General Assembly Journal - Part 3
January 15 - The Inauguration of Governor Bob Ehrlich
The sun broke over the horizon on an arctic-like morning. Funny, because I've heard Democrats in the past say it would be a "cold day in hell" before we'd see a Republican become governor. It may not be hell, but it sure is cold.
The events started with a Joint Session to certify the election results for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. This was purely symbolic, but I have become an eager student of the traditions and ceremony of this solemn place.
After the Joint Session, all of the delegates were "escorted" across the hall to the Senate Chamber. What actually happened was that we walked through an impressive gauntlet of state troopers into the Senate. Picture this scene: the Senate Chamber has comfortable seating for the 47 members. Add to that the 141 delegates, all of the Washington and Baltimore TV stations with cameras, and photographers from every newspaper you can imagine. Needless to say, the chamber was uncomfortable.
Kevin Kelly, the delegate from Allegany County (and one of the House's true characters) and I climbed up on a row of seats at the very back of the chamber. We had an unobstructed view of Governor Ehrlich. You've read about the controversy over the minister who invoked Jesus' name in the invocation. What you didn't read was that a Jewish rabbi offered an equally stirring benediction.
Former Governors (Marvin) Mandel, (Harry) Hughes, (William Donald) Schaeffer, and (Parris) Glendening were all there. Governor Ehrlich, his wife, son, and parents were all beaming. Lt. Governor (Michael) Steele continues to impress me with his sincerity, openness, and gift of eloquent speech.
After the oath, Governor Ehrlich indicated his desire to repeat the ceremony outside (remember the cold) for the thousands waiting out there. We were then whisked downstairs and out through the crowd to our designated seating. Least you think that delegates and senators get all the perks, the best seating outside was reserved for the people of Arbutus, the governor's hometown. Here's a guy who remembers his friends.
I thought he gave a marvelous speech. I've since read that the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post pundits found it "uninspiring", "lacking vision", and "too concerned with thank-you's". Rest assured, dear Tentaclites, that had the governor used this speech as a policy launching pad, full of juicy tidbits about the direction of the new administration, then the same writers would have chastised our governor for forgetting who got him here and causing Democratic frostbite.
Every time I hear a Democrat fuss about the Governor, I can't help but remember the wise counsel of that bastion of the Democratic Party in the District of Columbia, Mayor Marion Barry. When Mayor Barry emerged from the ashes of a crack possession arrest to win re-election, he admonished those who didn't like it to "just get over it".
January 16 Joint Hearing on CareFirst Blue Cross to Wellpoint
One of the major issues facing the General Assembly is whether or not to allow CareFirst to convert from non-profit to profit status, then to be acquired by Wellpoint, a large national company who has a history of acquiring Blue Cross/Blue Shield entities. My committee, Health & Government Matters, will wrestle with this.
The challenge will be to keep CareFirst viable in order to maintain quality health care for the consumer. Opinions abound, but my sense is that many legislators object to the conversion and sale. One of the key questions will be whether CareFirst can access capital markets without profit status.
Health & Government Operations Committee briefing on access to prescription drugs -
A major challenge to healthcare in Maryland is the ability to provide reasonable access to prescription drugs. Today's hearing focused on the existing programs, especially programs for senior citizens. National experts discussed what other states are doing.
The bottom line is that more people need help, but the cost to expand these programs will cause something else to suffer. The drug manufacturers are already playing a role, including a program called MEDBANK where they donate drugs that are then dispensed regionally. The local program is run by the Community Action Agency on South Market Street.
January 20-22 First full week (the routine is established)
So how do your state legislators spend a day? I thought it might be fun to get a sense of what passes for the daily routine. Understand that what follows is a typical day for me, and might (or might not) compare with my colleagues.
According to the official General Assembly calendar, the House week begins Monday night at 8 P.M. Session starts at 8, but my Annapolis day begins with phone calls, letters, and email in the early afternoon. Monday late afternoon and early evening are popular times for groups and organizations to hold receptions. If I know that Frederick County folks are coming, I make a special point to attend. Session takes about a half hour, but will stretch out as more bills start moving. After session, a quick stop at a reception or two, then off to the Sheraton to read health care briefings and point papers.
Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays follow the same basic model. Breakfast at the Sheraton (with Sen. (David) Brinkley, Del. (Don) Elliot, and other legislators), in the office by 8 A.M. for phone calls, email, letters and constituent work. When time permits, a quick online check of the News Post, Gazette, & The Tentacle.
Washington County Delegation meets Wednesdays at 8:30. The bells ring at 9:45, and I scurry off to the State House. Session lasts till 10:30 (but will go longer soon). Lunch (if it happens) follows more constituent service work.
Most days we have lunch receptions with special interest groups. Committee hearings begin at 1P.M., and last all afternoon. Early in the Session, these hearings are informational, a chance to hear from experts on a wide range of topics. Later on, the committees will hold hearings on specific legislation. The real work of the General Assembly occurs in these committees.
I am very lucky to find myself on a committee that will face some of Maryland's biggest challenges. Our chair, John Hurson from Montgomery County, is very patient with the new members. He'll be fair; he'll give everyone a shot; and he knows these issues.
After committee adjourns, itís back to the office. The mail has been sorted and stacked, emails fill the Outlook inbox, and phone messages cover the desk blotter. I normally finish these tasks in time to head out to the many receptions being held.
The Protocol Committee gives us a daily list of the social events being held for the General Assembly. My personal priority system for these events is: 1.) will Frederick County folks be there; 2.) will there be information there that will help me be a better legislator; and 3.) is it something I have some interest in. So far, I'm averaging 2-3 of these events per night.
In two weeks, I've seen transportation folks from Frederick County TransIT, Frederick County car dealers, Frederick Community College staff and trustees, Frederick County Realtors, and Chamber of Commerce members. I'm usually headed back to my hotel at around 9:30. This isn't the end of the day, though. I take a box of health care issue papers with me every night. Without little Ricky to play with, I use this quiet time to study my committee work. Fridays are a little different, with session at 11 A.M. After committee, I point the car northwest and head for Brunswick.