STATE COLLGE, PA. -- Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening Tuesday became chairman of the National Governors' Association, succeeding Republican Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt. Soft-spoken and professorial, Glendening is a second-term Democrat who taught political science at the University of Maryland before getting into politics. His best known initiatives: Smart Growth development policies and safe gun legislation. Glendening spoke to Stateline.org Senior Writer Blair S. Walker in State College, Pa., during the NGA's annual meeting, which began on Saturday.
Stateline.org: First of all, congratulations on becoming the NGA's new chairman.
Glendening: Thank you.
Stateline.org: It's going to give you an incredible national forum to spotlight issues that are important to you. How do you plan to use this opportunity?
Glendening: Well, it will, and I'm very pleased and very honored by that. The biggest thing I think is that I'll have the chance to provide leadership . . . to, I guess, use the bully pulpit to advance some issues that are personally very, very important to me.
I think the role of education, particularly higher education, is something that is so important. I came out of extreme poverty and no one in my family had ever gone to college. Until I was about six years old, we didn't have electricity or plumbing in our home. And then I think to myself, here I am, you know, a college professor of 27 years, governor of a state, leading the governors! The only difference, really, is that I got an opportunity for a quality education, particularly in higher education. So, what I want to do is use this to try to emphasize that. To make sure that as we get into a technological and electronic age, that we don't have what Colin Powell calls digital apartheid. I think there's a real danger of that, as well.
The other thing is, I feel so strongly about the environment. And I am pleased, extraordinarily pleased, that Maryland has become truly an international model on how to deal with this. If I had been elected (NGA chairman) four years ago, I must tell you, most of the governors probably would have had a great reluctance that this be the focal point. Now what I'm finding is extraordinary enthusiasm that we're going to be addressing this as a group. This will give me a chance really to do that. On both of these issues, it's not only about helping to work with and, to lead, some of the other governors, but it's also about creating public opinion and public support for these crucial issues.
Higher education costs money. Stopping sprawl takes political will.
I'm honored as well, that -- as you know -- there are two national organizations that really represent the states. The other is the Council of State Governments, that represents both governors and the legislatures. And, uh, they've just elected me to be vice-chair now, and I'll be the president of that group next year. So I'll get kind of a two-year forum to say these things are important and let's focus on them.
(In a speech to his fellow governors, Glendening stressed the destructive nature of unregulated development. "Rapid growth and sprawl are destroying the fabric of our communities, creating congestion and costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Governors must seize this opportunity to develop aggressive and innovative strategiesto protect and improve our quality of life. Americans should not have to spend more time in traffic than they do at the family dinner table or at their child's soccer game. Together we will work to ensure economic prosperity goes hand-in-hand with community prosperity." Glendening said.)
Stateline.org: Let's concentrate on education -- I know how critically important that is to you. Do you view it as a personal failure that Baltimore City's public school system is in such abysmal shape?
Glendening: Baltimore's system reflects what I think has happened to urban systems across the country. And that is, we have abandoned in many of these areas, human resources, as well as financial resources. It becomes essential that we revitalize communities. And if we're going to do that, it starts with education. That's why we've poured so much more additional money in.
We've increased our state aid for Baltimore City schools by 65 percent just in the last five years alone. It now ranks among the very highest in the state in terms of per-student state aid. It's going to take lots of additional efforts. What we've got to recognize is that many of the children do not have the computers at home, they do not have the same -- if you will -- experience and opportunity, so that they can look around and say, `Yes, I can get the greatest job in the world if I get this education.'
They look around and they see a lack of hope in many cases. So, we've got to be aggressive, not only in Baltimore, but across the country.
Stateline.org: If you look directly north of Maryland, Pennsylvania is proclaiming itself to be a high-tech capital. If you look directly south, Virginia has America Online and a number of other high-profile dot-com companies. Does it concern you that these neighboring states seem to have leapfrogged Maryland in terms of e-commerce?
Glendening: Actually, they haven't. Maryland is ranked by numerous indexes . . . in fact, there was a report that just came out two days ago about using electronic capabilities to serve citizens. We were ranked second in the country -- uh, I'm sorry -- third in the country. In addition, we are now -- by several different indexes -- the top two, three, four, depending on what you're looking at.
Most importantly, what I always tell people is, if you look at where the economy is, we have the lowest unemployment rate ever in the history of the state. We have the second-highest family income in the country, we have lowest poverty rate in the nation -- the lowest children's poverty rate. Part of that is coming about because the portion of the economy that's expanding the most rapidly is the information systems . . . the high-tech and bio-tech areas.
So we're doing extraordinarily well. In fact, so well that it brings us back to the higher education issue again. Last year, there were over 18,000 reported vacancies in the state for computer software engineers alone. I say reported, because most companies don't report, for competitive reasons, their full (vacancy) level. So, it's probably two to three times that. So our real continued success and prosperity, I think, must focus on higher education and must focus on what you're talking about -- some of the local school systems that are not giving some of those young people the same opportunity to prosper. And every one that we lose is not only a tragedy for that child, but is also lost potential for the continued prosperity of the state and the country.
Stateline.org: Are you planning an extensive review of the death penalty in Maryland?
Glendening:We do. We have that study under way right now. We have engaged outside consultants, and it is a $225,000 study that we funded through our office. It is looking at whether or not there are any racial, or economic, or any other inequities in the application of this.
Stateline.org:What's your view on Congress' decision to extend the moratorium on e-commerce taxation?
Glendening:They extended it pretty much the way the states' wanted, and I was pleased about that. They originally had talked about something that would have been devastating for most state and local tax systems. Somehow or other, we have just got to come to grips with a solution to this. Being honest with everyone, there is no such thing as a free lunch. In Maryland, of our $19 billion budget, $2.5 billion comes from sales tax. And if you get an opportunity for people not to pay sales tax, then you have a huge, huge problem. And so, what the governors are all saying is -- we're not looking for a tax on the Internet, we're not looking for a tax on the process, or anything like that. We're simply saying that if an item is currently taxed, at whatever level in any state, then that taxation level should continue. And that we should not say to Texas, you're going to lose half your revenues just because people can now, electronically, buy the same products.
Stateline.org: A couple of years ago, during Clinton's impeachment hearings, there was a well-documented rift between you and the president. And there was a sense that you publicly snubbed him by not showing up at an appearance he made in Maryland. Has your relationship with him improved?
Glendening: The president and I have been working very, very closely together on a number of issues, as has the vice president. And I think, uh, more than just working, we enjoy one another and I think they're just doing absolutely fine.
Stateline.org: Do you think Vice President Al Gore will pick your lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, to be his vice presidential running mate?
Glendening:She's doing a great job as lieutenant governor, there's no question about it. I'm not sure what her long-term plans are, but I do know that in the short run she's going to be a great governor.