How many former Maryland lawmakers does it take to change a light bulb?
Just one -- Donald Lamb, a one-term Annapolis delegate who left the statehouse last spring to pursue his latest entrepreneurial scheme: changing light bulbs in shopping centers and office complexes.
As his former legislative colleagues prepare to debate a $400 million budget deficit, a tax overhaul and growth controls when the General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 9, Lamb busies himself with the new Commercial Lighting Group, part of his 12-year-old company, Industrial Services Contractors.
The new enterprise installs energy-efficient bulbs and lamps in offices and stores, Lamb said. Briefly called Pro-Light, the business was folded into his old company -- which repairs leaks in high-pressure industrial pipes -- this summer.
"We're starting slow and developing," said Lamb, 42. "It takes plenty of my time."
Lamb was uncertain how much time he'd have to live, let alone to launch a new company, when doctors diagnosed him with heart disease just three years ago. After having bypass surgery, he became a champion for health and diet issues in the House of Delegates.
"Our lifestyle and our diet put Americans at a great deal more risk than any other country," Lamb said. "Let's face it, once you're gone it doesn't matter much to you. But once you're gone, it matters to mothers, wives and children."
Chronic illness is also a burden on taxpayers, Lamb said. The state spends $20 million a year treating the chronically ill, said Lamb, who fought to curtail those costs by encouraging businesses to sponsor preventive education programs.
Married last February to his second wife, Holly Minor, Lamb announced he would not run for a second, four-year term in the House. He said he wanted to spend more time with Minor, his teen-age children and his business.
"I had to reassess my priorities in life," Lamb said. "It was a great decision. Life is great for us."
What time he hasn't spent at work, Lamb said he's spent traveling. He and his wife -- a bodybuilder who owns a firm called It's Polite to Point, which manufactures needlepoint kits for museum gift shops -- would like to introduce their own line of health foods.
"I was one of those bootstrap kids," said Lamb, a Michigan native who left home at 15 only to find himself in trouble with the law. "A judge once told me, 'Look fella, you can go to jail, or you can get a job.' " Lamb has thrown himself into his work ever since, rising rapidly from laborer to vice president of a Michigan pipe-repair firm. He moved to Maryland in 1976 and started his own company in 1978.
Lamb, who won his House of Delegates seat in 1986 by three votes, had doubts about his retirement plans until he, the Governor's Commission on Hypertension and members of the University of Maryland Department of Medicine finagled a health care study into Gov. William Donald Schaefer's budget at the end of the session last spring. The study is aimed at developing strategies to prevent chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, Lamb said.
"On an individual basis, you can prevent 80 percent of most cancers and heart diseases that occur in Maryland," Lamb said. "If the trade-off is education, where do we start? In the schools? In restaurants? That's the strategy the group is putting together."
Lamb said he expects legislation will be introduced as a result of the study this session.
He plans to join other volunteers in Annapolis, lobbying for the health care program, he said. But, he added, he wants to leave the real politicking to others. As far as Lamb is concerned, that stage of his life is past.
Lamb said he does not envy his former House colleagues this session.
"It was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything," Lamb said. "But there are plenty of people capable of doing the job, and I'm plenty happy letting them do it."