An unusually large group of new lawmakers will take the oath of office Wednesday in Annapolis, adding another layer of political uncertainty as an incoming Republican governor prepares to confront a sizable budget deficit and a state legislature controlled by Democrats.
On the first day of the Maryland General Assembly’s 90-day legislative session, more than 40 percent of delegates taking the oath of office will be new, along with nearly 25 percent of the state senators.
The freshman lawmakers include three doctors, more than a dozen lawyers and former legislative aides, a couple of millennials and at least one retiree. Fewer than a third are women.
With a looming revenue shortfall and Gov.-elect Larry Hogan’s desire to trim spending expected to dominate the legislative agenda, the newcomers must quickly master a multitude of fiscal details.
“They are going to have to do an awful lot of learning very quickly,” said Don Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. “I just don’t know how many of the freshmen understand the budget at all.”
While eight of the 11 new senators have served in the House of Delegates, most of the rest of the freshmen are holding elected office for the first time. Norris predicted that “the vast majority” will take direction from their party leaders, adding to the considerable power of long-serving House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), as well as Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County) and House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel).
Nearly half of this year’s newcomers are Republicans, a significant accomplishment in a state with more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans. Although Democrats control both chambers, their margin has shrunk — an additional reason, beyond Hogan’s gubernatorial victory, for GOP exuberance.
“We’ll be in an offensive rather than a defensive posture,” said former delegate Gail Bates
(R-Howard), who served for 12 years as a delegate and will become a member of the Senate on Wednesday. “It will partly be our job to get the governor’s agenda through, to get his agenda passed.”
During an upbeat Republican Caucus reception Tuesday, Jennings encouraged the veteran members of his caucus to stand ready to help the freshmen, because “they are going to need it.”
Hogan told the nearly 100 state and local officials that they were part of the “biggest minority luncheon caucus we have ever had.”
“We thought it would never happen,” Hogan said. “The voters decided to put Maryland on a new path.”
The Maryland Department of Legislative Services said the freshman class is the largest since 1995, when Parris Glendening (D) took office as governor along with 80 new lawmakers. There were 58 new members when former governor Robert L. Ehrlich, the state’s last Republican chief executive, took the oath in 2003.
Sixteen of the new lawmakers are African American. There are five Asians, two Hispanics and one Lebanese immigrant, who will be sworn in as a delegate representing Anne Arundel County.
“I’m excited to get down to the hard work,” said Shelly Hettleman, a Democrat from Baltimore County who works as campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and was elected to a delegate seat.
Like Hogan and a majority of her colleagues, Hettleman has never served in elected office before. She said she had expected to be serving under a Democratic governor — until Hogan’s upset victory over outgoing Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
“It’s going to be a very different kind of job than I originally thought it might be,” she said. “There are certainly challenges in regards to the budget and working with a brand new governor, who happens to be a Republican. . . . I’m very interested to see what his priorities are going to be.”
Trent Kittleman (R-Howard), whose husband and stepson served in the General Assembly, said her perspective also changed after Hogan defeated Brown.
“I thought I would be on the defensive,” the new delegate said.
Andrew Platt (D-Montgomery), 26, a new delegate and one of the youngest in the freshman class, said he plans to ensure that his constituents — especially students — are treated fairly.
“To me, there is nothing bipartisan about cutting higher education and school construction,” Platt said. “The budget is a narrative about your values, and I think we can expect a clash with Gov. Hogan on our values and where we stand.”
For Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) that means pushing for the Red Line, a light rail system in Baltimore. “I’m just hoping that the governor sees the business sense in moving forward with that project,” the new delegate said.
Jimmy Tarlau (D-Prince George’s), 66, who described himself as one of the oldest members of the new class, said he is thrilled with the chance to be a part of a group that is not enmeshed in Annapolis politics.
“I think it’s exciting there are so many new freshmen,” said the new delegate, who has worked as a union representative. “We understand those who have been here longer know how to get things done, but sometimes it’s good to have fresh eyes.”
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.