Freshman tries to adjust to being wooed 1995 SESSION OF THE MARYLAND GENERAL ASSEMBLY

January 11, 1995|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

This is the first in an occasional series of articles about a freshman lawmaker's experience in Annapolis.

Don Murphy has never been so popular.

Hotels want to rent him rooms. Lobbyists want to buy him meals. Business associations have given him pens, a calendar and other trinkets.

Since his election last fall to the Maryland House of Delegates, his life hasn't been the same.

"One minute you're like a nobody, and then the next minute you're getting Christmas cards from these folks," said the Catonsville Republican. "It's the difference between Nov. 7 and Nov. 8."

Today, Donald E. Murphy will officially complete his transformation from anonymous citizen to freshman lawmaker when he is sworn in as the state's new delegate from District 12A.

As a member of the largest freshman class of legislators in at least 20 years, he will spend the next three months learning the ropes in Annapolis and trying to understand the sometimes labyrinthine politics of the State House, a building he says he had visited only a few times before he was elected.

Politically conservative, he is part of an unusually large group of new Republican legislators, many of whom hope to reduce the size and scope of government.

For newcomers of both parties, the legislative session is likely to be a learning experience that may change their views of government as well as their lives.

Mr. Murphy says he has already learned a few lessons and begun to adapt to his new career.

Although the session begins today, Mr. Murphy, 34, says, he has gotten a taste of how legislative politics will cut into family time. He and his wife, Gloria, have a son, Connor, 3, and a daughter, Kendall, 6.

Three days before Christmas, representatives of Bell Atlantic invited him to lunch to get to know him and discuss some of their business plans. Mr. Murphy hadn't finished putting up the Christmas tree yet and still had not bought a present for his wife.

But he went anyway, in part he says, because some of his constituents work for the company.

"Being new, I didn't realize you don't have to do that," he said.

His new job has also affected his professional life.

As of last fall, Mr. Murphy worked in real estate, leasing space for an office park on Security Boulevard in Baltimore County.

His employer knew that, as a legislator, Mr. Murphy would have to spend the majority of the 90-day General Assembly session in Annapolis.

Three weeks before the election, he was asked to choose between his current job and his budding political career.

Mr. Murphy, who had never run for public office before, rolled the dice at the ballot box and won. He defeated Del. Kenneth H.

Masters, the House majority leader.

Annual income to drop

But in winning, Mr. Murphy also lost. As a legislator, which is a part-time job in Maryland, he will be paid about $28,000 a year -- $20,000 less than he says he was making in real estate.

He says the salary cut, while substantial, will not affect his family's daily life. Previously, he had put about one-third of his paycheck into retirement and savings. Now, he says, he'll be spending it all.

As the session has approached, Mr. Murphy has begun to feel more pressure from constituents and says he is developing a better appreciation of how difficult a legislator's job is.

During the race, he criticized Mr. Masters for not attending more community meetings.

Now that he is trying to juggle his responsibilities in Annapolis with those back in his district, he says he feels sorry about having made it a campaign issue.

Mr. Murphy says he has already had to turn down one invitation to a community meeting. It is scheduled for noon today, when he will be sworn in at the State House.

Constituents didn't wait for Mr. Murphy to take office to start lobbying him.

A dozen have called recently, urging him to oppose the new emissions testing law.

Mr. Murphy, who already seems to be learning how to handle controversial issues, has told them he is going to wait to hear from both sides before making up his mind. "I'm not even sworn in yet," he said.

Mr. Murphy was born in Catonsville and grew up in Linthicum in a family that wasn't particularly political.

He says he first became active in politics as a campaign worker for President Gerald Ford in 1976.

In recent years, he became president of his community association and helped to found the Patapsco Valley Republican Club.

He says he decided to run for office partly because he thought that a Republican could win in the district for the first time.

He also decided that it was "time to stop [complaining] about the way things are and stand up and be counted."

Some lessons learned

If Mr. Murphy sounds a little bit like "Jefferson Smith," the fictional everyman of Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," he also seems fairly savvy about at least some elements of the political game.

2 When interviewed by a reporter, he was careful to note when his comments were "off-the-record" or "on background" to make sure they would not appear in print.

Mr. Murphy says that as he has spent more time in Annapolis, his transition from citizen to citizen-legislator has felt all the more real.

It really hit him, he says, when he sat down in one of the high-back leather chairs on the floor of the House of Delegates for the first time last month.

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