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February 2, 2003

General Assembly Journal - Part 5

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Late January 2003 - Lobbying and lobbyists

I'm humbled by what I don't know. This lack of knowledge is primarily in the area of health care, the principle issue to be dealt with by my committee. Fortunately, I'm not alone (although I might be the only one na´ve enough to admit it). Several of my fellow committee members are in the same position, having to learn a lot in a relatively short period of time.

So how does one accomplish this task without looking foolish? There are several avenues available, including the Internet, an incredible research resource. The General Assembly is blessed with the Department of Legislative Services, technical experts who know the committee issues inside out.

Another resource is the senior members of my committee, both Democrats and Republicans. I've previously mentioned our chairman, John Hurson. I respect his thoughtful approach, though I'm sure we may disagree on policy at times. I'm fortunate to serve with Del. Don (Doc) Elliot (R., Frederick & Carroll), a retired pharmacist.

Delegate Elliot is an expert on health care matters. Del. Al Redmer, the House Minority Leader, is also on my committee. Al strikes me as the kind of political leader I'd like to become. He can comfortably deal with members from both parties, but he has strong principles and sticks to them.

Finally, there are the legions of lobbyists. Lobbyists come from all walks of life, and represent a variety of clients and interests. I have found these folks to be very helpful, as long as you keep in mind that they are paid by a client (s) to represent a particular point of view. I am happy to speak to those who lobby, as they have important insights to offer, and probably know considerably more than I do on a particular topic.

Does that mean I'll give their opinion any more weight than another? No, only that more knowledge is always better than less. The General Assembly has adopted strict laws regarding interaction between lobbyists and legislators. It is a violation of law for a legislator to accept a gift, meal, ticket, or any form of gratuity from a lobbyist. Presumably, this prohibition prevents a lobbyist from asserting undue influence. Sounds good, huh?

Are you convinced? I thought not, and with good reason. Just when you think those prohibitions keep it all above board, we find a way to open a back door. While it is violation for a lobbyist to wine and dine a single legislator, it is perfectly acceptable to feed the whole General Assembly, a committee, or a delegation. In fact, I attended one such committee dinner where my committee and a Senate committee were treated to dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, a restaurant that I would never visit were it not for someone else paying the tab.

Unfortunately, I couldn't escape the idea that the company and lobbyist paying for the dinner would expect something, even just courtesy, in return for their substantial investment in grilled beef. I have decided that I am better served by using my evenings to attend general receptions, especially those with Frederick folks in attendance. Instead of the upscale dinners, I'll opt for study time in my room at the Sheraton. That way I can choose whom I do and do not talk to, without the guilt that accompanies a full stomach. If that sounds pious or "holier than thou", it isn't meant too. I am just working to find my "level," what fits for me and me alone.

Friday Night, January 24, 2003 - Mayor Carroll Jones' Office at Brunswick City Hall

One of my campaign commitments was to talk to Mayor Jones weekly after I was elected. Brunswick is the largest population center in my district, and I think it's important that Carroll and I talk frequently about what he needs. My first week we met for breakfast at the Cindy Dee just outside Brunswick (eat there, if you haven't already). Last week, we talked on the phone for an hour. Tonight I stopped by his office.

We talked about the budget, code enforcement, school construction, and sidewalks. At a recent council meeting, a group of citizens asked the council to build sidewalks along Souder Road, from the residential neighborhoods to the school complex on Cummings Drive. Sidewalks along this road present several challenges, not the least of which would be the grade changes and road alignment.

One of the councilmen suggested that citizens should write to Sen. (Alex) Mooney and me to ask the state to pay for it. The local paper, the Brunswick Citizen, in an attempt to be helpful, even offered the text of a letter. I'm now awaiting all of the letters to come in.

The simple fact is that if Brunswick residents want a sidewalk along Souder Road, they'll have to ask the council to come up with 50% of the total cost. Only then can the state look at the project.

I enjoy my meetings with Carroll. I like him personally, and feel that by maintaining regular conversations between us we can better serve our constituents.

Sunday, January 26, 2003 - Super Bowl

I'm sitting on the floor of our living room. Ricky, my son, and I are watching the game, and I'm sorry I rooted for the Raiders because of my connection to Rich Gannon (University of Delaware's Fighting Blue Hens).

As I sit here, the sadness associated with having to leave tomorrow settles in. Serving as an effective legislator requires spending considerably more time in Annapolis than I had originally thought. I'm not complaining, just stating a fact.

I leave as late I can get away with on Monday, but I try to spend some time at the office in Brunswick before coming down. I spend Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights in Annapolis. Ricky and I are close, and I really miss the little guy. Amy(my wife) and I can keep up with each other via email and telephone, but it is much harder with Ricky. This might explain why so many legislators have grown children. We're just going to have to try to compensate for the time away. Ricky understands more about politics than many adults, and he has a real keen interest for these things.

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