Confessions of a first-time delegate Legislature, Class of '91

Marty Madden

May 09, 1991|By Marty Madden

Other Voices asked Del. Martin G. Madden, R-Howard and Prince George's, to write about his first term in the General Assembly.

ON JAN. 9, I walked onto the floor of the House for the first time, pinched myself to make sure I was really the delegate from District 13B and took the oath of office.

That first day, I quickly discovered how life as a delegate is different. The first of thousands of letters began arriving addressed to "The Honorable Martin G. Madden."

This struck me as very strange, since I had visited 10,412 homes during my campaign and had heard many adjectives used to describe politicians. But not once had anyone ever mentioned the word "honorable."

Nevertheless, that's how the mail continues to come.

It was not a great year to launch a political career.

Four years ago, members of the Class of '87 arrived in Annapolis and were given the awesome responsibility of finding ways to spend a $400 million surplus. They quickly succeeded.

This year, all that was asked of our class was to fill a whopping $553 million deficit in this year's budget, fashion a new one for 1992 and do both without raising taxes or cutting programs.

Abraham Lincoln once said, "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me." We were clearly controlled by the gulf war and recession, as state revenues plunged and balancing the budget became the overriding concern.

As the budget overshadowed every bill that was heard, so time was ever our adversary.

There were times when my Economics Matters Committee was voting at the same time the Prince George's delegation was caucusing, while upstairs a group of constituents from home were waiting to see me, and other voters were calling about bills important to them.

It's a constant game of "Beat the Clock," and sometimes you lose.

I had run a coordinated campaign with John Morgan. John , at the tender age of 26, not only got himself elected to the House of Delegates last year, but also found time to earn his doctorate in material science from Johns Hopkins University.

We had promised to stay in touch with the voters throughout the legislative session, so we scheduled a series of six Saturday morning town meetings throughout the district during February and March. The meetings were publicized in the local papers.

Bad move.

By the end of February, I had already missed one meeting because of a committee voting session. By March, it was obvious we would be unable to keep our commitments. In all, we were able to attend just three of our own meetings. Fortunately, our constituents understood when our legislative aides showed up in our place.

My big bill of the session was House Bill 42, which would have required the Orioles to designate smoking and non-smoking sections in the new stadium and prohibited all tobacco advertising there.

I really thought I had a shot. It made a lot of sense to me, and I felt good about my chances, especially when the big guns at the American Cancer Society offered to back me by testifying before the Environmental Matters Committee.

But I had never been up against super-lobbyist Bruce Bereano and the Tobacco Institute. Accusing me of being a member of the "health police," they successfully beat me in a 16-to-6 vote, thus preserving the rights of baseball fans to breathe second-hand smoke.

Before the session ended, however, I did see my first legislative success. House Bill 1226 cleared the Senate on the final day, and while the world didn't change much, mobile home owners in Maryland will have stronger rights and protections on July 1.

I learned a lot in 90 days.

I learned that Otto von Bismarck was partially right when he said: "Laws are like sausages. Nobody should ever watch either one being made." Sometimes democracy is messy. And when it is, it makes great copy, as this year proved.

But I also learned that there are quite a few honorable people in Annapolis, and it's a lot more correct to say what many others have: that democracy is still the best form of government invented by humankind.

I enjoyed every minute in Annapolis. I pinched myself every day on the floor of the House. It really is an honor to serve, although I still have trouble with that "honorable."

I grew as a person and a legislator from day one and absorbed much. By final adjournment, I was throwing a lot more weight around the floor of the House than many senior members.

Now I'm working on getting rid of those extra 12 pounds.

Marty Madden writes from Clarksville.

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