When Del. Robin Ficker of Montgomery County stood up in the House of Delegated about two weeks ago to support legislation banning junk food in schools, one proponent of the measure said to himself, "The bill is dead . . . I mean, if I had a bill I wanted killed the first thing I'd do is persuade Robin Ficker to speak for it."
The next day, outside the House chamber, Del. Luiz Simmons, like Ficker a Montgomery County Republican, was surrounded by about a dozen of his colleagues who came to shake his hand after he lost a hard-fough struggle to push through his bill on campaign financing reform.
More than any of the other 51 freshman delegates in Annapolis, Simmons and Ficker made names for themselves during the past session by trying to play David for some of the legislature's most formidable Goliaths.
Now, with the battles over, Simmons has emerged with a paradoxical reputation. His early mastery of the legislative craft won him admiration, but his fiery stubbornness in the last week earned him some powerful enemies. Nonetheless, legislators agree he is a force to be reckoned with.
Ficker, on the other hand, ended the session as he began it-relegated to the outskirts of major events, an irritant to colleagues who felt he was more interested in attention than accomplishment.
Ficker is known for popping up on the House floor and asking long, protracted questions, sometimes about the most minor issues-questions which not only provoked yawns among his colleagues, but a considerable amount of exasperation at times.
"I think you've got to understand that when you come to Annapolis, you've got to move from being a campaigner to being a legislator. And Robin has not yet made the transition," said one of Ficke r's Montgomery County colleagues, who asked not to be named.
Simmons, on the other hand spoke on the House floor on only two issues all session-the D.C. voting rights amendment and a controversial bill he sponsored to prohibit most corporations doing business with the state from making political contributions.
Both Ficker and Simmons, who openly hope to win higher office, seemed to find a niche for themselves during the session as part of a coalition of 12 freshman delegates, all of whom served on the House committee that studied ethics legislation for public officials.
Simmons emerged as the leader of that group when they banded together in an unusual and surprisingly effective move to try and force the leadership to strengthen th e ethics bill. But Ficker, who always has been something of a political loner, refused at the last minute to stick with the group.
When the freshmen decided that they had made their point about the ethics bill and it was time to back off, Ficker alone continued the crusade, much to the annoyance of his fellow freshmen.
Despite Ficker's unpredictability, the Republicans in the legislature are quick to defend him. "I think there's a place for people like Robin Ficker in the legislature. He'll get up and ask questions when nobody else will" said Sen. Howard Denis (R-Montgomery), noting that Ficker was the first delegate to charge openly on the House floor that there were "pork barrel" projects in the capital budget.
Unlike Simmons, Ficker seemed handicapped from the start by a reputation that preceded him. Many delegates had heard stories about the Democrat-turned-Independent-turend-Republican who had spent the last 10 years campaigning, ofeter flamboyantly, for public office.
These tales of the past soon were overshadowed by Ficker's performance on the legislature's opening day. Before the day was out he rose to criticize the Assembly's leadership and the attorney general's office for not moving faster in making a decision on whether to seat a delegate whose residency had been challenged.
Ficker added that, on the basis of his own investigation, he believed the delegation should be seated.
"He sort of blew it for himself on the first day," recalled one Baltimore delegate. "He was acting like judge, jury and prosecutor before the House even had a chance to look into the matter."
In the weeks that followed, Ficker's persistent questioning of everything from major bills to minor resolutions solidified his reputation as agadfly.
Ficker said of himself: "I may purposely take a stance different from the leadership; the adversary process brings out the truth."
At another point Ficker said that he shrugs it off when some of his colleagues poke fun at him. "At least I know I'm noticed. There are a lot of people in Annapolis who would like some recognition."
Simmons, like Ficker, wasted little time getting attention during the session. Despite his status as a freshman Republican, Simmons was able to win enactment of two of his own measures: one providing pharmacists with greater incentives to stock low-cost generic drugs, and another requiring state agencies to set up a formal process for handling citizen complaints.
His later leadership of the freshman rebellion over the ethics measure nettled some of the same House leaders who had been impressed with Simmon's early work.
Simmon says, "I don't see myself as a rabble-rouser . . . As a Republican I can ask questions and raise issues other people are not willing to raise.
"I think it's clear I'm not going far in the Democratic leadership. A Democrat would have had a lot more to lose than I did [from the rebellion]." CAPTION: Picture 1, ROBIN FICKER...an irritant to his colleagues; Picture 2, LUIZ SIMMONS...spoke on only two issues