He may be young, but he's not kidding

The delegate, just 23, intends to be taken seriously

February 15, 2003|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

It was one promise he knew he could keep.

Patrick N. Hogan offered it only sparingly on the campaign trail last summer, when he went door to door in Frederick asking for votes, and people looked at him in shock.

Wasn't he a bit young to represent them in Annapolis? they asked him.

Well, yes, he answered, but he had experience as an intern in the State House, a degree in politics and a lifelong passion, coming as he did from a family of public servants.

Plus, he assured them, he would grow older.

He won his seat in the House of Delegates. Little did he know that that's when his age would really become an issue.

At 23, Hogan is the youngest member of the House and the eighth youngest in its history. The Republican looks so young, in fact, that he has been prevented from entering the House chamber and, the first time he tried to take his own committee seat, stopped at the door, practically accused of spying.

"I just politely let them know I am actually one of them," he says.

From the moment he got on the bus with other new lawmakers to take a tour of Annapolis, he got ribbed. "Isn't there an age requirement?" joked Herman L. Taylor, 36, of Montgomery County, when he spotted Hogan.

The real kick came when a lobbyist, mistaking Hogan for an intern, took him aside at a dinner and shared some of the strategies he uses on lawmakers. Hogan listened, not cluing him in, until another lawmaker walked over and introduced him. The lobbyist grinned. "Here I am, telling you some of my secrets."

At least nobody talked down to him. Everybody has one vote, no matter if he is 23, 30 or 60, another delegate, Jim Rzepkowski of Anne Arundel County, reminded Hogan in the hallway the other day.

"Everybody here knows what you did to get here, and by virtue of your success, they respect you for it," said Rzepkowski, who was a month younger than Hogan when he was elected in 1994. "No one teases you. They treat you like an equal."

No one, perhaps, except the lead hazer, Sen. Kevin Kelly, also from Western Maryland, but a Democrat. (Very conscientious, very mature in his thinking, Kelly mumbles about Hogan.) "But in your real life," he asks Hogan, "what do you do, other than be a kid?"

On the plus side, Hogan slipped through the front hallway of the State House to his seat in the chamber one day this week without being buttonholed by the swarm of lobbyists. He has no problem getting in - now. State trooper Kevin Opher first had to look Hogan up in the book, he said. "We wanted to make sure."

Only last year Hogan was doing homework in a house he shared with six other guys in College Park and ordering out for Chinese food and pizza.

Now he is fed sumptuously morning and night. Two or three breakfasts, three or four lunches, four or five or six evening receptions, an occasional five-course meal - he tries to accept as many invitations as he can, choosing on the basis of whether anybody from Frederick might be there. Crab cakes, crab balls. Crab dip. Luckily he only drinks water, so he won't get tipsy and offend anybody if he doesn't make it to the buffet table. It was awkward at first, but he mastered the art of eating while standing. It is paying off: More and more people know he's a delegate.

And he has figured out how to make people feel comfortable when they come into his office looking for the delegate and mistake him for a clerk. "I've seen the look in their faces," he says. It's a look that says, Are you the actual delegate?

In that moment, after he sees the look, but before the person can make a fool of himself or herself, he extends his hand: "I'm Patrick Hogan," he says.

Never does he take himself seriously, only the job.

Pointedly he introduced himself to a Republican group of lawmakers before the session began in January: "Once I convince the other legislators that I'm not an intern," he said, "I think I can get a lot accomplished."

The laughter was unexpectedly uproarious. "A nice way to break the ice," he says.

Another way he tries to get people to remember him is hard work.

He rented a place in Annapolis so he could immerse himself in it. His starting pace of 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. has slowed - he no longer returns to his office after evening receptions to prepare for the next day. Now he gets home at 10 p.m. He continues to keep his "mouth shut and ears open" and learn everything he can. He's also learning the issues, mostly transportation and education and agriculture, all important to his district and the reason he sought a seat on the House Environmental Matters Committee.

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