GAME CHANG­ERS

Anne Arun­del women start his­toric leg­isla­tive terms

The Capital - - FRONT PAGE - By Se­lene San Felice ssan­fe­[email protected]

You’d ex­pect the most emo­tional mo­ment of the week for Mary­land Gen­eral As­sem­bly fresh­men would be get­ting sworn in at the first leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

For Del. Sandy Bartlett the chills came as she stood in the old House of Del­e­gates cham­bers. Stand­ing be­tween dis­plays of Fred­er­ick Dou­glass and Har­riet Tub­man, the first African-Amer­i­can woman to rep­re­sent Anne Arun­del County in the House saw her­self as part of his­tory.

The Mary­land City Demo­crat made sure to tell every­one she could: “That’s my room.”

But there’s not a lot of time to bask in the glory. As one of the new­est mem­bers of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, Bartlett only has 90 days of leg­isla­tive ses­sion to start mak­ing good on the cam­paign prom­ises that got her in the room.

“I have my ‘pinch me’ mo­ments, think­ing, ‘Am I re­ally here?’ but then there’s no time to think. You just do,” she said. “You be where you have to be and you lis­ten and learn.”

Bartlett isn’t alone. About a third of the law­mak­ers in this year’s ses­sion are fresh­men, part of the largest group ever of women law­mak­ers to serve the State House. State Sen. Sarah El­freth, D-Annapolis, and Del. Heather Bag­nall, D-Arnold, share that his­tory-mak­ing weight as well.

Tak­ing flight

El­freth starts her ses­sion as the youngest woman to be a Mary­land se­na­tor. Af­ter de­feat­ing Tony McCon­key in Novem­ber, Bag­nall flipped a seat that had been Re­pub­li­can for 20 years.

While this is El­freth’s first ses­sion as a se­na­tor, the Annapolis Demo­crat has been through 11 in the world of non­profit lob­by­ing and ad­vo­cacy.

“I come in know­ing just enough to know that I don’t know ev­ery­thing, but I’m used to the pace of it.”

She sits in her of­fice sip­ping from a mug inked with the words “Happy 30th Sen. El­freth,” a gift from a con­stituent, as she flips through hun­dreds of pages of pro­posed leg­is­la­tion.

Be­hind her, a por­trait of Charles Car­roll — an Annapolis landowner and lawyer who signed the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence — re­minds her of her place in his­tory. Forced to choose be­tween the Mary­land and U.S. Se­nate in 1792, Caroll chose to serve his state.

For fresh­men law­mak­ers, set­ting up an of­fice is just as much about sym­bol­ism as it is about func­tion­al­ity.

El­freth’s grand­fa­ther’s bronze duck statue sits on her shelf, frozen in po­si­tion to take flight next to the “baby se­na­tor” tro­phy she re­ceived at her swear­ing-in on Wed­nes­day.

“My grand­fa­ther ... He didn’t be­lieve women should have ca­reers. He was a re­ally de­cent per­son, a union elec­tri­cian who worked re­ally hard for the fam­ily but re­ally didn’t be­lieve that women could do much out­side the home,” she said.

“He passed away last year and I was cam­paign­ing. I thought, ‘This was a guy who didn’t think I could do any­thing, and here I am.’ ”

This ses­sion, El­freth wants to es­tab­lish her­self as a “bay se­na­tor.” She’ll be cospon­sor­ing a new for­est con­ser­va­tion act and re­new­able en­ergy port­fo­lio stan­dards while spon­sor­ing bills seek­ing greater penal­ties on stormwa­ter runoff from devel­op­ment sites and strength­en­ing the fish­eries man­age­ment process.

She’s also look­ing for a change to agro-tourism laws that would al­low for barn wed­dings and events. Right now events held in barns are lim­ited to 50 peo­ple.

With years of ex­pe­ri­ence and months of prepa­ra­tion, she still wor­ries about how the next 90 days will turn out.

“It’s like drink­ing out of a fire hose. Ev­ery­thing goes in 1,000 dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions when it comes to pol­icy ar­eas,” El­freth said. “The hard­est thing about this job so far is go­ing to be telling peo­ple ‘no.’ There are leg­is­la­tors from across the state work­ing on re­ally great is­sues who are go­ing to need a co-spon­sor or a pri­mary spon­sor or a cross-file. I want to make sure the bills I’m spon­sor­ing as pri­mary, I can speak to them.”

High bar, lofty goals

Back in the House of Del­e­gates, Bag­nall has sim­i­lar con­cerns about speak­ing to what she can do this ses­sion. She keeps most of the cards of her agenda close to her chest.

