Howard delegate loves the classics Young Republican 'nerd' known as a 'Renaissance man'

November 23, 1992|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

Freshman state Del. John Morgan thinks of himself as a citizen politician for whom government is more of a calling than a career.

"I think we were better off when the legislature was filled with farmers," the Howard County representative says.

In some ways, Mr. Morgan is a throwback to that time. But in others, he seems light years ahead of it.

At the age of 28, he has a doctorate in materials science and engineering from the Johns Hopkins University. He is also the second youngest delegate in Maryland, behind 23-year-old Kenneth D. Schisler, a Talbot Republican.

When not working at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in North Laurel, he works at the University of Michigan calibrating a Neutral Mass Spectrometer to study grime that builds up on satellites in orbit.

His reading tastes tend toward history and the classics. He is fascinated by subjects such as how Archimedes helped defend Syracuse from the Romans.

"John is probably one of the brightest members of the General Assembly," said fellow Republican Howard Del. Robert H. Kittleman.

"He's a Renaissance man," says his running mate, Martin G. Madden, a 13th District Republican.

Mr. Morgan has been part of the Republican renaissance in predominantly Democratic Howard and Prince George's counties over the past decade. but after less than two years in office, he now faces an uphill battle.

His old district, 13B, has been redrawn. The ratio of Democrats to Republicans has gone from 5-4 to 8-5. Last month, Mr. Morgan moved from his Howard County home in North Laurel to Laurel Lakes in Prince George's County to be closer to the core of his constituents.

"I don't think we expected to be re-elected with ease," said Mr. Morgan, referring to the 1994 race. But "I wouldn't say the district is impossible to win."

If Mr. Morgan sounds game, it may be because he likes challenges. He first ran for office more than two years ago while he was finishing his doctoral work. During the campaign, he kept a map of the district on his wall. After walking through each neighborhood, he checked it off. He estimates that he knocked on 9,200 doors that year.

Even his parents were concerned about him balancing school and a political campaign.

"We said, 'John, can you do both?' I mean, Gee whiz!" said his father, Jim. "Of course, he did."

John Morgan grew up in Montgomery County. His father, who holds a doctorate in education from Columbia University, administered testing in the county school system.

As a youngster, John spent his afternoons reading -- not for homework, but for pleasure. After showering in the evenings, he would put his head in a dryer -- the kind used at beauty shops -- and read the Bible, said his mother, Louise.

John Morgan graduated in 1981 from Wootten High School in Rockville, where he co-edited the school newspaper. Afterward he enrolled at Loyola College in Baltimore.

While a columnist at the Loyola newspaper, he wrote a piece arguing that there were no moral absolutes.

"The Jesuits at Loyola were astounded," he said. They wrote him letters arguing that moral principles were handed down through the ages by different cultures.

"It struck home to me," Mr. Morgan said.

After graduating in three years, he moved to Howard County and worked as a technician at the Applied Physics Laboratory. When local Republicans approached him to get involved with the party, he said yes.

"It just came out of the blue," said Jim Morgan.

The Morgans had always been Republicans, but John had limited his political activism to yelling at the television set. He wanted more involvement.

"I very strongly believe it would be irresponsible of me to complain about all the problems in the world and not do anything," he said.

He started off working polls. Carol Arscott, former chairwoman of the Howard County Republican Party, recalled watching him at the Swansfield Elementary School.

"He was just a kid. He didn't dress very well. He had long hair," she said. "I had never seen anyone work a polling place better."

Ms. Arscott said he employed a gentle touch that seemed to resonate with voters. After she appointed him voter registration chairman in Howard County, Mr. Morgan began paving his path to the legislature.

As a freshman delegate, Mr. Morgan has kept a relatively low profile. But he has had his moments.

One occurred early in his tenure at a hearing on campaign finance reform. He took on a powerful lobbyist, saying that campaign contributions simply bought influence, Ms. Arscott recalled.

"He got crossways with some lobbyists because he stated frankly what he thought about them," Mr. Kittleman said. "Those rough edges are gone. He still thinks the same things, but now he doesn't say them."

Working on space technology, legislation and reading Plutarch doesn't leave a lot of time for much else. But Mr. Morgan says these things are fun.

"I guess that makes me a bit of a nerd," he says.

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