The freshman class

About a quarter of the General Assembly sworn in yesterday was newly elected last year. Here's a quick look at some new senators and delegates who hope to leave their mark on Maryland in the years ahead.

General Assembly

January 11, 2007

In between his swearing-in and attending receptions, S. Saqib Ali was changing diapers and preparing baby bottles.

For his first legislative session, the Democratic delegate from Montgomery County has moved his wife and 8-month- old daughter to Annapolis, and the 31-year-old software engineer said he thinks that being part of a young family can help him connect with many of his constituents.

S. Saqib Ali

But Ali's distinction as the first Muslim to serve in the General Assembly has garnered the most attention, somewhat to his chagrin. He said he campaigned on issues, not religion.

"I'm Muslim, and that'll always be the case, but I'm here to push good issues and good policy for all Marylanders," he said.

Ali's district is about 40 percent minority, he said, and part of his campaign involved introducing those new immigrants to the political process, registering new voters and showing them how to cast a ballot.

"Bringing new Americans into the process is good for everybody. It's empowering," said Ali, who raised nearly $120,000 and ousted incumbent Del. Joan Stern in the Democratic primary.

On a day when leaders promoted the diversity of the General Assembly, Ali, of Gaithersburg, was content to get started on his legislative efforts, such as consumer protection and information security.

"We're looking for good ideas," he said.

Justin Fenton

Jamie Raskin

Now he can show his students how it's done.

Democratic Sen. Jamie Raskin, a constitutional law professor at American University, said yesterday he will bring them to Annapolis this session to see government in action. And if Raskin, a self-described "hands-on progressive," has any say in what that action includes, students will see lawmakers tackle the death penalty issue once and for all.

"I hope this will be a session in which we consider seriously repealing the death penalty," said Raskin, who lives in Takoma Park.

A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Raskin has been circling Annapolis for some time. He managed Douglas F. Gansler's campaigns for Montgomery County state's attorney (Gansler was sworn in last week as state attorney general) and in 1999 was named by Gov. Parris N. Glendening the first chairman of the Maryland State Higher Education Labor Relations Board.

Joined yesterday by his wife, Sarah Bloom, and children Hannah, Tommy and Tabitha, Raskin said is pleased to join fellow Montgomery County Democratic Sen. Brian Frosh on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The new senator said he hopes to introduce a bill to lower the voter registration age to 16 so that students register before graduating from high school.

His goal? "One hundred percent voter registration."

The professor has high hopes.

Jennifer Skalka

James N. Robey

After spending much of the past two decades lobbying Howard County legislators, former police chief and County Executive James N. Robey said he was looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and becoming part of the process.

"I really don't have any sense of change," said Robey, a Democrat. "Many senators know me from my county executive days, and we already have a rapport established. It's a matter of learning the procedures."

Prevented from running for re-election by term limits, Robey set his sights on the state Senate and a familiar opponent -- incumbent Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, whose husband Robey defeated in an upset to become county executive in 1998. He emerged victorious.

Though his first session could be quiet, Robey said he is ready to weigh in on the debate over a statewide smoking ban, which has been defeated by the General Assembly for the past four years. Under his leadership, Howard voted to become smoke-free last year.

"I'm not going to jump through any hurdles this first year, but I promise that's something I'll work very hard on," he said.

Robey, 65, also plans to be an advocate for county governments, with an eye on health care and transportation. But he's aware of the limitations of his new role.

"I'm one of 47 [senators]," he said.

Justin Fenton

Steven R. Schuh

Steven R. Schuh might have been outnumbered as a newly elected Republican in the House of Delegates, where Democrats now have a nearly 3-to-1 advantage, but he focused on togetherness yesterday.

"I think a new day has dawned, and I'm very encouraged by the spirit of bipartisanship," said Schuh, wearing the carnation-and-daisy corsage that every member received. "This is an institution with a lot of tradition and that really is representative of Maryland racially, geographically, philosophically."

Schuh, a 46-year-old businessman who was elected in Anne Arundel County, spent yesterday morning meeting colleagues and touring the State House. He and his wife, Parice, had their picture taken with Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

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