ANNAPOLIS – At the midpoint of the 1995 Maryland legislative session, freshman Del. Frank S. Turner says he’s had a tough, interesting learning process.
“You can read about it,” the Howard County Democrat says of state government, “and that’s very important. But when you’re actually living it, it’s another thing altogether.”
More experienced lawmakers say that Turner, 47, is making the grade by doing his job very carefully.
“I think he’s taking a very cautious view towards his work down here in Annapolis,” says Del. John S. Morgan, R-Prince George’s. “I think that’s appropriate. If you think you swim in shark-infested waters, it’s best to just put your toe in first.”
Turner was moved to run for office by his belief in the importance of community service. But he stresses that service must be performed “in a responsible manner.”
To explain, the former Howard County Orphan’s Court judge points to the House Judiciary Committee, of which he is a member.
“We have a lot of bills that come through Judiciary,” he says. “A lot of them are really bad bills. [I want] to go through and find the ones that really are going to help…not only our community, but the state too.”
He lists the issues important to him:
– Getting school construction money for Howard County.
– Ending the state legislative scholarship program.
– Expanding opportunities for small businesses and creating jobs.
Turner has sponsored two bills of his own. One, involving customer refunds for returned goods, was killed in the House Economic Matters Committee. The other, involving Howard County school nurses, was withdrawn because it could not be scheduled for a local public hearing.
He has co-sponsored “about half a dozen” other bills, a number with which he is comfortable.
“I will never be one that will just be putting in bills like I see some people doing,” Turner says. “Legislators think that to be successful they’ve got to have 25 bills going in every year. I don’t think you need to do that.”
Saying no, he says, is part of the job.
Turner had the good fortune to campaign while there were two seats available and no incumbents. One seat was vacated when 16- year House veteran Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, was elected to the Senate. Another became available because of redistricting.
“It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and having the background and experience to move to a new level,” Turner says.
He doesn’t think his victory – as an African-American in a district that is 80 percent white – made him special.
Although he appreciates the honor, “I don’t see this as something that…sets me apart from anyone else within the community,” Turner says.
He doubts he experienced the same rush others feel in winning their first election, and attributes this to earlier political experience.
From 1986 to 1993, he worked for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., as deputy campaign manager and special assistant for small business.
Turner, comparing state to federal government, says he misses the computers, equipment and staff of a congressional office. But in Annapolis, he says, “we seem to get a lot done.”
His colleagues say that is in part a tribute to him.
Sen. Martin G. Madden, R-Howard, says Turner not only is seen at official delegation meetings, but gets around to the unofficial duties as well.
He recalls a Monday 7:30 a.m. Howard County school board meeting:
“Monday mornings are generally the time we [legislators] have to ourselves. But Frank was there the entire time, listening to the school board’s concerns and having a good dialogue.”
Neither the hard work nor the listening skills are a surprise to people who have known Turner for years.
North Carolina state Sen. Frank W. Ballance Jr. remembered Turner from their collegiate days during a telephone interview from Raleigh:
“He was just the kind of person you felt very comfortable meeting and talking to. He was always willing to spend time with people.”
And Delroy Cornick, professor emeritus at Morgan State University in Baltimore, recalls Turner’s drive:
“We were both in the same department. I was his chairman. Then when I went away and came back, he was chairman. He’s a hard worker.”
Ballance believes Turner’s service will be a counterweight to the negative image of politicians.
“I’m looking for him to get on up to Congress,” he adds. “Frank has that kind of makeup.” When the General Assembly is not in session, Turner, a Columbia resident, is an assistant professor in the School of Business and Management at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He holds bachelor’s and law degrees from North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C. He and his wife, Leslie, have two sons, Frank II, 21, and Terrence, 14. -30-