ANNAPOLIS – Most classes touring the State House are full of jean-clad students, but one touring this week is dressed in suits. It’s made of 37 newcomers to the Senate and House of Delegates, who are learning the basics along with more complicated concepts six weeks before the start of the 1999 session.
Among the simpler lessons taught were how to cast votes on the electronic scoreboards and to navigate the underground tunnels beneath the State House complex. Tougher classroom lectures touched on filing annual financial reports and reading state budgets.
Most in the class of 11 women and 26 men couldn’t hide their exuberance Tuesday as they settled into their seats on the House and Senate floors and tinkered with desk phones and voting buttons.
“To sit in that seat, it’s just hard to explain,” said Democrat Mary Rosso of Anne Arundel County. “I finally made it.”
Rosso said she thought about November’s tense moments as she took her place. Rosso was declared the winner by only 18 votes on Nov 16. She said she couldn’t savor the victory, though. Her husband of 42 years died two days later of complications from diabetes.
Sen.-elect J. Robert Hooper, a Republican representing Harford and Cecil counties, said the import of the election hit him when he sat in the chamber alone on a recent evening.
“Looking up at these walls, I thought, `It’s tremendous to be a part of history,’ ” he said.
For some, the orientation brought back old memories.
Mary Dulany-James, a Harford County delegate-elect, said she learned her way around the capital buildings as a child, visiting her father, former Maryland Senate President William S. James.
“But it certainly is very different coming here as a daughter [than] coming as a delegate,” the Democrat said.
Others were a bit less familiar with the maze of corridors beneath the complex.
“So we’re underneath the street now?” said state Sen.-elect Alexander X. Mooney, using the tour guide’s floor plan to get his bearings. The 27-year-old Republican will represent Washington and Frederick counties.
Many of the freshmen interviewed said they were ready for long work hours, having survived grueling campaign schedules.
“I’m a workaholic,” Hooper said. “Eighteen hours is the norm for me.”
Several said they are making plans to stay at hotels in Annapolis during the 90-day session to avoid long commutes after long days.
But Sen.-elect Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican and a physician, said he will do his best to make it home every night in time for his 2-year-old son’s bedtime.
Even though the orientation is designed for first-year legislators, many second-term and established members showed up to learn, meet the newcomers and reminisce.
Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, said watching the freshmen made him think about what it means to no longer be the new kid on the block.
“When you get elected the first time, you’re kind of thinking to yourself, `Maybe this is a fluke,’ ” Morhaim said. “When you’re reelected, it’s affirming, but then you wonder how much of an impact you’ve made.”
Hattie N. Harrison, a Baltimore Democrat who is entering her sixth four-year term, said she wants to pass on the words of advice given to her by two experienced legislators when she was new in the House.
“Don’t try and introduce legislation your first session. Be a people watcher. Watch and listen to how it’s done,” Harrison said.
Freshman Delegate-elect Wendell F. Phillips, a Baltimore Democrat, said for he will do just that. “I need to get the lay of the land,” he said. Phillips has other matters on his mind. He’s preparing for his wedding day, Dec. 26. -30-