Why did voters in Maryland, a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1, elect Robert Ehrlich governor last month? For the most part, it happened because the voters had serious, well-founded doubts about the fitness of the Democrats’ standard-bearer, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, to lead the state.
But Mrs. Townsend’s political demise is just one prominent symbol of the longer-term decay in the quality of leadership in the state’s Democratic Party. The bizarre public confrontation which took place last week between the two Democrats who have governed the state for the past 16 years outgoing Gov. Parris Glendening and his predecessor, former governor and current state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer is just the latest symbol of how far the Democrats have fallen.
The excitement began when Mr. Schaefer staged his latest eruption at Mr. Glendening at a meeting of the Maryland Board of Public Works. The board was meeting to decide whether to spend close to $22 million in money that the state doesn’t have to prevent land on Maryland’s Eastern Shore from being developed. Mr. Schaefer rightly denounced Mr. Glendening’s land purchase as a political stunt to enhance his environmentalist credentials, while disregarding the impact on a state deficit estimated at $1.8 billion through the next fiscal year.
“Doesn’t bother you, though,” Mr. Schaefer declared, as Mr. Glendening stared forward without responding. “You’ll run around the country saying what a great environmentalist you are….You’ll never mention how you are the most fiscally irresponsible governor I’ve ever known.” Then, Mr. Schaefer (who openly refers to Mr. Glendening as “rabbit brain”) joined Mr. Glendening and state Treasurer Nancy Kopp in voting to approve the land grab anyway. The Schaefer-Glendening-Kopp team voting in favor of the scheme disregarded the concerns expressed by more responsible Democrats, among them Senate President Mike Miller and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard Rawlings, who criticized the deal and had suggested it was dead. (For her part, Mrs. Townsend, who ran for governor as a fiscally responsible staunch environmentalist, hasn’t weighed in yet).
But such profligacy is relatively modest by Mr. Glendening’s standards: Last week, he offered to raise wages for state workers by $100 million, even though many budget experts believe the state will be fortunate to avoid layoffs and pay reductions. Many Democrats, The Washington Post noted last week, “have been appalled by Glendening’s apparent disregard for the state’s financial situation. Many say his actions are reminiscent of his departure from Prince George’s County, where he left incoming county executive Wayne K. Curry with a $100 million shortfall and a binding union contract that required raises and prohibited layoffs.”
Mr. Rawlings, a liberal-leaning solon from Baltimore, said that Mr. Glendening “wants to leave office making a statement about his progressive Democratic agenda, which has been rejected by the public.” Since Mr. Ehrlich won’t be sworn in for another 24 days, look for Mr. Glendening to find additional ways to sow mischief in Maryland.