Legislators look into the mirror of effectiveness
Southern Md. lawmakers examine their own careers in Annapolis
The 438th session of Maryland’s General Assembly will convene in Annapolis on Jan. 10 and end April 9, 2018. And while there are a little more than 100 days before its start, it is not too early to think about the task of legislating.
“In a state where you have a part-time legislature, where there are only three months out of the year, one of the key ways a [politician] would be able to come back to [his or her] constituency and say ‘I’m representing you’ is to point to specific legislation introduced, and then going the next step and say ‘these are the bills that succeeded or this is how far it got and I am going to push for it next session,’” said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
“Clearly sponsoring legislation and getting that legislation introduced and getting signed into law is a clear sign of effectiveness,” said Eberly, who referenced a study on Legislative Effectiveness and Legislative Careers, conducted by Stanford University’s Gerard Padro Miguel and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s James M. Snyder Jr.
The study, which examined the North Carolina House of Representatives between the years 1977 and 2001, looked at a member’s aptitude for legislative work, portfolio of formal leadership positions in the party or committees and the powerfulness of the committees and experience. The study concluded that legislator effectiveness increased sharply during the first few terms of service and that the increase in effectiveness appeared to be due mainly to learning-by-doing rather than to costly investment in specific skills.
In Southern Maryland, Eberly said Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles), Sen. Steve Waugh (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert), Del. Sally Jameson (D-Charles) and Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) fare well by the study’s standards.
The study points out that members of the majority are likely to succeed, which is evident by Middleton’s and Jameson’s record.
Over the last seven years, or 2½ terms, Middleton has introduced more than 200 pieces of legislation, of which more than 100 have been passed into law.
Middleton doesn’t take all the credit for himself. He attributes his success to having an acute legislative assistant, Susan Lawrence, who knows the
legislative process and has developed a good rapport with other members and state agencies. Middleton does pride himself on developing good working relationships with his colleagues, as well.
Jameson, who was out of the country for two weeks as of press time, had introduced roughly 75 bills over the last seven years, of which 32 were signed into law. Jameson has been in office since 2003 and currently sits on five committees, two that she chairs or vice chairs, in addition to being chair of the Southern Maryland House delegation.
Eberly argues that members of the minority party who sponsor legislation that gets signed into law are especially effective, referring to Waugh, who is one of only 14 Republicans in the Senate. There are 33 Democrats.
In his three short years in office, Waugh has introduced roughly 63 pieces of legislation, of which 28 have passed. Waugh said the most important part of his success was his ability is to build relationships with all the other members across the aisle.
“Year one, I cosponsored a bill with every other senator,” said Waugh, adding that he came into office with the idea that he was going to pay attention.
“The net effect of that is I wanted everybody to know I am here to work and we have common ground,” Waugh said of his game plan. “Once they know they can work with that guy, it doesn’t matter that I am Republican.”
Waugh also said temperament and composure are really key.
“I try really hard to avoid using charged language and go in believing that everyone is here with good intentions. We may disagree, but we are all here because we want to serve our constituents and the state of Maryland,” he said. “I’m not here to throw chairs. It’s not going to help to go to the capital and shake your fist.”
Eberly said Waugh’s recent progress rivals that of Middleton, who has been there two decades longer.
“Waugh is a legislator that came in and learned the game very quickly and became effective very rapidly,” Eberly said.
Morgan, who is also a Republican and was sworn in the same year as Waugh, has managed to be somewhat productive in the Democrat-controlled legislature. Morgan has introduced 12 bills and passed four, and sits on three committees.
Legislative inactivity, strategies for passage
In the absence of legislation, it is reasonable for voters to ask “why are we paying you?” Eberly said.
“As our representatives introduce, sponsor legislation, write it, that affects us,” said Eberly, later adding that cosponsoring matters, but often elected officials are attaching themselves to another person’s work or effort that may not be specific to their constituency. “Your own legislation is the way you show that.
