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Campaign Beat

The Freshmen Five

Checking Baltimore Rookie Delegates' Legislative Scorecards


By Ericka Blount Danois | Posted 8/7/2002

First-term delegates don't have it easy when they arrive in Annapolis. Opportunities to establish credibility, both with constituents and elders, are hard to come by. One way a newcomer can make a mark is by passing policy legislation. But the opportunities to do so are often controlled by seasoned veterans, whose shifting alliances can present daunting challenges to new arrivals.

This year, Baltimore City's five first-term incumbents are once again running for office--three will try to keep their House seats, and two are seeking higher office.

Not surprisingly, the two rookie delegates confident enough to put in a bid for Senate this year--Dels. Verna Jones (D-44th District) and Lisa Gladden (D-41st)--were the most adept at getting policy legislation passed during their first terms in office.

Gladden is taking on Sen. Barbara Hoffman, the veteran Democrat who was redistricted out of her old 42nd District seat, and Frank Boston, a former 41st District delegate, for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Clarence Blount. Blount, the longtime Senate majority leader and a revered figure in Baltimore politics, has publicly tapped Gladden as his heir apparent, helping establish her as the candidate to beat.

During her first four years in office, Gladden sponsored seven successful policy bills--more than any freshman city legislator--and five bond bills designed to bring pork home to a legislator's district. She was also involved in the passage of another bill that was passed after it was filed in the Senate.

Gladden attributes her relative legislative success to buckling down to learn how to work the system: "I figured out I had to know the issue, know those who supported it, and know what issues [a] committee [takes on] and to know what their reservations might be."

A public defender active on law-enforcement issues, Gladden cites as her top accomplishment a racial-profiling bill enacted last year that requires police officers to record specific data during traffic stops, including the race of the individual stopped and the reason he or she were pulled over, and requires police departments to report that information to the Justice Analysis Center at the University of Maryland. She was named Legislator of the Year by the Maryland Association of Counties in 2002 for a bill that increased county-level drug-treatment funding across the state. She contends the bill especially benefits smaller jurisdictions that lacked adequate treatment facilities: "What happened before was . . . they would say, 'If you have a drug problem go to Baltimore."

Although Jones' opponent in the 44th District Senate race, incumbent Clarence Mitchell IV, has been in Annapolis twice as long, Jones is basing much of her campaign on the claim that she has been more effective.

"We cannot afford to send a weak senator that is not connected to the infrastructure in Annapolis to get things done," Jones says, referring to the maverick Mitchell's fall from favor with the Democratic state leadership over his endorsement of Republican Robert Ehrlich for governor. "I have been in Annapolis, and I see the way the system works. . . . I have the resources--both financial and person power--to get people interested and beat him."

During her first four years in office, Jones ushered through four bond bills (a fifth did not pass in its own right but was merged into the state budget, she says) and was lead or co-sponsor on five successful policy bills. She says pushing particular bills wasn't her first-term priority.

"I have focused mainly on the budget and learning the budgetary process--that is a way of directing resources," she says. "I wanted to make sure I understood that first because there are a lot of resources that are out there but are not being used effectively."

The city's three other freshman--Dels. William Cole (D-46th), Del. Wendell Phillips (D-41st), and Del. Jeffrey Paige (D-44th), all seeking re-election to the House--had a little more difficulty navigating the sometimes turbulent legislative waters.

Paige passed a few bond bills but little else in his first four years, and he offers few legislative solutions for the problems he names as most pressing in his largely west-side district--jobs, funding for schools, and public safety. On the latter, for example, he says, "I am not exactly sure what the solution is, but we can't just wait for government to solve it. I will be talking to community leaders to find out what we can do to try to alleviate the crime epidemic." Most ideas for bills, he says, come from "ordinary people."

Paige says sponsoring his own legislation ranks relatively low on his agenda, below working on the budget and addressing constituents' problems. He also sounds a theme echoed by some of his rookie colleagues--the need to for an experienced guide to get ideas into the books. Phillips notes the support Gladden has received from the influential Blount. "When you see people skyrocketing fast, there is a reason for it. Usually there is someone pushing for them," he says.

Cole, at 29 the youngest member of the General Assembly, agrees on the value of collaborating with a veteran hand. "If you don't have a co-sponsor on your bill, it greatly decreases its chances of passing," he says.

Cole--who was appointed to his seat in February 1999 after 46th District Del. Timothy Murphy resigned to accept a judgeship--worked with veteran Sen. Walter Baker (D-Cecil County) on 2001 legislation that aimed to help alleviate Maryland's nursing shortage by giving prospective nursing students more scholarship opportunities. This year he successfully shepherded a bill setting tougher penalties for misdemeanor thefts, an effort to deter combat organized rings whose individual thefts may not rise to felony level.

To Phillips, the number of bills passed in a first term is no guide to what a legislator will do if given a chance to serve longer. He says he concentrated in his first four years "on being a team player and learning as well as trying to work on legislation." This year he is running on a ticket that runs the gamut in terms of Annapolis experience, matching freshmen Phillips and Gladden with 13-year Del. Nathaniel Oaks and newcomer David Smallwood.

"Sometimes it takes an idea two or three years before it becomes a law," Phillips says. "For my first term I didn't come in trying to run the sprint--I came in, rather, to run the marathon. I wanted to learn."

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