`We represent everybody' in Md.

Legislature: One hundred eighty-eight men and women begin 90-day session of working for the people.

January 14, 1999|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

The rest of the year, many of these 188 men and women are farmers, social workers, entrepreneurs, morticians, even Washington lobbyists. Yesterday, they gathered in Annapolis to launch the 194th term of the people's legislature, doing, presumably, the people's business.

As the General Assembly convened for its annual 90-day session, senators and delegates spoke proudly of how the legislature works for every Marylander. "We represent everybody, not just the Democrats and Republicans," said Sen. Walter M. Baker, a Cecil County Democrat, in one such address.

Then, the speeches done, 100 lawmakers walked across State Circle to the first of countless special-interest buffets this session -- a free liquor-and-food reception held by a half-dozen alcoholic beverage groups.

"It's a tradition," said Joseph A. Schwartz, lobbyist for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association.

While veteran legislators and lobbyists got back to doing the people's business their way, some new lawmakers and their families arrived in Annapolis a bit awed by their surroundings.

Every step of freshman Del. John A. Giannetti Jr.'s walk from the House office building to the State House was recorded on videotape by his proud mother, Gail Cross.

"This is the beginning of a historic career," Cross observed, providing the narration for the footage.

Eighteen family members came from as far away as Arizona to watch the Eastern Shore's first black representative, Rudolph C. Cane, take the oath of office.

Cane's election was the culmination of decades of efforts by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others to create a district where an African-American stood a chance of being elected.

"I think everybody is excited, and they have reason to be," Cane said. "Now they can say they have taxation with representation."

The citizens' legislature has never really been representative of all Marylanders -- though it was considered important that legislators be of the people, with real jobs and and everyday concerns.

In 1635, every adult white male in the Colony was a member of the first legislature, as long as he made the trek to St. Mary's City to participate. But no women legislators were elected until nearly 300 years later, after suffrage in 1920, and no blacks until the 1950s, according to Edward C. Papenfuse, state archivist.

The General Assembly elected two months ago looks more like the people of Maryland, even if one-sixth of its members are practicing attorneys (compared with 1 percent of the state's work force).

Twenty percent of the members are African-American and 30 percent are female, in a state that's 27 percent African-American and 51 percent female.

This truer representation comes at a time when the public is generally disaffected by politics and politicians.

"We don't have as much interest in the actual functioning of government today at the street level as we once had," Papenfuse said. "At one point in time, when we went into any tavern or any way station, the chief topic of discussion would be what's happening in the political world."

The legislators themselves seem interested and believe the people sent them to get something done.

New Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat, said he felt the gravity of his election when he walked into an empty House chamber this week and looked up to see "Bronrott" on the electronic vote boards high above the floor. He took a quiet moment to savor his accomplishment.

Sun staff writers Michael Dresser, C. Fraser Smith and Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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