“Constituents are going to ask ‘ what have you done for me lately,’ and typically people who are in the legislature will point to ‘I introduce this bill, I help shepherd this law into effect, I fought for this issue,’” he said.
Speaking in general, Eberly said legislators will sometimes make the case that they opposed various pieces of legislation on behalf of their constituents.
“The hard-working men and women of Calvert County sent me to Annapolis to stop the onslaught of regulations, stop higher taxes and to maintain the rule of law. That is just what I’ve done. I stopped the legislation that would have made Maryland a sanctuary state, and have voted time and time again against more regulations and higher taxes. The bill count of a legislator is often a sign of how beholden he/she is to the lobbyists and special interests who requested the legislation,” said Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) in an emailed statement.
Fisher, who took office in 2011, has introduced roughly 47 bills as a primary sponsor, though he has yet to see any signed into law. He also serves on four committees and is the chair of the Calvert County House delegation.
“Oftentimes, though, the public would like you to come talk to them about what you successfully did — not something you just stopped or tried to stop,” Eberly said.
Del. Michael Jackson (D-Calvert, Prince George’s), who has passed legislation, said constituents “have a rightful expectation that we are doing what we are supposed to do” and they feel “we need to expect and inspect.” However, a sympathetic Jackson said “it would be unfair if a legislator is deemed ineffective because his or her chief legislation wasn’t passed. Some legislation is not going to pass.” Jackson cited a number of prohibitors, to include the legislative body, which can be an uphill battle for those in the minority party.
Fisher is not the only Southern Maryland legislator who has not passed any bills. Del. Deb Rey (RSt. Mary’s), who joined the legislature in 2015, has yet to get any of her 13 bills enacted. However, Eberly said it is normal for the first year or two for a legislator not to be overly productive.
“Like everybody else that is starting a new job, they are learning it,” Eberly said.
“A Republican is not going to get a bill passed without Democratic support,” acknowledged Rey. “If we take the ‘R’ and ‘D’ that is before our names and look at the policy before we vote — is this policy good for our constituency? Is this policy good for Maryland? That’s what we should be looking at.”
Rey said there are a lot of things in a legislator’s job that are important, to include cosponsoring legislation, constituent work and committee work. She serves on four committees and is also chair of the St. Mary’s County House delegation.
“It is important to change the laws to make them better for the citizens — that’s who we represent, that’s what we are here for. Our agenda should reflect the people we represent,” she said.
One way for a member of the legislature to get his or her bill passed is by cross-filing, which Eberly says speaks to the point that a legislator has gotten support for his or her bill in the other chamber, demonstrating that the leg work of getting a counterpart to support a piece of legislation has been done.
“One of the things that I believe enhances the chances of the bill passing for calendaring is to file it in the opposite chamber and in the opposite party. It takes all the partisanship out of it,” said Waugh, who has a personal goal to cross-file a bill with the chair and vice chair of every committee. The task should not be too great for Waugh, as he serves on a half-dozen committees.
Waugh, in addition to Middleton and Jameson, cross-filed more than half of his bills introduced in recent years.
If legislation is not crossfiled, it can be sent to the opposite chamber if it has been favorably passed in the chamber it was introduced in by the crossover deadline.
Jackson said up until last session, he didn’t seek a Senate cross-filer. Since taking office in 2015, Jackson has introduced roughly 16 bills and had six signed into law. He only cross-filed six.
“For me being a first term legislator, there is a benefit to presenting my legislation in the Senate,” Jackson said. “It’s a learning process and a credibility issue.”
Jackson said he opted not to have a cross-filer because he wanted to work his legislation himself in the opposite chamber and personally articulate the bill’s merit. Jackson did acknowledge that either strategy doesn’t always work.
“I’ve had legislation that hasn’t made it out of committee — my committee,” chuckled Jackson, who serves on five committees. “And I thought it was pretty good legislation.”
The most junior members of the Southern Maryland delegation have fared somewhat well in getting legislation through, besting a few of their senior colleagues.
