September 1, 2010

Hixson remembers the glass ceiling for women and major reforms during 34 years in the House

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Del. Sheila Hixson remembers a lot about the way Annapolis used to be – including the glass ceiling of gender-based discrimination that existed in the General Assembly when she first went to Annapolis in 1976.

“When I first came in, the General Assembly had a very big ‘good old boys’ syndrome,” Hixson said. “All positions were held by men. Women were tolerated. We really had to work hard.”

Hixson and other female delegates worked to change things. They started with “potty parity” – establishing more women’s restrooms throughout the State House, as well as in all state government buildings. She continued by becoming a leader in the House of Delegates, being named the chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in 1993, a position she still holds today.

With the continued support of her Montgomery County constituents in District 20 – Silver Spring, Takoma Park and parts of Burtonsville – Hixson hopes to continue her work in the House of Delegates.

“Why would I step down when I’m in a position of power?” she asked. “The state’s in a difficult financial situation, and I want to help.”

Hixson, 77, has been involved in politics since she moved to Maryland. She first came to the area to work for a congressman from her native Michigan, and chose to live in Montgomery County because of its politics, diversity and public schools. She also got involved in local Democratic Party politics. That led to a run for the House of Delegates.

Looking back on her career, Hixson is proudest of several bills, including “death with dignity” legislation and prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Both of these bills were difficult to pass – death with dignity took seven years to get the necessary support, she said – but they have been cornerstones for other legislation further increasing rights and privileges since then. As Ways and Means chair, she has a hand in legislation dealing with education, transportation, elections, taxes and financial resources.

Hixson said she keeps getting re-elected because she and her liberal constituents see eye-to-eye on many issues. District 20 is the “most liberal district in the state of Maryland,” she said, made up of the type of people who are educated about the issues, vocal about making changes, and active about seeing them through. Constituents keep in touch with her, and she said she is often interacting with local groups.

“My constituents are they kind of people saying, ‘OK, raise our taxes. Just keep the government programs,’” Hixson said.

All of the candidates seeking to represent District 20 in the House of Delegates are Democrats, meaning that the election will be decided in the primary. Hixson and fellow incumbents Tom Hucker and Heather Mizeur are being challenged by Eli El, Robert Estrada, and Chris Stoughton. Hixson and the other incumbents are running as a team to retain their offices.

Hixson said that even though she has been in office for more than three decades, she still feels she can make a difference.

“If you feel that you make a difference, that’s when you should be in office. If you don’t have that feeling, don’t run. I still have that feeling.”