The brief discussions about a handful of transportation-related measures under consideration by the House of Delegates this week was unusual, not so much for what was being said as for who was saying it.
Standing in the back of the room, microphone in hand, Montgomery County Democrat Stewart Bainum Jr. was fielding questions, reciting the appropriate statistics and dollar figures and shepherding the bills toward preliminary approval -- an unlikely job to be given to a freshman delegate by his elders in the tradition-conscious House.
"He's very bright, very sincere, and he did an excellent job with those bills," said one fellow delegate who serves with Bainum on the House Ways and Means Committee.
To hear other delegates talk, Bainum has all the virtues of the best legislators Montgomery County has sent to Annapolis: energy, commitment, intelligence and an ability to work very hard.
Unfortunately, some of his colleagues say, he is plagued with some of the failings that have for years left Montgomery County delegates outside the clubby, fraternal world of State House politics: a quixotic tendency to fight battles which may be worthy but also are unwinnable.
Bainum, who says his long-range interest in Annapolis is to restructure the state's income tax laws to make them more progressive, also says he is postponing that goal in favor of "putting in just a couple of measures so I can get my feet wet and learn what can be done here and what can't."
So this year the 33-year-old from Silver Spring sponsored three measures -- two of which, both his detractors and admirers say, illustrate the simultaneous strengths and weaknesses of Bainum's legislative style.
Both measures were the fruits of Bainum's summer-long study of the Maryland Tax Code, a study undertaken because "I'm on the committee that deals with taxes." Both are designed to close what Bainum calls loopholes in the current Maryland tax laws.
Both of the measures expanded the recreation tax which the state now allows local jurisdictions to impose on all sorts of entertainment -- baseball games, miniature golf and bingo, for instance. One of the bills would have expanded the tax to cover bowling alleys, and the other would have allowed counties to tax country club membership fees.
When each bill came up for its hearing, Bainum and his staff had done so much research that an almost booklet-sized compendium of facts, figures, historical references and comparisons with other states was provided for his fellow Ways and Means Committee members.
During the hearing on the bowling tax, many of Bainum's colleagues complimented him on the thoroughness of his research. Neither bill, however, has come up for a vote in the weeks since the hearings were held, and neither bill is given any chance of winning committee approval. Too many legislators' constituents either bowl or belong to a local club or both.
Bainum finds the attitude of many of his fellow delegates disconcerting. "There seems to be a widespread mentality here of looking at things only in terms of how they affect your constituents," Bainum said.
". . . I really don't think the electorate votes for a candidate or against one on the basis of issues. I won all but one of the Catholic precincts in my district and I was on the wrong side of the two issues they asked me about: mabortion and parochial school aid.
"I think, right or wrong, the votes are more based on how you've stayed in touch, whether you're perceived as hard-working, things like that."
What has he learned about the workings of the House in the past two months, as he has watched his two most treasured bills languish in his own committee? "The jury's still out," he says, barely smiling.
"I haven't learned all I'm going to learn."