After 32 Years, a Hiatus, Not a Halt

Ida Ruben, 78, who spent three decades in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate, is not ready to retire.
Ida Ruben, 78, who spent three decades in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate, is not ready to retire. "I prefer working," she said. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2007

Every year since 1975, on the first day of the Maryland General Assembly's new session, Ida G. Ruben would walk up the steps to the Capitol and take her place among the state legislators.

She started in the House of Delegates and in 1987 moved to the Senate, where she rose to president pro tem. Over the years she became one of the most powerful members of the legislature, the chairman of the Montgomery County delegation and one of the longest-serving members of the General Assembly.

But yesterday, as the legislators gathered once again in Annapolis, Ruben was not among them. She was defeated in last year's Democratic primary by Jamie Raskin, an American University law professor who argued that District 20, which covers parts of Silver Spring and Takoma Park, needed a more progressive representative.

Ruben's plans for the first day of the legislative session were still up in the air last week -- though she said she would not go to Annapolis. Her plans for the future also are uncertain. But at 78, the Silver Spring resident said she is in no mood to retire.

"I'm hoping for some door to open," she said. "I prefer working."

She was elected to the House in 1974 after her husband, Leonard, vacated the seat to become a judge.

At first, it did not occur to her to run, Ruben recalled, and she encouraged a friend to seek the seat. The friend told her she was not interested and turned the tables on Ruben: "You ought to run," Ruben remembered her friend saying. "You've been working with your husband all this time."

So she did.

She was one of several women vying for a legislative seat that year who won. "That was really cracking the ceiling a little bit," she said. "There weren't many women in the legislature at the time."

In a body long dominated by men -- "a good old boys network," Ruben called it -- she started working on legislation designed to help women. She authored one of the first domestic violence bills in the state. It was passed, she recalled, after a parade of abused women came in to testify about their harrowing experiences with abusive husbands.

She also worked on a child support enforcement bill that cracked down on "deadbeat dads."

She tackled public health issues, such as placing restrictions on vending machines that sold cigarettes. And she spent five years pushing a tougher drunken driving law that changed the legal blood-alcohol limit to 0.08. And along the way, Ruben earned the reputation as a passionate legislator who was hard to turn down.

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