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Government & Politics

Reporter’s Notebook: Chronicling an ‘eerily quiet’ day in Annapolis

A playful display of the legislative calendar during a quiet afternoon in Annapolis. Photo by William F. Zorzi.

Empty acres.

The House of Delegates was in for 21 minutes Friday morning.

The full Senate wasn’t required to show, but five senators turned out for a 7-minute pro forma session where two bills were reassigned and the governor’s latest patronage nominations acknowledged and sent to the Executive Nominations Committee.

Both houses “said goodbye” to this week’s batch of pages, high-schoolers who deliver amendments, photocopies, food, coffee, tea and water to lawmakers for two separate weeks of the session.

In the end, members of two House committees marched off to vote.

With just 18 days left in the 90-day legislative session, the quietude that fell over the State House campus Friday was down-right unnerving to some.

“There’s something going on; I can feel it,” said one long-time legislative staffer. “Everybody’s still getting along.”

No demonstrators happened onto Lawyers’ Mall. No placards. No microphones. No handouts. Instead of the gauntlet of lobbyists that lawmakers walk every day to and from the State House, a lone lobbyist stood out in the cold gray drizzle to greet legislators on their way in, attempting to wrangle a vote.

The early spring weather must have kept the tourists away from the capital, too. The mini-sized state flags that were to be handed out to all takers a day ahead of any March 25 festivities for Maryland Day still sat in a waxed-paper cup on the police guard desk inside the basement door.

No one seemed to wander in to see the Old Senate Chamber or the Silver Room or the painting of George Washington resigning his commission.

No one queried the researchers at the Legislative Services desk in the basement to learn how a bill becomes law, the status of legislation or who their representatives were. The candy dish kept filled for visitors went untouched.

And it was quiet in the State House Canteen, where the staff had to stick around until 3 p.m., in keeping with their contract, regardless of whether anyone came to chow down.

“We haven’t had hardly anybody in here, really,” said Jim Thomas, the canteen manager. “There were four guys who were in for soup and a sandwich. They’re looking at putting all new lights in the State House.”

Needless to say, there was a lot of chicken gumbo left over at 3.

“It is quieter than I expected,” admitted Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). “It just means it’s going to be busier next week.”

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) explained that there was a burst of activity leading up to Monday — the House was in last Saturday — because it was “Crossover Day,” the deadline for all bills read across the desk to be guaranteed a hearing.

But by the end of the week, the swirl had subsided.

“The only reason I brought them in today was because [two committees] had to vote,” Jones said.

“It’s weird — eerily quiet,” said Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, who escorted his 4-year-old daughter, Jacqueline Fesche Smith, around Annapolis on her first day of spring break.

Jacqueline didn’t seem to notice as she focused on her cup of vanilla ice cream topped with multi-colored sprinkles.

By early afternoon it had already been a big day for her: She had her photo taken on the Senate rostrum with Ferguson, on the House dais with Jones and in the hallway with Gov. Wes Moore (D).

And that was all before lunch.

Leading Jacqueline to his office in the Miller Senate Office Building, her father had assumed the duty of carrying her pale pink backpack and Little Mermaid coloring book.

There were few people to be found anywhere in the halls of the building — and no one in the Judicial Proceedings Committee office.

“It’s something I’m not accustomed to in the 90-day session,” Senator Smith said.


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Reporter’s Notebook: Chronicling an ‘eerily quiet’ day in Annapolis