Commentary

Townsend Learned Her Political Tricks from Glendening

The federal investigation of possible misuse of funds in Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s much-touted anti-crime agency would come as no surprise to anyone who had carefully followed the record of the Glendening-Townsend administration.

When he was elected in 1994, Parris Glendening seemed a clean, honest, moderate, technocratic former professor. His running mate was a young professor’s wife with a famous name. Glendening might be a bit dull, and he might give Maryland big government, but at least it would be clean government. Glendening and Townsend lost 21 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, but they carried the big ones.

So what did he do when he took office? Well, here’s how The Washington Post described his first budget:

In his first major act as Maryland governor, Parris N. Glendening unveiled a no-new-taxes budget that unabashedly steers the biggest share of spending to the three areas that voted most strongly for him: Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore. Tax the Republican counties, subsidize the Democrats.

A few days later it turned out that Glendening and his top aide were collecting tens of thousands of dollars in early pension payments from Prince George’s County, where Glendening served as county executive until his election as governor. The windfall was due to Glendening’s creative interpretations of rules that gave early pension benefits to government employees who suffered “involuntary separation” from their jobs.

Glendening decided that officials not allowed to seek reelection because of term limits, such as the two-term limit on the county executive, had been “involuntarily separated” from their jobs. And he “demanded” the resignations of his top aides a month before he left his county job—making them also victims of “involuntary separation”—whereupon he hired them as his top aides in the governor’s mansion.

Glendening continued to use the public treasury to reward his friends. In May of 1995 the governor asked the legislature to spend $1.5 million in taxpayer funds to rescue a struggling high-tech firm in Prince George’s County headed by one of his political supporters. Then Frank W. Stegman, the state secretary of labor, licensing, and regulation, hired the wife of Theodore J. Knapp, the state personnel secretary and a colleague of Stegman’s from the Prince George’s government, for a job in his agency. No ingrate, personnel secretary Knapp then returned the favor by recommending a $10,000 raise in Stegman’s meager $100,542 salary.

Glendening took $90,000 from a man who does business with the state for his defense against Ellen Sauerbrey’s legal challenge to his 1994 election. He attended a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser in New York hosted by a different businessman who was then bidding for a $25 million Maryland contract. And of course he spent $270 million in taxpayers’ money on stadiums for two millionaire team owners.

Indeed, Glendening’s record brings to mind one of the most charming and honest descriptions of politics ever penned, in a letter written by Lord Bolingbroke, an English politician in the 18th century. “I am afraid,” he wrote to a friend, “that we came to Court in the same dispositions as all parties have done; that the principal spring of our actions was to have the government of the state in our hands; that our principal views were the conservation of this power, great employments to ourselves, and great opportunities of rewarding those who had helped to raise us and of hurting those who stood in opposition to us.”

Bolingbroke’s language may be archaic, but his description of politics is still on target. Parris Glendening’s record is actually a striking illustration of what we might call Bolingbroke’s Law.

And now Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is accused of the same sort of petty political abuse—using taxpayer funds to help her eight-year campaign for governor. Sadly, Glendening and Townsend are the perfect modern politicians. Like Lord Bolingbroke, their goals are to get elected and reelected, to hire their friends, to use tax dollars for political activities, and to hand out tax dollars to those who helped them win. The principal spring of their actions is money and power.

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute and editor of the recently released book, “Toward Liberty: The Idea That Is Changing the World.”