Photo above: House of Delegates being sworn in Jan. 14.
By Rebecca Lessner
The largest freshmen class in 20 years came in swinging at the State House this session, taking over the General Assembly with a “new wave” of bipartisanship.
“It’s just an exciting time to bring fresh, new ideas. I think the body as a whole has been pretty receptive to them,” said Del. Marice Morales, D-Montgomery.
The 57 new delegates and 11 new senators aren’t being shy with their bills. While some thought they would hold off and test the waters, they soon found themselves diving in.
“I meant to introduce maybe only three or four bills, but then over the course of the first month different advocates and senators were looking for crossfiles and sponsors for their legislation. I decided it would be fun to be collaborative,” said Del. David Moon, D-Montgomery County. “So now I have more bills than I intended.”
Sen. Steve Waugh, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, said his past as a Marine helped him adapt to the legislative process.
After being stationed all over the world and becoming the chief of Combat Operations at Central Command Combined Air Forces, Waugh found that after “running air forces for about a dozen Nations and about 30 countries,” getting dropped into new experiences doesn’t phase him anymore.
At first Waugh was going to stick with an old Navy saying, “Never change the set of the sail the first thirty minutes into the watch,” but he soon changed his tune, “I got a lot of irons in fire, but I like running fast.”
A bipartisan year
Waugh found the amount of bipartisanship in the State House largely contributes to the fast paced process.
“Annapolis is nothing at all like a Sunday morning talk show,” said Waugh. He found a “lack of acrimony and a lack of partisanship so far.”
Moon echoed these observations. “The hilarity of reading the partisan bickering in the newspaper is very much not how people actually engage with each other here.”
“Our politics might be different but we’re all very personally agreeable, it certainly helps on a lot of issues,” said Del. Andrew Platt, D-Montgomery.
The freshman focus is on getting to know fellow party-mates or legislators across the aisle. Often having dinner and lunch with them to keep up “a constant dialogue over issues,” said Platt.
“Everything is about leveraging relationships…I think about how everything works on the big scheme of things,” said Del. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore City.
Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, R-Baltimore County, has found that both parties have been open to him.
“They let me know the ins and outs, be careful here, protocol. We all have our points, we all have our bills we’re looking at, but we get to know each other’s point of view,” said Salling.
Sen. Bob Cassilly, R-Harford County, found the sincerity of bipartisanship to be overwhelming.
“We often disagree intensely on matters of policy but that appears to rarely interfere with personal relationships and mutual respect,” said Cassilly.
Perhaps one challenge they weren’t expecting was the first-week rush, according to Del. Brett Wilson, R-Washington County.
“The mad scramble right at the beginning was a little unexpected just because there are so many new folks this year,” said Wilson.
Wilson received his office assignment the week before session. After sorting through a “grab bag” of furniture, his staff was finally able to settle in, all except for his business cards, he said amused.
“They won’t print anything with your name on it until you actually get sworn in, because they don’t want to waste the paper,” Wilson said.
However, the Speaker of the House Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller have been a great help “nurturing us through the process,” Platt said.
There wasn’t as much hazing as some freshmen were expecting.
“I think there may have been a few attempts to put us in our place and remind us that we are first-year legislators, but there are so many of us…I expected a little more, not that I am asking for more hazing,” Morales said.
“We were told about the pool on the fourth floor, but that was just a joke,” Platt said.
Overall, freshmen are ready to serve their constituents.
Freshmen embrace the work
McCray has found that his “blue-collar” background has helped him stay grounded.
After serving 13-years as an electrician with Baltimore’s IBEW District 24 Union, McCray is introducing three bills this session, one focusing on union apprenticeships.
“These three bills are very satisfying in reference to coming down here and making sure you serve the purpose that you started with,” said McCray. “Just making sure that you’re making everyday count and I feel really, really good about that.”
“You read a bill and think you understand it. Then you listen to testimony and it opens up a whole other way of thinking to take into consideration,” said Del. Deborah Rey, R-St. Mary’s County.
As a working mom with a young son, Del. Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore City, finds the schedule challenging.
“I think for any working parent, balancing work and making sure we see our family is important to keep us grounded.”
Indeed, the 90-day legislative session has been described as “intense” and “crazy” across the board. However, Lierman along with all the freshmen are saying they love the process.
“I am learning so much, it’s amazing, I never thought my brain could hold this much information. But I love it, it’s so interesting, so engaging,” said Lierman. “My constituents sent me here for a reason and I want to be sure I am holding up my end of the bargain and doing good work for them and the people of Maryland.”
And despite the “mad rush”, Wilson has “enjoyed every day of it.”
The theme at the freshmen welcoming party, which has a top-secret date, will be “the wave.”