Charlie Smith admits that he was probably naive, thinking that he could come to the state legislature as a freshman delegate and help pass good laws and defeat had ones.
Smith, 28, a Democrat from Frederick County, is just four-year term, and already he is on the verge of giving it up and returning to his heating and air conditioning business.
It's not that he has found the Maryland General Assembly to be corrupt, although he admits that "it bothers me" that his governor and a fellow committee member are under federal indictments.
It's not the "financial beating" he takes because the annual salary of $12,500 ($653 a month take home) is less than he'd make if he stayed home in Brunswick and ran his small business.
It's not even that he gets only a few minutes each morning to play with his 6-months-old daughter, Deanne Marie, before he must kiss wife Judy goodbye and hop in his Chevy for the 100-minute trip to the state capital.
Nor does it bother him that a senior member of his delegation has scolded him for not being a "team player," explaining that the way to legislative success is to "sit back and be quiet" for a few years.
"It's mainly frustration," falling short of the possible, justifying the end without caring about the means.
The opportunity for misbehavior exists, Smith learned early in his fledgling political career. He accepted - and still does - dinners and drinks with lobbyists, but drew the line when one large organization invited him to speak at a meeting - in Jamaica.
"And I'm not that good a speaker," laughed Smith, who turned down the offer, saying "it's one thing to accept a $10 dinner, something else to take a $1,000 trip."
He recalled that shortly after his first session, in 1975, House Speaker John Hanson Briscoe and Sen. Edward Thomas (R-Frederick) went to Rome for some meeting. "That's wrong," Smith said.
Part of his problem, he said, is his realization that legislation often lives or dies "not on merit, but because who is behind it."
Case in point: Smith sponsored a bill last year that would have upgraded the office of State People's Counsel from a part-time to full-time job, and increased the membership of the Public Service Commission from there to five members.
He pushed the bill through the House Economic Matters Committee and won approval of the full House, only to see it die in the Senate.
When it got to the upper house, Smith learned from Sen. Harry McGuirk (D-Baltimore) that it was going to be shelved in favor of a similar proposal that was being introduced in behalf of the governor. Smith met with Ronald Schreiber, one of the governor's lobbyists, who explained provisions of the administration's bill.
It was nearly identical to his own, Smith learned, except that the PSC would have three full-time members and two part-time members, from Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
"That was my one major piece of legislation," Smith complained to Schreiber. The governor's aide told the freshman delegate "we'll allow you to be a cosponsor in the House." But when the Mandel bill breezed through the House, on its way to enactment, there was no mention of Smith.
Yesterday Smith sat through a four hour meeting of his Economic Affairs Committee, sometimes asking questions, ocasionally expressing an the conservatives bloc, which makes up about half of the 24-person committee.
After it ended, Smith admitted that "sure, it isn't right" that one of the committee's member, Del. George J. Santoni (D-Baltimore) serves in the legislature while free under $50,000 bail awaiting trial on U.S. charges of extortion and filling a false income tax return.
Santoni, 37, also a first-term delegate, has two previous criminal convictions for assault on his ex-wife and for false pretenses.
Smith also believes that public officials should "disclose everthying". So his most recent financial disclosure statement on file with the Maryland secretary of state includes such optional information as the amount of life insurance an the make and model of his vehicles.
Earlier Thursday the committee listened to lobbyists for public utilities argue against a bill that would prohibit them from including in their monthly bills statements that "promote or defeat" proposals that could affect their rates, such as positions on nuclear energy.
George Della, former Senate president, appeared as a lobbyist for the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., and made a speech what "didn't make sense," Smith said. But Della "doesn't need to waste his time talking to lowly legislator, Smith said.
"The good ones, (lobbyists) are not worried about us - they deal with higher authorities," such as House Speaker John Hanson Briscoe and Gov. Mandel.
Lobbyists serve an important function, even though they tell only one side of a story, Smith said. "They have the time and the resources to check out a bill," said Smith, who admits that he doesn't understand.
"We passed one bill last year that I don't think one member of our committee understood," Smith said. Another time, he recalled, then committee chairman, Martin Becker, told the members to "trust me" as he pushed through a complicated insurance bill in the closing days of the session without debate.
His biggest gripe and the problem that may cause him not to seek reelection, is that "the same bills keep coming up year after year." There is no such thing as beating a bill, Smith said, if the sponsor is energetic. He just reintroduces it the next year and the same set of time wasting hearings begins anew.
Smith hasn't given up on the process. He will defer his decision until it is time to seek a second term, in 1978. He may not to be satisfied with his own performance, but he wonders aloud "who will take your place, how he will vote?"