Assembly Reps Say They Put Legislature Ahead Of Careers

'Business Suffers' In The Line Of Duty

March 24, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — People often ask Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, whether he takes a 3-month leave of absence each year from his job as an investment broker to work as a politician.

They don't fully comprehend the nature of the securities business, he says.

"I wouldn't have any clients. I don't have a choice," said Dixon,an assistant vice president at Merrill Lynch in Baltimore.

He said he has a helpful support staff at the brokerage and colleagues who cover for him when he is preoccupied with legislative work, but that arrangement is not necessarily enough to survive in the stressful, highly competitive business.

"A lot of people want to talk with me directly," he said. "I have to keep in touch. I'm handling people's money."

Carroll's six General Assembly representatives -- an investment broker, a financial planner, a tire store owner, a pharmacist, arealty business owner, and a retired farmer and businessman serving as a bank board president -- say the 90-day session and interim duties restrict to varying degrees their ability to spend time at their careers, maximize their earning potential and expand business.

But the delegates and senators, who make $27,000 annually, say the trade-off is more than worthwhile -- if not financially, then through job satisfaction.

Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, has run an automotive service station in downtown Hampstead since 1946. From 1974 to 1989, he also owned Hampstead Auto Parts. But when Sterling Miller, Matthews' brother-in-law and the man who helped run the business, decided to retire, Matthews chose to sell the store. Because of his commitment to the legislature and his age -- he is 64 -- the 25-year delegate also down-scaled his full-service car shop to a smaller tire service store.

"We would have had a larger auto parts store, maybe two by now," said Matthews. He added that he considered opening one in Eldersburg but decided it would be too overwhelming coupled with legislative work.

"We would have had more money in the bank. Anybodywho tells you a businessman doesn't lose money by being in the legislature has a hole in his head or has a very peculiar business."

Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, a vice president atFirst Financial Group in Towson, Baltimore County, said his General Assembly salary doesn't compensate fully for lost business opportunities. He earns money solely on commission, based on income he brings to the company, which sells life insurance, mutual funds and pension plans and does financial consulting.

He handles clients jointly with other partners in the firm to maintain continuity while he is in Annapolis. He sometimes works at First Financial on Monday mornings, Friday evenings and Saturdays while the legislature is in session.

"I work two jobs," LaMotte said. "My business suffers because I'm in the legislature, no question. I guess I could be a legislator that just occupies space, and it wouldn't interfere that much except just forthree months. But I can't be that kind of legislator. I always have to be involved in things. That requires time away from your business and family."

Freshman Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, owner of Haines Realty in Westminster, said he made the jump to politics at just the right time. Haines, 52, has built up his business substantially since its inception 19 years ago. His 29-year-old son, Garry, is the hands-on manager while Haines is away, although the boss squeezes in work as his legislative schedule allows.

"The timing was right when I decided to run for public office because of my age andthe business had progressed to the point it is," he said. "I knew I could spend the time."

The recent downturn in the real estate market also has freed up more time for legislative work, he says.

Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, said he has been fortunatethat his wife also is a pharmacist. She assumes the manager's role at the family owned Union Bridge Pharmacy while the delegate is in Annapolis, and business does not suffer while he's gone, he said.

"She's an excellent manager and very personable, maybe more so than I," Elliott joked.

He said it's important to maintain a "citizen's legislature" in Maryland, rather than converting to full-time politicians.

"You can see in committee the contribution each person makes from different occupations," he said. "I think it makes for a much moreintelligent, competent legislature."

Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, 70, president of the New Windsor State Bank, keeps in touch weekly with other board members, often returning onFriday evenings to catch up with paper work.

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