“I ac­tu­ally have a pol­icy of never open­ing my mouth be­fore I’m 85 per­cent cer­tain of what I’m go­ing to say,” the Arnold Demo­crat said.

As part of the Health and Gov­ern­ment Op­er­a­tions Com­mit­tee, she’s seek­ing so­lu­tions for the opi­oid cri­sis and on mak­ing health care more af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble. The big­gest is­sue in the fore­front will be tack­ling the price of pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions.

“We are pric­ing out qual­ity af­ford­able health care,” Bag­nall said. “That’s go­ing to be mas­sive.”

She knows she has a big learn­ing curve to over­come, but she isn’t wor­ried. She’s ea­ger to get to work.

“If I was afraid of ed­u­ca­tion and re­search and hard work, I wouldn’t have run in the first place. Es­pe­cially in a dis­trict that was so chal­leng­ing,” she said. “I’m go­ing to be spend­ing a lot of time in the li­brary. One of the chal­lenges is go­ing to be del­e­gat­ing that re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause I love it so much. I know with 3,000 bills a ses­sion I can’t solely do the re­search.”

Bag­nall’s ca­reer up to this point has been in the arts and theater world, and her of­fice is filled with art­work from friends, fam­ily and con­stituents. A paint­ing be­hind her desk is the first piece of art she was able to af­ford to buy to sup­port a friend. It’s a re­minder of how far she’s come and how much work it takes to in­vest in her com­mu­nity.

“The chal­lenge for me is go­ing to make sure I do keep my work­load re­al­is­tic, though I will keep my goals lofty. Even if you fall short, you’ve still made so much ground just by set­ting the bar high.”

Uni-cul­ture

Just around the cor­ner, Bartlett sits in her of­fice sur­rounded by vases of brightly col­ored spring flow­ers. Like El­freth’s mug, they’re also a re­cent birth­day gift.

“(My staff ) al­ready know, I like flow­ers and choco­late,” she laughed. “It changes my en­tire mood.”

Fight­ing for suc­cess this ses­sion is just as much phys­i­cal as it is po­lit­i­cal. That starts with lis­ten­ing harder to suc­ceed in the House, she said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, I have to strain my ears be­cause I’m sit­ting in the back. But that’s OK,” she said.

She’ll need a new pre­scrip­tion for her glasses to keep up with all the leg­is­la­tion she plans to read. To keep her body and mind func­tion­ing at its high­est level, she’s drink­ing lots of wa­ter and lim­it­ing her meat in­take. She’s made a plan not to eat at ev­ery re­cep­tion.

“Some will just be hello and wa­ter.” She’s got a bright, warm de­meanor to match the pas­tel col­ors of her of­fice, but Bartlett is ready to take on some heavy leg­is­la­tion. She’s got her sights on a bill that would change pro­tec­tive or­ders to in­clude date rape. Pro­tec­tion af­ter date rape is filed as a peace order un­der cur­rent leg­is­la­tion.

Gun bill is­sues are also high on her pri­or­ity in light of re­cent mass shoot­ings around the na­tion, in­clud­ing the Cap­i­tal Gazette news­room shoot­ing in June.

“Let’s keep peo­ple alive,” Bartlett said. “That’s my goal.”

With the na­tion more di­vided than ever, she’s look­ing to make this ses­sion about elim­i­nat­ing what she calls “uni-cul­ture.”

“There’s a lot of hate that is de­vel­op­ing. I am very con­cerned about peo­ple los­ing their ci­vil­ity. As Amer­ica, we are based upon an ex­change of ideas and dif­fer­ences. I en­joyed that, I love that,” she said.

“Now … every­one has to look the same, act the same, be the same. That scares me. I will be look­ing for bills that even have any type of un­der­tone lean­ing to­ward uni-cul­ture. I can’t see my­self sup­port­ing it.”

PHO­TOS BY JOSHUA MCKERROW/CAP­I­TAL GAZETTE

Del. Heather Bag­nall, D-Arnold, laughs with Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buck­ley at the open­ing day of the Mary­land Gen­eral As­sem­bly in Annapolis on Wed­nes­day. Af­ter de­feat­ing Tony McCon­key in Novem­ber, Bag­nall flipped a seat that had been Re­pub­li­can for 20 years.

Del. Sandy Bartlett, D-Mary­land City, is the first African-Amer­i­can woman to rep­re­sent Anne Arun­del in the House.

State Sen. Sarah El­freth, D-Annapolis, is the youngest woman to be a Mary­land se­na­tor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.