Perkins quitting Assembly to teach for year in China

September 04, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

When Anne Perkins said goodbye last month to her summer school English class in Xiamen, China, she got a going-away present, a handbag embroidered with a Chinese village scene.

Inside, she found a note written by two of her students that ended, "We wish you happy and lucky."

She knew even then that "happy and lucky" would mean returning to China to teach full-time.

And so she will.

Delegate Perkins, one of the highest-ranking women in the Maryland General Assembly and the only one to chair a major committee, said yesterday that she will resign to take a $100-a-month job teaching six days a week for the next year.

"It just feels like the right thing to do," the Democratic legislator from Baltimore's 44th Legislative District said. "I've been thinking about it for a long time. It's a great opportunity. I'm very excited."

Years ago, she wanted to join the Peace Corps, but she had children to raise. On Sept. 27, two days before her 55th birthday, she will leave for China.

Her resignation will be offered officially as soon as she has finished some legislative work -- or sooner if a special General Assembly session is called to deal with the state's continuing budget problems.

In the assembly, she makes $2,250 a month before taxes and before sending back a raise granted last year.

Her successor in the House of Delegates will be selected by the district's Democratic Central Committee. Maggie McIntosh, a central committee member and a friend of Ms. Perkins, is considered a leading candidate.

"I don't feel I'm foreclosing anything. I'll be back in plenty of time to run again in 1994," said Ms. Perkins, who is divorced. She has represented Baltimore's center-city district for 15 years, the last six as chairwoman of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee.

She said she regrets losing what she called a legislator's "unique opportunity to help people."

She is not tired or turned off, she said, but does have concerns about the conduct of politics and government. "I wonder sometimes if people are really concerned about the future of our kids or how to make the cities work," she said.

"Or do leaders just want to pull us apart? I'm bothered when I don't see enough courage in politics. There was a time when we had courageous leaders. But I don't see as much of it now."

Two of her colleagues said her leaving will deplete the supply of courage further.

"I look at Anne as sort of a conscience," said Del. John J. Bishop, a Baltimore County Republican who was once on her committee. "She was one who was willing to stand up and say something when she thought something was not right."

Mr. Bishop recalled two examples: When Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. wanted relief from certain regulatory requirements, Ms. Perkins and her committee opposed the proposal and held out against the pressure of the House leadership, the chief regulators, the governor and others, Mr. Bishop said.

And when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, pushed for an ethics bill with political effects she and her committee opposed, she stood her ground again.

"She had a lot of respect for her committee, and it meant a lot to us," Mr. Bishop said.

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democratic colleague, said the assembly was losing "a champion for the rights of the disadvantaged." Ms. Perkins and Del. Howard P. Rawlings have worked effectively on Maryland's housing problems for many years.

"I have seen Anne Perkins stand up and fight when the odds were overwhelmingly against her," Mr. Montague said. "I have seen her take a lot of abuse for the stands she has taken. She never flinched."

When she told him what she was going to do, Mr. Montague said, he knew he could not dissuade her. He said he saw "an enthusiasm, a glow" that made him think of his own feelings when he left for a Peace Corps assignment.

Xiamen (pronounced SHA-MEN), one of Baltimore's sister cities, has a population of 250,000. It is opposite Taiwan on China's east coast.

Ms. Perkins will be working with students who are required to study English from their earliest years in school. Many of them will be competing for places in college in a country where fewer than 5 percent of the high school graduates go to college.

Given the high-pressure academic situation, Ms. Perkins said, she might instruct her charges in the meaning of such terms as "chill out."

Her own linguistic accomplishments in Chinese are limited.

"I can say 'too expensive' and 'good food' and 'I've had enough,' " she said. "If I ever need a laugh in class, I can try to say something in Chinese."

XTC She said she does not wake up in the middle of the night thinking, "I'm going to live in China for a year!"

"What I think is that I'm going to have to vote this year by absentee ballot and what a great vehicle that will be to teach with."

She can prove that she complied, more or less, with a request she found in the purse she was given when she left Xiamen in August. The students wanted her to take the purse with her when she met the president of the United States.

As a Democrat, she was not eager to meet President Bush. But she met the Democratic presidential nominee, Bill Clinton, after the candidate spoke at Montgomery College in Rockville Wednesday.

She had several friends take her picture with the man she expects to be elected president shortly after she arrives in Xiamen.

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