ANNAPOLIS – With only four days to go in the General Assembly session, Delegate Curt Anderson waited patiently amid the House bustle to speak for a bill he’d followed from a distance throughout the session.
The bill, up for preliminary approval Thursday morning, would give broadcasters an advantage in court if they want to work in the same market after leaving a television or radio station that held them to a noncompete clause in a job contract.
Now, opponents wanted to give the advantage back to employers.
Anderson, a journalist-come-lawmaker, rose to defend the bill, recalling for the members how a binding contract had changed the course of his career 20 years ago.
He never intended to cry.
In 1976, Anderson was working at the Baltimore Urban League when his neighbor, the news director at WBAL-TV, suggested he try out to be a general assignment reporter at the station. Though his wife, Marcia, was pregnant with their first child and the reporting job paid less, he agreed to the audition and was hired for a 90-day probationary period.
He developed a passion for crafting a story from reels of video and audio feed. When he was offered an anchor position at WMAR-TV in 1980, he jumped at the opportunity, signing a three-year contract with a noncompete clause for the Baltimore market.
Two years later, failed negotiations between the broadcaster’s union and WMAR ended in a strike. Anderson’s marriage succumbed to many pressures as his job security was threatened, and he and Marcia separated.
On the picket line for nearly three months, Anderson and his fellow strikers watched for reporters going out to cover stories and followed them, disrupting them and building a bad reputation with management. When the strike ended, he was fired.
The noncompete clause in his contract kept Anderson from capitalizing on his popularity in Baltimore, though job offers came from Boston and Atlanta. He couldn’t move Marcia, a public school teacher, whether or not they were separated, and he refused to be away from or move his children.
He was torn between his family and his career – he didn’t consider it a choice. He stayed with his family, though he and Marcia eventually divorced.
Emotion flooded him as he spoke to the House about the experience that led him to public service, where now he had the opportunity to give others a choice he never had.
Overwhelmed with the power of that decision more than two decades ago, Anderson’s voice broke as he asked the body to defeat the amendment. Fighting tears, he apologized to the Speaker and abruptly took his seat, unable to finish his argument.
His fellow members fell silent, a rare break in the din of the chamber.
The vote was called.
A dozen verbal yeas for the amendment, over 100 robust nos, and the bill took one step closer to bringing a choice to Maryland broadcasters.