Monday, September 26, 2011

The Secret Lives of Delegates // Anonymous MD Legislators on Life in Annapolis

Earlier this month, Maryland Juice reported on rumors that District 14 Delegate Eric Luedtke was weighing a bid for the District 5 seat on the Montgomery County Council. It is worth noting that Mr. Luedtke's activism on County issues may predate his time in the State House. But still, we were intrigued by this potential lateral, given that just last year Delegate Craig Rice jumped from the State House to the County Council.

As a result, we decided to anonymously poll a sample of Mr. Luedtke's legislative colleagues from Montgomery, to see what they had to say about life in Annapolis. In particular, we wanted to see what sort of issues fairly recent Maryland House members face, given that they are unlikely to be chairing committees or serving in leadership.

The responses below are amazingly consistent, with a few unique responses. I group the answers by topic, below:

Question: What challenges might cause a legislator to jump to the County Council?

Employment-Related Issues
  • Response 1: It is a part-time position. Most employers will not accommodate employees being out of the office for 90 days. Even off session there are often conflicting demands between Delegation commitments and full time job. For these reasons, a legislator may have to make a choice, resign from his/her professional job or from his/her public service job.
  • Response 2: Professional stability.
  • Response 3: Because the job is 3-months out of the year, inevitably people's full-time "day job" suffers, often to the point where they get fired. Many Delegates/Senators have been let go from their employment or are having difficulty keeping their jobs.
  • Response 4: And if you have an employer that will not accommodate your 90 day leave of absence then you must survive on a part-time salary full time.
  • Response 5: For some the thought of what could be a full-time elected job is very appealing.

Ability to Get Things Done/Be Heard
  • Response 1: The county council allows for more opportunity to focus on your duties in that position.
  • Response 2: The thought of being one of nine vs. one of 188 legislators is probably a draw for some.
  • Response 3: A big fish in a small pond. In Annapolis, when you are one of 141 delegates, you may feel like a small fish in a big pond. One's message, identity as a legislator, and attention is greatly diluted.  As councilmember, you are 1 of 9 where one has a larger percentage in the decision making process.
  • Response 4: The rungs of the ladder to success are bit closer at the Council level.  The competition is less fierce when you seek a leadership role in the Council and should you decide to transition to bigger and better, to the County Executive. Conversely, to obtain a leadership role in the assembly and/or transition to a the Governor/Congressperson needs a lot more rungs in the ladder.
  • Response 5: Annapolis Freshman have so little power, that it can be a frustrating place to be.

  • Response 1: Money. Being a delegate is a tough job to support a family on.
  • Response 2:  The annual $43,500 isn't usually enough to replace income potentially lost otherwise. It's great for retirees, pensioners, indepedently wealthy people or those who can be supported by their spouses. But for regular people with young families to feed, it can be tough to manage.
  • Response 3: Keep in mind that being a part time legislator is hard for some because you often have to work two jobs. 
  • Response 4: Also, a Delegate salary goes much further in other parts of the state than it does in high cost Montgomery County.
  • Response 5: Simple economics are probably one factor. The Delegate job only pays $43K per year while County Council is closer to $100K. Even in a good economy, it can be a challenge to find a job that is compatible with the legislature vs. County Council being considered more of a full-time job.
  • Response 6: Money doesn't buy happiness but it can make life easier. The delegate job has a part-time salary whereas the Council position pays a full-time salary.
Maryland Juice Note: Maryland legislators make $43,500, while Montgomery Councilmembers make $94,351. To place things into regional context, Virginia legislators make roughly $18,000/year, and DC City Councilmembers make $125,583 (2nd highest in the nation). Maryland Juice is actually in favor of paying legislators a full-time salary, but more on that in the future.

  • Response 1: All politics is local.  Local politics have a greater impact on one's community which is extremely rewarding. The council deals with zoning,land use, master plan, local laws, which are tangible and you can see the impacts fairly quickly b/c you don't have to deal with pleasing western/eastern Maryland legislators to bring change which comes at the pace of a snail.  
  • Response 2: For Rice I'm sure it just came down to the issues that he cared most about.  If Eric runs it would probably be for a similar reason.

  • Response 1: In Montgomery County, the movement is from state legislature to county council (Howie Denis, Craig Rice, Ben Kramer). In other counties, people move in the opposite direction. This is partly because of term limits and also partly due to how the stature of the legislature is viewed in different parts of the state.
  • Response 2: Annapolis is a frat party. Too much drinking and sex. Not enough policy.
  • Response 3: Location. Location. Location. The location for the elected office in Annapolis requires individuals to maintain long hours. They either come home late into the evening or not all at all where they must reside in Annapolis during session.  In either case, this has significant impacts on one's personal life particularly if one has young children as is the case with Councilmember Rice and Delegate Luedtke.
  • Response 4: Bigger slice of the pie.  As a district councilmember you can represent close to 200,000 constituents versus a state legislator of 120,000 residents that is shared by four legislators.  More representation can lead to more opportunities. 
  • Response 5: I think Moco views it as a step up while other parts of the state might view it as a step down.
  • Response 6: County Council also have much greater staff support (5 people vs. 0.75 people).

    Question: Have you considered a run for County Council?

    Response 1: I would never want to be on the County Council. Wrangling over budgets and zoning boundaries would make my eyes glaze over.
    Response 2: As for me, no part of me wants to be a county councilmember.  I have never once thought about switching if the opportunity presented itself.  My heart is in the General Assembly and that is where I intend to stay as long as I can.  
    Response 3: I think most Delegates keep County Council District seats in mind as an option although open seats are rare.
    Response 4: No. I like policy making, the challenges that the diversity of the job brings (all of the above), and my spouse likes coming to Annapolis occasionally.

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