In Annapolis, a feeling like last day of exams

The Scene

General Assembly

April 08, 2008|By Bradley Olson and Gadi Dechter | Bradley Olson and Gadi Dechter,SUN REPORTER

The delegates looked to be going over thorny budget issues or planning how to gather votes on the House floor as they whispered to each other yesterday morning between debates on adult education and passage of a law designating Smith Island cake as the state dessert.

But with just hours to go before a long, difficult General Assembly session was to adjourn for the year, they were actually talking about whether Orlando Phillips, a well-known calypso, soca and reggae musician, would make it to Del. Dereck E. Davis' annual sine die bash.

Davis, a Prince George's Democrat who had spent the past week fighting to persuade colleagues to ratify Gov. Martin O'Malley's settlement with Constellation Energy Group, assured Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Harford Democrat who had spent the week ironing out the final kinks in the $31.2 billion budget, that Phillips was coming and, in fact, was already en route.

"This year's been unusual, unusually long if you include the special session" in November, said Del. Talmadge Branch, the House Democratic whip from Baltimore, who recounted how much fun lawmakers had at Davis' party last year, dancing and "letting it all go."

"People are ready to really let go, let their hair down and go on for a relaxing interim after having a little fun," he said.

The legislature's last day of the year is known as sine die, a Latin term meaning "without setting a date for future action." It is a bit like the last day of finals before high school graduation: Legislators often have a lot of work to do, but their minds tend to wander.

After a brief huddle in the Senate lounge with the Montgomery County delegation, Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, dashed out of the meeting and couldn't remember what the bill they had just discussed was about.

He was in a hurry to meet Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat who chairs the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee, so the two could play chess during a brief early evening recess in the chamber.

"All of the bills begin to blur together at a certain point," Raskin said.

The last day of the legislative session always ends at midnight - legislators used to turn back the clocks if they needed extra time, but the courts put the kibosh on that years ago. Despite the long day, many in Annapolis had a little extra jump in their steps and went about their work with an attitude of jubilation, knowing the grueling season was almost at an end.

Many legislators had snacks and beer on tap in their offices, and although the business didn't finish until midnight, the parties started much earlier.

During an evening break between sessions, Warren Deschenaux, the legislature's chief policy analyst, ate an ice cream bar outside a keg party sponsored by the Baltimore delegation.

Not a few legislators and staffers threw back a few beers and returned to their legislative chambers for more debate and a blitz of votes.

Sine die can be a stressful and contentious occasion, but the tension is almost invariably mixed with an air of festivity and frivolity.

As the Senate wrapped up a debate on a bill granting an exemption from transfer taxes to domestic partners, Miller poked fun at the disheveled appearance of Sen. David R. Brinkley's hair, with its salt and pepper strands akimbo.

"Will somebody get him a comb?" he said from the floor.

Brinkley laughed and reached into his desk, dragging a comb through his hair a few times, making little headway with what seemed a permanently frazzled 'do.

Del. Frank M. Conaway Jr., never a fashion wallflower, busted out a new suit for sine die. "Let the sun shine," the Baltimore Democrat said of the baby-blue number, which he paired with a purple tie. Conaway would not say where he bought it or how much it cost. "I can't tell you that," he said.

Nor would he reveal the creature whose hide was used to fashion his shoes, except to promise, "It's not an endangered animal."

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, wearing a sober blue suit from Jos. A. Bank, was impressed. "He clearly has the confidence and self-esteem to do that," Gansler said of Conway's getup, which the AG described as "sea foam green."

"I don't have that look in my program," Gansler said.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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