The scene is the first-floor hallway of the Thomas Hunter Lowe House offce building. A lobbyist who for nearly a decade has been watching and adjusting to political trends in the Maryland legislature is shaking his head and wincing as he enters a committee room where one of his bills is about to be considered.
"Watch the freshmen," says the lobbuist in a deep, conspiratorial whisper. "I hear they're getting together to start a rebellion around here. They are talking about taking over."
Switch now to the second floor of the same building. A freshman delegate is at his desk, examining a rester of the 1979 House of Delegates. He marks an F under the name of every freshman and an 1 under the name of every veteran who in his judgment has the independence of a freshman. There are 53 F's and 11 I's out of a roster of 141.
"It's significant to note the number," says the freshman delegate. "Potentially there are more of us than any other group in the General Assembly. All we need is an issue or two and we can get on the map very quickly."
On the surface, the fears of the lobbyist and the hopes of the freshman head-counter can be justified. The newcomers have indeed attempted to band together -- for the first time in memory -- by forming what they call the New Legislative Caucus. And their sheer numbers are impressive, constituting more than 40 percent of the House of Delegates membership, the largest percentage of freshmen in state annals.
But judging from the events of the first five weeks of this session, they do not seem to have the desire to rebel seriously against the leadership, the capability to grab power and any sort of issue on which they can agree.
"I've heard some talk about us being like the 1974 class in Congress, where the freshmen came in and shook things up," said Charles J. (Buzz) Ryan, a new delegate from Bowie. "But it's not like that here at all. We don't have a seniority system to challenge. I don't see my any Old Guard versus New Guard issues."
Some of Rayan's freshman colleagues thought they had such an issue last week, but quickly learned otherwise. The testing ground was the House Committee on Constitutional and Administrative Law, which has 15 freshmen among its 22 members.
At its first voting seaaion, the committee considered a bill that would make it easier for the public to know precisely where every delegate stood on legislative pay raises. Under the current policy, a special committee recommends legislative salary increases, which go into effect automaticlly even if the General Assembly votes against them. That is exactly what happened last year, in the last session before the election.
"A lot freshmen made this an issue in our campaigns," said freshman Del. Walter J. Shandrowky (D-Anne Arundel), one of the bill's sponsors. "It wasn't that the public opposed the raises, just the way they were achieved. It was virtually impossible to tell whether a legislator opposed or suported the raises."
Robin Ficker, a freshman Republican from Montgomery County who serves on the committee and is the secretary of the New Legislative Caucus, said he hoped the bill would be a rallying point for the freshmen. "This bill," said Ficker, "can give the legislature a new look, a progressive look."
The bill was killed by a 17-to-4 vote. Ten freshmen voted against it.
Although Ficker, a gadfly by nature, sees the freshmen as a political force, the cochairmen of the caucus -- William Burgess, a Democrat from Baltimore County, and Constance Morella, a Repubican from Montgomery County -- say the last thing they want is for it to be considered a breeding ground for rebellion.
"I see it as a frnctional tool, so we don't waste the first year just struggling to get around," said Burgess. "I want to meke it clear that we're not antagonistic toward the leadership."
Burgess and Morella met with House Speaker Benjamin Cardin and Majority Leader Donald Robertson last week to present them with that message. "They were very receptive," said Burgess. "They said they would do every they can to help us."
There are some things, however, that even the most receptive leadership cannot do for a freshman. Del. Anthony Cicoria, a bocling trophy saoesman from Hyattsville, learned that last week at the first voting session of the Environmental Matters Committee.
Cicoria entered the meeting rncertain about how he would vote on a bill that would require trucks to cover their loads. He realized that it was an important bill because so many lobbyists wanted to talk to him about it. But Cicoria also understood that he was not supposed to talk to too many lobbuists. "Hey, if they push me," he would say again and again, "I'll tell those lobbuists I'm against 'em."
Minutes before the vote, Cicoria was still struggling with his decision He solicited advice from other freshmen, even from reporters. First he tried to offer an amendment that he thought would satisfy the conflicting intersets. When that failed, and his name was called for the final vote, Cicoria abstained. The bill lost by one vote. He tried to change his vote, but the chairman would not allow it.
Fir the next voting session of his committee, Cicoria's seatmates noticed that he came well prepared. He brought a list of all bills to be considered that day and marked U -- for unfavorable -- next to the bills he would oppose, F -- for favorable -- next to those he would support.
Another Prince George's Country freshman, Thomas Mooney of Takoma Park, is liarning a lesson of another sort during his first session. Mooney, as he explained at a meeting of the New Legislative Caucus, campaigned last year as a "hell raiser," incessantly attacking the Democratic organization in his county and marking himself as a "new breed" progressive.
Mooney's colleagues from Prince George's rarely miss a chance lto ridicule his rhetoric.Last Friday, at a delegation meeting, Mooney was champifull voting rights on the county school board. "Students are consumers," he said, in his high-pitched, Irish voice. "they're always the first ones sacririced."
"Ah, the old social justice theme," said delegation chairman Robert Redding, as the room echoed with laughter.
"Hey, Mooney, you still campaigning?" barked another deleggate.
In their campaigns, many freshmen such as Mooney portrayed Annapolis as a place dominated by venal and backward men. Then, when they got here, they found a new governor, Harry Hughes, who arrived with a similar message, and a leadership that included only a few holdovers from the Old Guard.
"I would conclude that there's less friction between freshmen and the others than I anticipated," said Del. David Bird (D-Prince George's). "But from what I hear, this is the most boring session in years. There might be a correlation there somewhere."