May 20, 2010

Leaving the Legislature: Sen. Larry Haines seeks to avoid becoming a career pol

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By Erich Wagner
Erich@MarylandReporter.com

Before the 2010 legislative session, Sen. Larry Haines’ wife, Jane, pointed out that this year would be the Carroll County Republican’s 20th year in the General Assembly. She recalled during his first election campaign, he said he would never become a “career politician.”

“She reminded me in a subtle way that 20 years is pushing a career,” Haines said, discussing his decision to retire from the state Senate.

He said his close relationships with Democratic leaders allowed him to be relatively successful in getting legislation passed, despite his staunchly conservative views.

Haines said he decided to retire so that he could focus on his family, the real estate business he runs with his two sons, and the building of a new house. His wife Jane is dealing with lyme disease, which she has been fighting for over three years.

“My family would rather have me home more, and more time with the family business,” Haines said. “It’s not for health reasons. I’m 72 years old, but I’m a young 72.”

He called Jane “my best advisor” and recalled her advice over the years on public speaking. At first, she told him “to say something meaningful and worthwhile.” Then later, “when you get up to speak, keep it short.” In the next four years, she told him “just hold your stomach in.”

“I’ve been holding my stomach in and I don’t think I can do it for four more years,” he said.

Haines spent his time in the General Assembly fighting for agricultural land preservation, stiffer penalties for drug and gun crimes, for 2nd Amendment rights and against abortion.

He said his close relationships with Senate committee chairmen, particularly Judicial Proceedings Chairman Brian Frosh, helped him to be more successful in passing legislation.

“Sen. Frosh called me when he heard I was retiring, and we had a long talk,” Haines said. “He said he was sorry to see me leave, and that he loved me on the committee as a Republican, even though we’re opposite philosophically.”

Democratic committee chairs “understood me, and I understood them.”

Haines also spoke fondly of his relationship with Senate President Mike Miller, who was already presiding officer when Haines arrived.

“I’ve always had a very good relationship with Mike Miller,” he said. “I’d still rather have him at the helm than anybody else there.”

Haines spoke of legislative success in the early 1990s, when he was able to pass a bill increasing the proportion of funds generated from the real estate transfer tax that go to agricultural land preservation from 11 percent to 14.5. He said that “helped a great deal.”

But Haines said he was frustrated with how his bill to expand a mandatory 5-year prison sentence for the use a handgun in a violent crime to the use of all firearms died at the hand of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Vallario.

Haines admitted that it seems odd for a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association to increase penalties for gun-related crimes, but that his push stemmed from somebody who robbed three-area stores in short succession using a rifle, thus avoiding the minimum sentence.

“I had introduced the bill for 8 years running, and this session the Baltimore City delegation cosponsored it,” Haines said. It passed the Senate with a heavy majority, but, he said, “Vallario held it until the last day of session, and amended a terrible bill onto it. If it came back to the Senate with that amendment” — reducing the mandatory sentence to three years — “I’d kill it myself.”

Haines was honored Thursday night at a fundraiser for the GOP Senate caucus in Sykesville, at which Gov. Bob Ehrlich spoke. Senate Republican Leader Allan Kittleman said he would particularly miss the Wednesday morning fellowship meetings Haines organized in the conference room across from his Annapolis office. Haines also organized larger prayer breakfasts for the legislators.

Haines remains upbeat about retirement. He said Annapolis hasn’t changed him, although he’ll miss the work.

“I stayed long enough to be vaccinated, but I didn’t stay so long that I got infected,” he said. (“A great line,” Ehrlich said as an aside.)

Haines said, “I’ve seen other legislators, who’ve had a change come over them after a long, long time. It was a tough decision, but I believe in my heart that it was the right one.”