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Government & Politics

New Lawmakers Get the Low-Down

Incoming state senators listen intently during day one of their orientation in Annapolis. Photo by Josh Kurtz

Maryland’s bumper crop of new state legislators was encouraged Wednesday to embrace bipartisanship, the General Assembly as an institution and the capital city of Annapolis.

The advice came during the first day of two-day orientation session being offered to the 18 new senators and 42 new delegates who will take the oath of office next month.

“The campaign is over,” Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County) told incoming senators. “We’re going to love each other and work together for the next 3 1/2 years.”

Jennings and Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) briefed senators-elect, while across the hall incoming House Majority Leader Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) and Minority Leader Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) spoke to newcomers in the House of Delegates.

The bipartisan tandems underscored the main message of the day — that the General Assembly isn’t Washington, D.C., and that close relationships aren’t just possible, they’re essential.

“We’re friends in this chamber,” said Jennings. “We’re going to work together.”

The newcomers also heard from the two men who have presided over their chambers for eons — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).

“Compromise is not a dirty word,” Miller told the new lawmakers. “Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all…There are issues we all need to work together on.”

A third of the Senate will be new come January, the product of an unusually large wave of retirements and incumbents whose re-election bids were derailed in a party primary or in November. Many of the newcomers serve currently in the House. (Joked Alexandra Hughes, Busch’s chief of staff: “All the delegates who are now senators, we don’t know you anymore.”)

Said King, a former delegate who has just been tapped to chair the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee: “One of the biggest differences between the Senate and the House is that — when I was in the House — I had to wait for a nod from somebody before I could [stand up and] speak on a bill. Here you don’t have to wait for a nod.”

Incoming legislators were also briefed on how legislation is drafted, parliamentary procedure and the art of gathering co-sponsors — and why restraint should be shown in signing on to a bill offered by a colleague.

Kipke told a story from 2014, about how he signed on to a bill while rushing to a meeting, only to discover later that the proposal would have cut off water and electricity to the National Security Agency, a high-profile employer in his district. His status as a co-sponsor generated unwelcome headlines.

“[Your mantra going forward is:] I can’t commit right now,” Kipke coached.

Lawmakers were also briefed on how to deal with reporters, who are basically everywhere in Annapolis (including new-member orientation).

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley (D) encouraged incoming legislators to get to know the capital city’s history, and King noted the benefits of after-hours socializing.

“You can come to Annapolis with the greatest ideas. Really, if you don’t make friends, if you don’t form these relationships, you can’t get anything done,” she said.

The leaders said new legislators should resist the temptation to file lots of bills. “Everybody wants to have authorship of a bill and to get their picture taken with the governor,” Jennings said. “At home, nobody cares.”

“It’s constituent services,” echoed King.

Lawmakers said that not every problem needs a bill to fix it. Sometimes a call to the right agency will do the trick.

Some of the best pieces of advice newly-elected legislators received revolved around what not to do:

  • Don’t park illegally in the parking-scarce capital just because you have a “shiny new” House of Delegates license plate. “We tow marked police cars around here,” a security official said.
  • Don’t bring a weapon onto State House grounds, even if you have a concealed carry permit. “Those are no good when you’re here,” the same official cautioned.
  • The fencing around the governor’s mansion has both cameras and microphones, so walking past the building “would not be the time to say, ‘Larry Hogan is an ————.’”
  • And, in an era of unforgiving social media, don’t fall asleep during floor debate. “That’s the picture that your opponent will use in the next election,” said Jennings.

Josh Kurtz and Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

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New Lawmakers Get the Low-Down