New delegate is learning on the run

March 19, 1995|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

To Del. Joseph M. Getty, his days are very much like those of many other Carroll County residents.

He gets up in the morning, drives more than an hour to work and returns late at night, often after his five children have gone to bed.

Mr. Getty attends community meetings and helps run his son's Boy Scout troop. He often spends his weekends writing papers in preparation for mock trial cases; he's in his last year of law school.

The only difference is that his job requires him to make decisions for all of Maryland's citizens.

"It hasn't been that hard," Mr. Getty said. "A lot of people in my district commute an hour or so to work. I'm getting by."

To some of his peers, the freshman delegate from Manchester has juggled his new responsibilities admirably.

Not only has he tackled many of the ins and outs of being a legislator, but he has done it with a new baby at home, said Del. Robert H. Kittleman, a Republican who represents Howard and Montgomery counties. The Gettys' youngest daughter was born last fall.

"With a new child, you lose a lot of sleep," said Mr. Kittleman, the House minority leader. "It's tough, but it hasn't seemed to affect his ability."

Mr. Getty, a strong contributor to the Republican Caucus, has become its expert on zoning laws, election regulations and historical preservation, Mr. Kittleman said.

"He is a very valuable member and one of the better freshman Republican delegates," Mr. Kittleman said. "I can't say enough good about him. I count no negatives."

zTC Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Democrat from Westminster and Carroll County's senior legislator, said he is pleased with how quickly Mr. Getty has assimilated the process.

"He has fit in very rapidly; he's up to speed very rapidly," said Mr. Dixon, noting that Mr. Getty has sponsored a number of bills and taken an active role in the legislature. "Usually, you don't find freshmen being that involved in the process."

Mr. Getty maintains that his new life as a politician is much as he had imagined it: Good Republican ideas often are usurped by the leadership, he said, and time is a valuable commodity.

In fact, he said, the only things that surprise him are his lack of contact with lobbyists and a dearth of computers and other technology in the legislators' offices.

"That's been the hardest problem for me and for a lot of legislators," he said, noting that most of them are used to drafting their own letters and completing other work on a computer.

"A lot of the freshmen feel handicapped by a provincial work environment in terms of technology," he said, noting that the election replaced many legislators in their 50s and 60s with people in their 30s and 40s.

"The legislature skipped a decade," Mr. Getty said. "The freshmen coming in are younger and used to having the basic elements of technology in their workplaces."

As for the lobbyists, Mr. Getty said he assumes that his message of being tough on lobby reform has reached them.

"The lobbyists aren't going to spend their money on a freshman Republican," he said. "They're interested in the leadership. A lot of the money goes to a few in the leadership positions and that sort of thing."

Perhaps the ease with which Mr. Getty fits into the General Assembly should have been expected. When he was a child, politics were discussed at the family dinner table as casually as the weather.

His father, J. Frank Getty, was mayor of Manchester from 1963 to 1967. And in his high school yearbook, the younger Mr. Getty listed becoming a politician as his ambition.

Politics "was a big goal in Joe's life," said his wife, Susan. "He had mulled it over for a long time and then decided to run [for the House of Delegates]. It was nice for him to finally recognize his lifelong goal."

As the session wears on, the rest of the Getty family gradually sees less and less of him. Last week, for example, late meetings kept Mr. Getty in Annapolis on Monday and Tuesday nights. He was expected to return home late Wednesday, and the children wouldn't see their father until Thursday morning, Mrs. Getty said.

"It's been harder on the kids than it has been on me," she said. "We're gradually seeing him less and less. It's not a shock, though, because it's not sudden."

Mr. Getty's long stints away from home have been hardest on their 3-year-old daughter, Mrs. Getty said.

"She doesn't have the rational thinking and understanding about it that the older children do," Mrs. Getty said.

But the time away from their father has also given the children a peek into the realities of politics, Mrs. Getty said.

"Now they see it isn't all glory," she said, noting that the whole family helped the new delegate campaign for his seat. "It's a job that means hard work and taking responsibility."

And, although the drive to and from Annapolis has been a bit of a strain, Mr. Getty said it is important to maintain contact with his constituents.

He said he is the only Carroll delegate who didn't make plans to stay in Annapolis during the week.

"This way, I'm able to stay in touch," he said. "I don't get caught up in all the hoopla you can get caught up in down here."

Even though realizing his dream has turned the family topsy-turvy, Mrs. Getty said she would happily do it all again.

"I like to see myself as a supportive wife, even if the ramifications on me are hard," she said. "He had to do it [run for office], and I could never tell him no."

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