Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R) returned to Annapolis last week for the start of the 2003 legislative session representing not only residents of Calvert and St. Mary's counties but another growing constituency in Maryland: the unemployed.
Shortly after Election Day, when voters in District 29C gave the Republican a third term, Constellation Energy Group took away his job at Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, where O'Donnell, 41, has worked for 15 years.
A spokesman for Constellation, which owns and operates the plant, stressed that the corporation was simply eliminating positions, not people, as part of its cost-efficiency effort, and that those affected could apply for other jobs in the company. The bottom line, though, is that O'Donnell is one of 120 Calvert Cliffs employees out of work.
"The reality is that I'm moving on," he said. "The company went through a process of downsizing, if you will . . . and I can tell you my situation wasn't significantly different than many others'. "
Although O'Donnell will be able to draw on his $34,500 annual salary as a delegate, as well as a Calvert Cliffs severance package that the company describes as generous, the money will only go so far.
"I'm not an independently wealthy businessman," said O'Donnell, who is married and the father of three.
Rather, he has long been a company man living in what effectively is a company town. The plant is Calvert County's largest taxpayer, and a good number of its employees -- 1,111 workers as of Sept. 1 -- live near the Lusby facility. Consequently, it is a sense of loss, the feeling of having something so essential to one's life taken away, that O'Donnell will carry with him during this year's legislative session.
"It keeps me in touch with real-life situations," O'Donnell said. "People go through career changes all the time. It's very uncomfortable for people and their families."
It was his job at the power plant that brought O'Donnell to the community he now represents. He was raised in Pennsylvania and learned about nuclear reactors during his more than eight years in the Navy. O'Donnell started at the plant as an instrument and control technician, and during the last two years, helped with emergency preparedness, which took on a greater urgency after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Despite campaigning in an area that was largely Democratic, he was elected as a state delegate in 1994, albeit so narrowly that he had to survive a court challenge. He defeated two former Calvert commissioners in 1998 and 2002 as his conservative message -- fiscal restraint and tougher penalties for criminals caught with weapons -- connected with a growing Republican population.
Opponents, however, see O'Donnell as politically vulnerable because of his job loss, speculating he will give up his seat and take a job in the new administration of Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. O'Donnell said that he and Ehrlich are "very good friends," but that he had "no intention of leaving" the House of Delegates. "Unless anything unforeseen comes along."
O'Donnell, who warned in his 1998 campaign that a state budget deficit was looming in 2002, will find many more allies in his effort to reduce government spending. He will also, however, be able to lend a special insight if the debate turns to eliminating positions from the state payroll.
"It's important to keep in mind . . . we're dealing with real people and real lives," O'Donnell said. "We can't forget that. It's not a balance sheet."