Monday, January 07, 2008

Bill Frick at The Breakfast Club

From Marc Korman:

Just before heading to Annapolis for the start of the legislative session, Delegate Bill Frick stopped by the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Democratic Club. The Democratic Club meets the first Monday of every month at 7:30am at the Original Pancake House in Bethesda. As regular readers of Maryland Politics Watch know, Delegate Frick was nominated by the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee and appointed by the Governor in September to replace the retiring Marilyn Goldwater. Full disclosure, I voted for Delegate Frick as a District 16 member of the Central Committee.

After a brief biography was given by Club President and dedicated Democratic activist Jim Mercurio, Delegate Frick began speaking about the Special Session. Rather than recite the legislative details of the Special Session that all twenty-five people in the room had heard and read many times, Delegate Frick offered a fly on the wall perspective of Annapolis from his position as a new Delegate.

Delegate Frick talked about the many differences between Annapolis and Washington, DC. While Congress is largely divided along partisan lines and nearly evenly divided, there are less than 40 Republicans out of 141 Delegates in the House of Delegates. Instead of spending a lot of time on Republicans versus Democrats, the House of Delegates is largely organized along jurisdictional lines. Counties and Baltimore City meet regularly with their colleagues from their jurisdictions to discuss legislation and strategy. Of course, in Montgomery County the entire delegation is Democratic, but even divided jurisdiction hold these meetings. Congress certainly has its share of parochial issues and state delegations do meet and coordinate, it is not institutionalized.

Another major difference is the amount of witnesses who testify on the issues. Delegate Frick comically compared witnesses in Annapolis to participants in a high school play where there are too many roles and not enough actors and actresses. The same witnesses were repeatedly coming before Delegate Frick's committee to testify on different issues. Delegate Frick also noted that he attended almost the entirety of each hearing, as opposed to many of his senior colleagues. This is not dissimilar to Washington, DC, where it is a rare Member of Congress who attends a hearing for more than an hour.

An additional difference is that unlike Washington, DC, members of the House of Delegates only sit on one committee. In the US House of Representatives, some Members of Congress sit on three committees. The US House also has over twenty committees, compared to the House of Delegtes' six. With the House driven by committee work, Delegates must have a good relationship with their Committee in order to accomplish much of anything. Delegate Frick was appointed to the Ways and Means Committee gave him an opportunity to really dive into legislative work right away since a majority of the issues dealt with during the Special Session came before his committee.

In response to a question, Delegate Frick also spoke about Governor O'Malley's work during the Special Session making bold proposals, calling and meeting Delegates, and generally engaging in the give and take of the legislative process. Although Delegate Frick did not make this comparison, this is a clear contrast with Governor Ehrlich who did not engage in this give and take. Of course, it is much easier for Governor O'Malley to engage other Democrats than it was for Governor Ehrlich. However, had Governor Ehrlich embraced the Democratic legislature he might have had more success passing his legislative program, especially in his own Special Sessions on medical malpractice and energy costs.

Understandably, Delegate Frick spent most of the time speaking positively of his new experiences in Annapolis and the Special Session. He briefly touched on his plans to work on dependent care issues, to help address the aging baby boomers, and environmental issues. Of course, most initiatives in the regular session will be constrained by the budget crunch. What will be worth watching is how Delegate Frick pivots from the Special Session, where the leadership set the agenda and individual members did not move legislation, to pursuing his own agenda on behalf of District 16.