Life After Politics
Former Governor Parris Glendening discusses Smart Growth, long hair and tweeners in stretch limousines
How is life different after politics?
I used to get a haircut every two weeks because I was so often on camera, which exaggerated the slightest curl. Now I get one every five or six weeks. One of the percs of not being in office.
Have you had to bite your tongue to avoid criticizing your successors, Robert Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley?
I get along with — more than get along with, we’re friends — Gov. O’Malley, but I’m always very sensitive because of my experience. There’s nothing worse as the incumbent than to have a former governor say I’d do it that way.
I told Martin from the beginning that I had two disagreements, on the Intercounty Connector and on gambling, but I said those are your decisions and I would not be involved.
But on Smart Growth, you agree.
That’s one of the reasons I applaud the governor. He has not backed down despite not having the money we did in my time, from 1995 to 2003. He’s moved forward on Smart Growth, and we have a fairly strong policy in Plan Maryland. He’s protected the Bay and groundwater, he’s supported expansion of subway lines around Baltimore and Washington. That shows not only that he gets things done; it shows leadership.
Was Smart Growth your bright idea?
We coined the term.
I saw we couldn’t afford the waste of sprawling infrastructure because we were going to lose it all: the Bay, open space, our wonderful horse farms and agriculture. We worked for two years, talking to everyone who would listen about how resource sustainability makes good economic sense as well as good environmental sense. People said Glendening reminds me of the Biblical saying because wherever two or more gather, he’ll talk.
We were talking about Smart Growth, but then, we didn’t know that’s what it was. When it was time to introduce our package of bills — 19 of them — to the legislature, I said we need a name for the whole package.
We sat around talking about it. When Grow Smart came up, I said what about Smart Growth? Look where that puts your opponents.
So it’s your legacy?
Yes, and not only in Maryland. To my pleasant surprise, it’s become a national, even an international movement. Back when we started, I had no idea it would catch on. Now about a quarter of the states have strong Smart Growth policies and another fourth have elements of Smart Growth. Now if you Google Smart Growth, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of mentions every month. It’s amazing to me.
Smart Growth is also your livelihood.
When I left government after 31 years, I had alternatives — teaching, working with business groups. But I thought I would like to continue environmental work. Now I work with Smart Growth America, a nonprofit foundation funded by other foundations and by the EPA.
As a two-term governor, you know something about states. Do you still get to use that experience?
I’m president of our Governors’ Institute on Community Design that works with governors about Smart Growth issues: place-making, sustainable transit development, complete streets with sidewalks broad enough for two couples to walk side by side and go from one point to another — not like Forest Drive [in Annapolis] out there where the new sidewalks don’t go anywhere.
We bring the best experts, meet with governors and their cabinets for a day and a half in an intense process of explaining alternatives, things working in other states, so they start to decide which they like. Then we send a detailed report.
Does it work? Do they listen?
In New Mexico, we worked with Gov. [Bill] Richardson on building the Rail Running, the computer rail line linking Santa Fe to Albuquerque.
In Arizona, we worked with Gov. [Janet] Napolitano on a water management law that limited building and drilling in the desert without getting people angry.
We’ve worked with Maryland, Virginia, Delaware.
I also travel around the world on these issues.
So you still get around?
Australia, Turkey, China, Canada.
China wanted to look at the relationship between land use and transit development as they build 100 new high-speed rail lines across the country. I said they’d put the cart before the horse, but that didn’t translate. Idioms don’t convey when you’re working in translation.
In Turkey, where we talked about sustainability issues, Smart Growth didn’t need to be translated. It’s the phrase they use.
When something I worked on is adopted, I think this will make a difference and that’s what’s so important.
Smart Growth may be an easier sell internationally than nationally these days.
Every time our economy gets tough, there are people who insist it’s either the environment or jobs and want to end almost all regulation. It’s a false dichotomy. A good strong environmental policy is good for the economy from so many perspectives.
How do you make converts of nonbelievers?
I’ll tell you a story. In Texas, where I’d gone to talk to state Chamber of Commerce executives, one of the delegates drawled at me “So you’re the guy who’s come down to tell us what to do with our property.”
“No,” I said, “I’m going to tell you what your choices are. Do you want low productivity, recession or inflation? Those are the choices if we continue to rely on cars, because fuel prices are going up. But we can change the rules of the game.”
Several months later, the national association of the same group asked me to talk to their meeting in California. “Talk about what?” I asked. “What ever you told them in Texas,” was the answer, “because they’re still talking about it.”
When the business community and the building community are starting to get it, it’s incumbent on elected officials to stand up and say good environment and transit policy is good for economic development and jobs. It’s easy to say because it has the great advantage of being true.
I caught a glimpse of you on television at the Democratic National Convention. Are you still active in party politics?
This was my eighth convention as a delegate, and the governor was very gracious to recommend me when I told him I’d like to go to Charlotte.
In my private life, I’m a strong supporter of the president and his work under difficult circumstances.
I really had fun in the 2010 election mentoring bright, shiny newcomers in state and local government, including Chris Trumbell, the Rhode and West Riverkeeper, in his successful run for Anne Arundel County Council.
Turning 70 doesn’t seem to have slowed you down.
I do lots of other things, as well. I work with advocacy groups and state and local governments across the country. I’m a senior advisor on energy and economy for NSI, a D.C.-based business-to-government consulting firm. Plus I’m involved in working for marriage equality.
It can make for a funny travel schedule, from Billings, Montana, one day to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and no flights in any combination get you there.
The only thing that pains me is time away from family, when I’d rather be home in Annapolis with my daughter Gabrielle and my wife Jennifer.
In your post-gubernatorial life, you also have a young family.
Every parent is proud, but I can’t believe how deeply Brie is into science and engineering. She’s just finished a summer science camp for girls. And I’ve been really grateful my son Raymond is doing so well. He’s 32 and has just married, started a high-tech company and moved to D.C. His office is about 10 blocks from mine, so we can get together once or twice a week.
You seemed pretty deep in parenthood when I ran into you at the mall with a party of little girls.
That was Brie’s 10th birthday party. We saw ParaNorman and then had a pizza party in the food court. Afterwards, a stretch limo picked them up and took them to a yogurt parlor. They drove around while I went home and pulled every mattress we had in the house as well as two borrowed ones — there were nine girls — and made the whole living room floor mattresses. It was absolutely great.
What’s the time, by the way? I have to leave by 3pm to pick up my little girl at St. Anne’s.