House's Miss Manners Gives New Delegates A Few Etiquette Lessons

By Ovetta Wiggins and Lisa Rein
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Don't offer resolutions for a constituent's birthday -- unless he or she is turning 90 or older. Don't put food in your desk, or you might be greeted by a mouse the next time you arrive. Talk to your pages! And definitely don't murmur the words "Jesus Christ" when you offer a prayer to open a session.

These were some of the dictums of protocol on the House of Delegates floor offered to freshmen Friday by the master of rules, Mary Monahan.

The chief clerk's lessons for the 34 new delegates in an orientation session in the House chamber was stern but loving.

If it's the session's end "and we've got bills in conference committee and flying all around, and you say, 'I want to offer a resolution right now,' you probably will be locked out of the clerk's office for a long time," Monahan told the new lawmakers, who sat in rapt attention.

Monahan, a 34-year veteran of the clerk's office, quickly added: "It's fun. I love this place."

The delegates made various queries. Saqib Ali, a Democrat from Gaithersburg, asked whether he could tape the House seating chart to his desk for easy reference as he learns the names of his 140 colleagues. He was told no. Tape it inside the desk, Monahan said, because you'll have too much other paper on top.

Melvin L. Stukes, a Democrat from Baltimore who described himself as very spiritual and a potential leader in prayer, asked how religious he could be. Just don't say Jesus Christ, he was told, because a lot of faiths are represented in the House.

The freshmen were given a history lesson on the mace, a wooden symbol of the independence and authority of the House dating to legislative proceedings of the 1620s. Frank M. Conaway Jr., another Baltimore Democrat, asked whether the relic, which sits in the lower rostrum of the House chamber, is hollow. It's not.

The delegates were told to stand tall when they introduce an amendment to a bill on the floor. They itched for details on parliamentary procedure, such as how much a bill can change on its second reading.

"We're not even going to go there until you've got this stuff down," Monahan told them. Another class was scheduled for this week.

Committee to Vet Treasurer Candidates

The process to select a state treasurer has begun, but despite an earlier push for a Prince George's County candidate, few lawmakers expect Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) to lose her spot.

Last week, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) named members of a special joint legislative committee that will interview candidates for the position, which will be advertised in newspapers. Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) are co-chairmen.

The state treasurer is appointed to a four-year term by the General Assembly. Each member has one vote, and because there are more members in the House of Delegates, the position will be decided there. Kopp, who served for 27 years in the House before becoming treasurer in 2002, has Busch's support. That, observers say, should be enough to secure her another term.

The treasurer sits on the Board of Public Works, and Prince George's officials have raised questions about whether the three-member panel is as diverse as it could be -- geographically and racially.

If Kopp, a former Montgomery County legislator, is reselected as treasurer, all three members of the Board of Public Works will have Montgomery ties. The other two members, Peter Franchot (D), incoming comptroller, is a former Montgomery delegate, and Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley (D) was raised in the county.

And all three are white. Some in Prince George's, who expressed disappointment over the lack of diversity on the statewide Democratic ticket in the fall, suggested that the legislature choose an African American as treasurer.

Middleton said he had heard the opinion that the statewide offices are "not representative enough" of the state's diversity.

But, he said, "there are also not enough women. Do you remove a woman?"

McFadden's Pro Tem Post Makes History

With one swift swing of a gavel, Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore City) made state history Friday.

McFadden, who was recently selected to serve as Senate president pro tem, becomes the first African American to hold that position.

On Friday, he stood in for Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who was at a conference.

"Have patience with me, folks," McFadden said as he stood at the podium, going through the day's order of business.

Before the short session ended, Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery) stood to make note of the significance of McFadden standing in as the Senate president.

"On this Martin Luther King weekend . . . I'd like to give a round of applause for this historic moment," she said.

The senators gave McFadden a standing ovation.

"Thank you," McFadden said. "That sort of took the butterflies out of me."

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