Preston businessman Ross R. Whealton says there were howls of laughter when Eastern Shore voters got their first look at 21-year-old Republican House of Delegates candidate Kenneth D. Schisler.
"He would stand on the road, halfway between Easton and Preston, waving his campaign sign," Whealton says. "And there would be gales and gales of laughter at this kid running for office. He looked like he just got out of high school."
Schisler is the one who can laugh now, following his election Tuesday to a House seat from the 37th Legislative District.
When he is seated in January, Schisler will become the youngest member of the Maryland General Assembly. The Salisbury State University biology major, who earns money crabbing from his boat on the Choptank River, will be one of the youngest legislators in the history of the body.
Schisler says his research shows that in recent times there has been only one other 21-year-old to serve in the General Assembly: outgoing Del. David B. Shapiro, D-City, who was appointed to his seat in 1977.
Others have served at tender ages, including U.S. Representative and former House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, who was elected at age 22. Outgoing U.S. Rep. Roy P. Dyson began his political career in the House of Delegates at 25 years of age.
"As a young candidate, I had to overcome some things," Schisler says. "People were looking at me with a question mark. They wondered about my age. I had to get it across that I was a sincere, serious candidate."
Schisler made his point with a shrewd, well-financed campaign. Although he was barely old enough to serve in the legislature, which requires members to be 21, he proved to be a successful fund-raiser, and spent $18,000 on his election effort.
His overall conservatism and support for easing non-tidal wetlands and critical areas development restrictions won Schisler high praise and financial support from many business interests, including Maryland PAC, a political action committee.
"He has been right here on the scene virtually since he was born," says Whealton, who serves on the PAC's executive board. "He has his head on straight about the issues. He knows them right at the down-home level."
Schisler's chances of winning the election increased when two Democrats from his home in Talbot County, including incumbent Philip C. Foster, were defeated in the September primary. That left Schisler as the lone Talbot County candidate in the legislative district, which also includes parts of Dorchester, Caroline and Wicomico counties.
"He was Talbot County's only chance to retain a sitting delegate," Whealton says.
And he won, placing third in the district with 10,676 votes.
All of this started for Schisler at St. Michael's High School where he was influenced by a "terrific" government teacher and a one-week stint at the American Legion's American Boys State, an intensive government seminar.