Mids soak up Annapolis lore

Rare journey through Md. politics, history is just a 5-minute walk from Naval Academy

October 17, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

Midshipmen routinely travel all over the world as part of a burgeoning international curriculum, and in the past they have made trips to Washington to visit foreign embassies and the Supreme Court.

But yesterday they made an unlikely jaunt: They walked about five minutes from the Naval Academy to the Maryland State House and went on to Annapolis City Hall for what was described as an inaugural introduction to local and state government.

"I don't think this has ever happened before, and it's a shame," said Lt. Justin Mikolay, a political science instructor who brought about 50 Mids from his three American Government and Constitutional Development classes.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Wednesday's Anne Arundel section incorrectly described a visit by 50 midshipmen to local and state government sites in Annapolis as "inaugural." Midshipmen have been making such trips to the State House for the past five years.

"So we thought it would be great if my American Government classes could get an understanding of their own town with respect to the founding of the country. Oftentimes when people live in a city, they fail to go to the touristy-type spots and understand the actual history of their own town."

Ginger Doyel, a local historical consultant who led the group of Mids in service dress blues and helped organize the visits to historic homes on Hanover Street and Maryland Avenue, said such a tour was conducted at a perfect time, during the city's 300th birthday celebration and right about when the academy celebrates its 1845 founding.

"There needs to be a better bridge between the Naval Academy and Annapolis, and I think introducing plebes to our wonderful city from the start is important," she said.

State Sen. John C. Astle, an Annapolis Democrat, and Annapolis Alderman Richard E. Israel stood near the display of a handwritten copy of the speech George Washington gave when he resigned as commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1783.

Israel, a former assistant attorney general, stressed the principles of government that Maryland inherited from England and were further developed in revolutionary times, including the subordination of the military to civilian authority.

"All political officials are subject to the law, whether the king of England or the president of the United States," he said.

Astle led the Mids through the House and Senate chambers, explaining how bills become law, how many delegates and senators there are, how state legislators interact with federal lawmakers and what role the governor plays in state politics. He occasionally shared some of the tricks of the politicking trade as well.

"Generally speaking, no one changes anybody's opinion with the debate that takes place on the floor, but it's their opportunity to posture for the press," he said, smiling. "If you want to get your name in the paper, you want to get some nice snappy quotes, that's the time to do it."

During the Mids' brief visit to City Hall, Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer talked about the city's rich history, and how George Washington and other colonial gentry played cards and bet on horse racing in what was then a thriving industry in the city.

Several of the Mids sheepishly admitted that they hadn't previously been to any of the sites they visited on the tour, noting that they have spent all their scarce free time getting a break from their constant surroundings.

Still, they said, it was a hit.

"I thought it was very informative," said Alex Ryan, a 19-year-old freshman from Des Moines, Iowa. "It's a different perspective. We'll come out here on liberty or maybe go to the marketplace for lunch, and maybe go back to the academy. But for that, we were really able to delve into all the historical aspects of Annapolis, because that's really what Annapolis is. It's a historical landmark."

Josh Neal, 19, of Uvalde, Texas, said he enjoyed learning about the political landscape of another state.

"To come and learn about Maryland, a place that's really far from home, it's nice to see that the basic principles are pretty much the same," he said.


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