The Bob Ehrlich-Parris Glendening Mutual Admiration Society

Maryland’s leaders — its governors and congressional delegation — routinely put partisanship and ego aside to pursue the state’s interests in Washington, D.C., two former governors told an audience of college professors in Baltimore this week. “It’s a very under-reported but positive aspect of how the delegation operates,” said Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who served eight years in Congress before being elected governor in 2003. “We’re really good” at working collaboratively. “When Gov. [Parris N.] Glendening came over and said ‘these are our priorities’ — bay cleanup, transportation [funding], whatever it was — everybody sat down, figured out what are the asks, which committee, what subcommittee, and we worked together.”  “It was a team,” agreed Glendening, a Democrat and former two-term chief executive. “It was [all about] working together. And still is, largely. I would say there is only one member of the delegation now who doesn’t completely seem to understand that, but everyone else without regard to party, very much works together.” The pair made their remarks at a panel discussion at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, titled “The Intersection of Federal Policy and State Priorities,” a discussion put together by university President Jay A. Perman (I served as the moderator).  Former Govs. Parris N. Glendening (left) and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (center) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore earlier this week. Photo courtesy University of Maryland, Baltimore Former Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) and the late Rep. Helen D. Bentley (R) “made it very clear, both of them, that this was Team Maryland, and we need to work together,” Ehrlich said. “So egos, and philosophical differences and party [get put aside]. This is a uniform and it’s yellow and black.” Both men expressed regret about the “vitriol” and “hyper-partisanship” that have gripped national politics over the last decade, particularly over the last year. Partisan gerrymandering, they said, has created a Congress where compromise is anathema. “When you have a safe seat, your fight is generally going to be in a primary, from further right or further left, not the other party,” Ehrlich said.  “I was part of the problem,” Glendening acknowledged, a reference to his role in the mapmaking that followed the 2000 Census, during his second term. At the time, Maryland’s congressional delegation was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Under Glendening’s map, Democrats had a 6-2 advantage. Today it’s 7-1 in favor of the Democrats. Both men urged reform of the redistricting process, something Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has championed. (The Supreme Court is now considering Benisek vs. Lamone, a challenge to the maps drawn by state lawmakers in 2011.) “What happens now, with the computers and everything else… any one of you could go out and in two hours’ time and draw a district that is absolutely to your liking,” Glendening said. “And so what happens is you are in a district that is extreme. There’s no center to that district. And you can do and say anything you want as long as you keep [your] base happy. And it’s Democrats and the Republicans” who engage in this practice.  Glendening, a former University of Maryland political science professor who wrote a widely-used text on federal-state relations more than three decades ago, said the federal government now does an abysmal job coordinating with state and local leaders on policy matters such as immigration, the environment and infrastructure. “We’re totally devoid of any inter-governmental discussions or any real bipartisan discussion.  “The tax law, that has had huge impact… including hurting badly states like Maryland, the details of which were kept secret until the voting started, or the chaos surrounding the enforcement of marijuana laws, [which] 29 states have legalized one way or another… all of this is going on without any conversation, any coordination, any consultation with partners in the federal system.”  Glendening said that — on many issues — states are the leaders, moving forward on issues like marijuana reform and same-sex marriage, often “forcing” the federal government to follow suit. He predicted that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will have to abandon his vow to go after people possessing weed in states like Colorado, which have legalized the drug. Ehrlich, whose wife Kendel is a drug court prosecutor, was more hesitant. Although he has long supported legalizing medical marijuana, a stance that put him in conflict with a former GOP president, he believes the country needs a lot more discussion before it throws the door wide open. “I have a whole list of laws that I can’t wait to not enforce under a Democratic president, too,” he said, without elaboration. “It doesn’t work that way.” ‘Parris’ and ‘Bob’ On paper, the two former governors would appear to have little in common. Glendening, 75, is a wonky academic who grew up poor in Florida and then came up through the rough and tumble world of Prince George’s County politics after coming to Maryland for graduate school. Ehrlich, 57, a product of working class Arbutus, attended Princeton University on an athletic scholarship. On top of their philosophical differences, Ehrlich defeated Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Glendening’s lieutenant governor, in the 2002 gubernatorial election, a loss that still stings for Maryland Democrats. Yet, at the UMB panel discussion, it was evident that the two men enjoy one another’s company. They repeatedly referred to one another by their first names (Ehrlich also referred to his predecessor as “the Gov”), and their praise for one another seemed genuine. “I am pleased to be here with my friend, Bob Ehrlich, who represents in so many ways, the fact that you can differ on policy, you can differ on programs, and still be civil, even be friends,” the Democrat said. “And that is a terrible loss that is going on across the country right now.” “Bob and I have been on several things just recently working together. Even on issues like criminal justice reform and stuff like that.” Said Ehrlich: “We’ve done [joint appearances] a couple times together. We enjoy each other [even though] we obviously have profound differences regarding… issues. “The day after we won the race for governor, the first call I received was (dramatic pause) Parris Glendening.  [He said] come to the house, check it out, [it’s a] pretty good gig here at Government House (the formal name of the governor’s mansion). It was shocking to a lot of people, but not to me. I know that was a hard call for you to make, and we never forgot it. From that very moment on, our relationship has been one of mutual respect and trust.” Ehrlich expressed regret that Congress, his former home, is so dysfunctional — that there are “no rules.” His new book is titled, “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump and the End of Washington’s Regular Order.”   And he sees the rise of social media, with its incessant pounding of the partisan drum, as being particularly unhelpful. “Social media makes it very difficult to sit down with the opposition and cut a deal and negotiate, which is the essence of politics — and life,” he told the room full of professors. Although the discussion ran the better part of two hours, references to President Trump were fleeting, though his impact on U.S. politics was never far from the surface. Hoping to strike a hopeful concluding note, Glendening (a self-described “eternal optimist”) said: “We are a strong country, with great depth. We have faced challenges like this in the past, and just as we have prevailed and we’ve changed in the past, I believe we will do so now. This too shall pass.” “Long after this administration has moved on, we will spend a lot of time mending and bringing people back together.” [email protected]

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent more than two decades on local television, including 14 years as host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the D.C. metro region. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County, as well as a reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. Bruce also is the host of the weekly The Bruce DePuyt Podcast.

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