Del. Elizabeth “Susie” Proctor (D-Charles, Prince George’s) was appointed to the legislature mid-term in 2015 after her husband Del. James Proctor’s death. She has introduced five bills as a primary sponsor and has had two signed into law. She cross-filed all five bills.
Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) took office in October 2016. In his first year, Clark was the primary sponsor of two bills; one he cross-filed, the
other he did not. The bill he did not cross-file was signed into law.
“I did one each way because I wanted to learn the process. I wanted to see which I preferred the most,” Clark said. “It was a learning experience. Hopefully, it will pay off in the future.”
Clark said when a member cross-files a bill, “you lose control and it is not your bill anymore.”
Serving on three committees, Clark believes the most important work is in committee.
“There are so many bills that may have a negative effect. We can help to refine or amend those bills,” he said.
Clark said another thing he learned is that when there is a bill that is small and focused toward local constituency to do it as a delegation.
Helping constituents, leading effectively
In the absence of getting legislation passed, Eberly said a member can make up for deficiencies through constituency services and influencing public policy. Constituents may feel their representative is particularly good at addressing their needs by being responsive when contacted about a problem and able to help the constituent address this problem.
“If you can demonstrate you do that particularly well, that will compensate for a lot,” he said.
In addition, Eberly said, “Typically the people who advance to leadership positions are advancing as a reward for the fact that they do well. They are known as effective or productive legislators and they work their way up the ranks.”
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) exemplifies such a rise. Miller became a member of the Senate in 1975, after serving four years in the House. He has served as chair on the Judicial Proceedings Committee and deputy majority leader before becoming president of the Senate in 1987. To date, Miller is the longest-serving Senate president in Maryland and in the United States.
“Showing up on time and being the last one to leave the table” is what Miller attributes his success to. He said he acquired that hard work ethic growing up working in a grocery. The eldest of 10 children, Miller said he was always in a leadership role, starting as a youth.
His experience as a staffer for three years as a bill drafter gave him a leg up on serving in the legislature as an elected official. The Senate president said lawmakers must keep a smile on their face, work hard, respect others and articulate why their bill is key.
“I understand both parties. I treasure my friend- ship with the 14 Republicans in the Senate and I give everybody a say and a fair shot. That is why they are content to vote,” explained Miller, of the favorable support of much legislation in the chamber.
“What helps is my love for the institution. I am happy to be here and work here standing where Thomas Jefferson and George Washington once stood,” Miller said.
Prior to becoming Senate president, Miller sponsored and cosponsored more than 800 pieces of legislation, of which nearly 185 became law. Detail data on primary sponsorship was not made available until 1990.
Eberly said it is not really expected or common for the Senate president to be sponsoring legislation the way other rank and file members do because the president has other responsibilities.
According to Library and Information Services’ staff within the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, bills sponsored by “The President” are not the same as those sponsored by Miller.
“This can be frustrating, obviously, for those who are represented in the district, but normally if you are represented by somebody who is high up in the leadership ranks, they’re able to influence the process in a way that benefits their constituents without specific legislation moving forward,” explained Eberly. “Their responsibilities have changed at that level of leadership.”
Despite his duties, since 2011, Miller was able to sponsor more than 45 bills, of which roughly 16 passed.
Middleton is another example. After three years in the Senate, he became chair of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, and since 2002, he has has been chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Both Miller and Middleton have received numerous leadership awards for their service in Annapolis, and both have served on numerous committees and commissions.
Bottom line: “If you want legislation to succeed, you’ve got to negotiate with other people, find areas of common interest, get people to cosponsor it with you; that takes interpersonal skills,” Eberly said. “You either need to have skills or you need to have power. If you have power, it doesn’t [matter] whether you are nice or not, as they need you for your power. Without that power, you really need the interpersonal skills to get people to work with you.”
Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s), left, Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert), Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) and Del. Deb Rey (R-St. Mary’s) gather for a photo on one of the final days of the 2017 Maryland legislative session.
Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, sits in his office.