Out and About (Sort of): 90 Days Matter by Howard Freedlander

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Some years ago, former Congressman Bob Bauman, a Talbot County resident who once represented the First Congressional District, quipped that the American people were always in trouble when Congress was in session. The sharp-tongued United States representative used self-deprecation to describe democracy and the oft-criticized actions of our 535 federal legislators.

Rep. Bauman used humor to portray himself as a fiscal conservative who might not be as dangerous in budgetary matters as his associates.
I’ve often thought about Bauman’s crowd-pleasing comment when the Maryland General Assembly meets for its annual 90-day session. The 2017 session began last Wednesday, Jan. 11 and adjourns at midnight on Monday, April 10. Then, the 188 state legislators leave their “mischief” and return home.

Having worked with our state legislature for a large part of my career, I view our delegates and senators as public servants seriously conscientious about enacting legislation helpful to their constituents. I well understand that some disagree with me and question the value and motives of our state legislators.

I don’t. In fact, I would urge all citizens to watch what happens in Annapolis for three months.

Why do 90 days matter in our state capital?

Budget decisions affect the money going to our public school system. That’s critically important. New school construction and renovations only happen with state funds.

Non-profit capital projects in Talbot County and the Mid-Shore receive dollars due to the largesse of state legislators and the governor.

Money for new roads and bridges result from budget decisions made in Annapolis.

In this session, the General Assembly will decide whether to fund a study of a third Chesapeake Bay span. That’s unquestionably important decision for those who favor as well oppose expansion.

New rules and regulations concerning environmental matters and the health of the Chesapeake Bay are directly tied to legislative actions.

Funding for Program Open Space affects the preservation of farms and forests on the Eastern Shore.

There are so many issues that I haven’t mentioned, such as law enforcement, economic development, health care, higher education and workplace conditions, that fall under the purview of the Maryland General Assembly.

Does politics, both local, regional and state, play a role in the final products of an often divisive legislative session? Of course it does. It always has and always will. It’s the nature of the process.

Though our national epidemic of political polarization has infected deliberations in Annapolis, I believe it’s a little less pronounced, a little less poisonous. That’s my take, perhaps a bit naively.

We are now in the third year of the Hogan Administration. Typically, the Republicans and Democrats begin to position themselves for the 2018 gubernatorial and legislative elections. At times, deliberations over bills and policies resemble a slugfest.

The political environment will likely become toxic at times. Gov. Hogan will face off against Senate President Mike Miller and House of Delegates Speaker Mike Busch. The public will watch either with interest and glee or despair and disgust.

Your perspective depends on your political bent.

I recommend that citizens closely observe the machinations of our General Assembly. Bills passed and killed all have impact. They matter to individual and interest groups.

This column is not intended to be a clarion call for civic engagement. It’s meant to inform readers that the 90-days session has significant implications for all of us.

Notwithstanding former Congressman Bauman’s admonition, I recommend vigilance—and participation. Even a dash of admiration.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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