The members of the Maryland General Assembly, some wearing carnations and surrounded by children and spouses, convened for the 1983 session today and within minutes of being sworn in were sternly warned by their Democratic leaders that the 90 days ahead will be difficult ones.
Benjamin L. Cardin, making his fifth opening day speech as Speaker of the House of Delegates, criticized the Reagan administration's "misguided national economic strategy," and said, "today we seem to be moving from crisis to crisis without any clear direction. Our state--indeed our nation--needs a firm course charted during these difficult times." He also pointed to difficult times ahead because of the state's projected budget deficit.
On the other side of the statehouse's marble hallway, which was jammed with friends and relatives of the 188 legislators who today began four-year terms, newly elected Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg sounded the same theme as Cardin.
"In addressing the most important issue before this session--the tragic social dilemma of unemployment--we must use all of our skills and expertise to demonstrate to these unfortunate individuals that we are cognizant of their plight and intend to do something about it," Steinberg said.
Cardin and Steinberg echoed Gov. Harry Hughes, who has said the state must find $133 million to overcome a projected deficit in the 1984 fiscal budget that the legislature will adopt this session.
But this was not a day to haggle over budgets, over unemployment or over the thousands of bills that will come before the assembly during its annual session. This was a day for political rhetoric and terms such as "august body," "untold hours," "esteemed colleague," "tireless worker," and "fervent wish" bounced off the walls all day.
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George's) may have topped all the rhetoricians in his speech nominating Steinberg, which he rehearsed at length, when he called the new president "patriot, scholar, husband, father, man of the people, by the people and for the people."
It was also a day for 66 members, 50 in the House and 16 in the Senate, to take their seats for the first time, and to glow, have their pictures taken with the leaders and attend parties all over this small, historic capitol city. The party guests included Gov. Hughes, U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, U.S. representatives Steny H. Hoyer, a former state senate president, and Marjorie S. Holt, Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, and countless lobbyists.
The new legislators, who are the first ever elected in the same year that redistricting occurred, include more blacks, more women, fewer lawyers and one convicted felon, former Baltimore County executive Dale Anderson, who was released from prison in June 1976, after serving 13 months of a five-year jail term for political corruption. In November, he was easily elected to the House of Delegates.
The most notable losers in the redistricting were Baltimore City and Prince George's County. The city now has nine senators instead of 11 and 27 delegates instead of 33. Prince George's lost one of its eight senate seats and three of its 24 delegates.
The beneficiaries of redistricting include Howard, Anne Arundel, St. Mary's and Carroll counties.
A new member who illustrates how this legislature is different from the one elected in 1978 is Richard N. Dixon, a conservative, black Democrat who is the first member of his party elected to the legislature from Carroll County in 20 years.
Dixon, a 44-year-old stockbroker who lost in a bid for the house in 1978, ran this time only because the legislature created a new district.
He is a self-described fiscal conservative who says he will oppose tax increases that the governor has indicated may be needed to create the balanced budget required by the state's constitution.
Dixon typifies what the leadership has described as a freshman class that is more serious and independent-minded than those in the past, many of whom are fiscally conservative and concerned about issues larger than their district.
Dixon said that when he ran four years ago he took a parochial--and anti-Baltimore--approach to issues. This year, however, he said he broadened his focus, having learned that parochialism earns few votes and endorsements.
Although he has been courted by the black caucus, Dixon said he does not expect to participate in its meetings because he is conscious of the fact that he represents a district that is 98 percent white.
"The black caucus and my constituents are very different," Dixon said.
And he said he has no interest in the late-night Annapolis bar scene, where so many past freshmen have tried to ingratiate themselves with their more experienced colleagues. He plans to make the 80-minute commute home each night. He talks of making a name for himself in the manner that Speaker Cardin approves: Few parties, hard work in committee.
"I'm going to listen and learn," Dixon said, "but I do hope to have an impact by doing my homework and impressing my colleagues that I'm knowledgeable."
Like many freshmen, Dixon does not seem eager to tangle with the leadership. There is talk of a freshman caucus, but it already looks as if it will be tamer than the one set up four years ago that successfully challenged the leadership of a committee during its first session here.
"I don't think I like the idea of a freshman caucus . It's antileadership," he said. "I'm not one for disrupting the system. I'm into using it for me and my constituents."
Dixon's career got off to a good start when, en route to Annapolis this morning, he met Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), who told him that Cardin had agreed to give Dixon his first choice of assignment, to the House Appropriations Committee. When Dixon and his wife arrived here, he was in a great mood.
Even those arriving for fourth, fifth and sixth terms were in great moods. "My wife accused me of going off to summer camp I was in such a good mood," said Sen. Julian L. Lapides (D-Baltimore), beginning his 21st year as the senate's liberal conscience.
A somber note to the otherwise festive day was sounded by Steinberg, who asked for a moment of silent prayer for Senate Minority Leader Edward P. Thomas (R-Frederick). Thomas is hospitalized, recovering from major surgery.