General Assembly Journal 2010 – The Final Chapter
It ended in a scene not unlike the day it all began. Standing in the threshold of Room 324B of the Thomas Hunter Lowe House of Delegates Office building, staring at a small office furnished with well-worn but very nice wooden desk, cabinets, side tables, and credenza.
Empty walls, empty drawers, and clean surfaces. Back in 2002, it was soon going to be filled with the daily paperwork of the upcoming legislative session. On Saturday, January 9, it was empty as result of moving out, the remainder of a 7-year term of office as a state representative.
Boxes filled with photos, certificates, coffee mugs (why so many?) and all manner of political trinkets will shift from State Circle in Annapolis to North Court Street in Frederick. Instead of calculating the benefit of hanging a certain memento based on how it might help garner a vote from a colleague, now it will be about hanging the picture or honor to bring back the fondest memory.
There are thousands of those fond memories.
Fond memories of friendships forged in the heat of a legislative battle. Memories of phone calls from the powerful, the desperate, and the thankful. Memories of ribbon-cuttings, grand openings, and school performances.
Back in 2002, the publisher of TheTentacle.com asked me if I’d consider writing a chronicle of my experiences as a state legislator. Looking back, re-reading all of those 1,000 word columns, I’ll never be able to thank my dear friend John Ashbury enough for encouraging me to give it a try.
Not only did my writing improve (thanks to John’s tutelage), but I now have all of those wonderful columns to remind me of the good, bad, great, painful, and life-changing experiences over the last seven years.
My sweet wife Amy has been there each step of the journey, having to hold down the fort at home for the first several years; and there with me volunteering to help last session when we no longer had school-aged kids at home.
Driving back from Annapolis on Saturday, we started talking about legacies. It felt a little obnoxious to examine my own history and influence over the legislative process, but one needs a little validation to help overcome the sadness of departure.
My proudest accomplishment came in 2005, as the election cycle for 2006 was getting underway. The Gazette for Politics and Business publishes a scorecard each term, rating the 188 legislators based on their effectiveness in Annapolis. The rating is done by members of the press corps, lobbyists, and General Assembly staff.
As expected, all of the legislative leaders of the House of Delegates made it into the Top 20 Most Effective Legislators for the 2002-2006 terms. The speaker, the committee chairs, and leaders of the House majority were all listed. Obviously, those men and women get on the list because they possess the power to get bills passed.
A few freshmen Democrats made the Top 20 list, too. Only one freshman Republican was mentioned in the article. I was the sole delegate listed in a new category, Honorable Mention. The text mentioned my reputation for getting things done and for pulling my weight. Twenty-one out of 141, not a bad affirmation of effectiveness!
Over the course of seven years, I was honored as the State Legislator of the Year by the Maryland State Fireman’s Association, GrandFamilies of America, and was named Public Policy Champion of the Year by Maryland Works, a disability employment advocacy group.
I passed bills into law to reform state procurement, to make government more transparent, to protect relative caregivers, to ease access to healthcare, to allow optometrists to practice to the level of their training, and dozens of other important and worthy causes too numerous to mention.
It is irresponsible to suggest that I did this alone. There were hundreds of others who could share the credit. My trusty aide, Lisa Baugher, was by my side through all of the hearings, vote-trading, and arm-twisting. In a political role-reversal out of central casting, Lisa went from being my General Election opponent in 2002 to my constituent and legislative services aide for the last six years.
Her loyalty and dedication to the residents of southern Frederick and Washington County might not ever be fully realized, but I will surely never forget, nor will I be able to thank her enough for her help.
In addition to Mrs. Baugher, I had a few college interns who helped me shape policy over the years. Jessica and Todd were outstanding examples of highly motivated students with a bright future in public service, one from the University of Maryland and the other from Frostburg State University.
So, no more General Assembly journal entries, at least not from me. I shift from my role as an active, daily participant in the state legislative process to that of an interested observer, one who watches the proceedings with the knowledge of an insider and the fond memories of battles past.
Will I miss it? Of course I will. I expect that most weekdays between January and April at 10:00 a.m., I’ll think about the steady stream of legislators climbing those big marble steps, weaving through the loitering lobbyists on their way into the House and Senate chambers. I’ll think about them all stuck in those long public bill hearings, listening to panels of proponents and opponents late into the evening. I’ll remember the urgency of those last minute deals to get a bill out of committee, the sight of the speaker’s staff and whips pressuring members to commit to a vote to ensure a bill’s passage.
I’ll even miss all of the constituent feedback, the hundreds of daily emails expressing a wide range of opinion on Maryland’s most controversial issues. I’ll miss the calendars full of fried chicken dinners where we explained what had happened after the session had ended. Finally, I’ll miss my dear friends, Del. Don Elliott, Del. Paul Stull, Sen. David Brinkley, and Del. Galen Clagett, guys I have grown close to working on behalf of Frederick Countians.
Some of you either have, or will, consider running for the House of Delegates. Here’s my nutshell description: A wild ride, sometimes frustrating, often rewarding, but guaranteed to fill your heart, mind and soul with treasured memories of history made, friends gained, and services rendered.
Please consider going back and browsing through those first General Assembly journal columns archived here. Admittedly a little naïve, but I leave the House of Delegates with that same sense of wonder and love for an institution that will be a part of me forever.