ANNAPOLIS – James Rzepkowski is like many 23-year-olds.
Throat-deep in debt from college loans, he still lives at homewith his parents.
But while he may not hold the title to a house, he boasts anofficial title. Rzepkowski, R-Anne Arundel, is a Marylanddelegate.
And he’s not the only member of the so-called Generation Xin the General Assembly. Six of the 188 lawmakers sworn in lastmonth are age 30 or younger.
The others, all members of the House of Delegates, are:Victoria Schade, 24, R-Anne Arundel; Kenneth Schisler, 25, R-Caroline; Dereck Davis, 28, D-Prince George’s; Peter Hammen, 29,D-Baltimore and Matthew Mossburg, 27, R-Montgomery.
The legislature was once the domain of those middle-aged andolder. But it’s getting younger. The 30 to 39 group holds themost members in 1995, while just a year ago the 50 to 59 groupwas the largest.
Rzepkowski “knew in my heart that I wanted to be alegislator” after he interned for fellow Anne Arundel RepublicanSen. John Cade. “I had to decide whether to sit back and age oruse my talents and take my chances.”
Schade is already an Annapolis veteran, with one year’sexperience as an intern for the House Minority Office and threeyears as a legislative aide.
“While I was working, I thought someday I’ll run,” she says.”I didn’t think the delegates in my district were representingthe people well enough, so I ran.”
But being young did not make for an easy race, she says:”The press didn’t seem to like that I was running at my age, andthey were critical. I don’t think they took me seriously; theythought I had no chance of winning.”
Schisler became the General Assembly’s youngest-ever memberin 1991, at age 21. Today, he’s just three years older than hisintern.
Schisler says his youth never stirred much reaction — withone notable exception.
“With my colleagues, there was no problem,” he says. “Themedia was the problem.”
A circus of cameras and reporters followed him his first fewdays in the legislature, he recalls. “I guess I was a noveltykind of thing. Any legislator would have killed for theattention, but I purposefully tried to stay out of thelimelight.
“I knew I wouldn’t gain respect if I was a showboat.”
He got that respect. This session, Schisler chairs theEastern Shore Delegation.
“Young or old, votes are as valuable as anyone’s down here — they all weigh equally,” he says. “What matters are your ideas,your ideology.”
Rzepkowski, who initially thought his older constituentswould be the hardest to win over, says people in their 50s and60s “absolutely loved the fact that I was younger. They werethrilled to get young blood — that’s what they kept tellingme.”
Schade says she also received a warm reception from oldervoters. “They thought it was great and told me, `We need to getthe old fogies out of there,'” she says.
Rzepkowksi says his colleagues jokingly chide him for makingthem feel old, but treat him fairly. “I don’t think I have beenin a situation where my age was not an issue, but it was neverheld against me,” he says.
Schade says people still ask who she works for. “Mycolleagues at this point know who I am, but some people who don’tknow me just assume I must be staff,” she says.
If one thing worries Rzepkowski about being a younglegislator, he says, it’s losing perspective.
“Too much of this is not real,” he says about thelegislature. “I’m fortunate I can come home because if I ever gota little too big, I know [my family] would bring me back downwhere I belong.”
During a time when career politicians have fallen fromfavor, do the young legislators feel stigmatized?
Schade, who does not hold another job outside thelegislature, says she is seeking work for after the sessionbecause “I don’t want to be a career politician.”
Schisler, who works for his family’s grocery business, says”Being seen as a career politician is a concern I have, quitehonestly. I don’t know how far I want to take politics, but Iknow I want to be successful outside of politics as well.”
Rzepkowski, a State Farm Insurance associate, says he cannotpredict what he will do next.
“I might decide this is not what I want to do,” he says. “Istarted this backwards – maybe my next stop will be on the locallevel.” Then he points out his window at the governor’s mansion, andsays, smiling, “I like that house across the street.” -30-