fifty governors are in absolute agreement but the overwhelming majority are. We have a history of working on a bipartisan basis and as you know, especially in the last decade, that has not been the case in Congress. So we have the ability to come in, Democrats and Republicans together and say to the Senate and the House, listen, we really must move on this bill' or whatever. And maybe even serve a little bit by way of leadership. If we can walk in there with a range as diverse as Gray Davis of California and myself, and John Engler and Mike Leavitt, and say we've agreed that a prescription coverage bill really must move, and this proposal or that proposal seems to be the way to do it, that can have some impact.

The other portion of it is, as you know, the NGA is one of the more respected lobbying groups across the country. We're also pleased that a number of former governors serve in the United States Senate. And in fact, we have Zell Miller, who was just appointed and is serving there, and Jeanne Carnahan, the spouse of a governor, and of course Tom Carper. And we have a number of others, everyone from George Voinovich and people like this. These are centrists and people with whom we are very close and we will be meeting shortly after the first of the year to stress you know us, you know us as governors, you know what we want to do,' and we think we'll be successful.

Stateline.org: You've mentioned prescription drugs twice now. Is that the top priority?

Glendening: No, I think the top priority, and I'm going to have to wrap up here, people are arriving. I think the top priority is the healthcare issue overall. It ranges from what's going on in Medicaid, the need for flexibility on Medicaid, the need for us to use our savings on welfare funding to reinvest in families and concern about continued funding for the children's health program and the expansion of that. If I had to say what our single biggest issue is, I'd say it is the healthcare issue, broadly defined.

Stateline.org: But not growth?

Glendening: No. For states, the growth and smart growth issue is probably the widest spread and the thing that most people are talking about. But relative to our relations with the national government, it's going to be about healthcare. Relative to what the states are doing the number one issue is obviously, next to education, going to be controlling sprawl and advancing smart growth initiatives.

 
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