Minutes after the Maryland General Assembly adjourned for the final time in 2013 last week, two Washington County delegates headed out the door, even as many of their colleagues readied for the late-night parties in Annapolis that typically follow the end of the session.
Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, and Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said they were eager to get back home, and also keen to get away from the State House.
A few days later, Myers seemed more upbeat as he tended to business at Myers Building Systems, a Clear Spring-based general contracting firm that he owns.
“I feel like I’m (back) in some place where I can make a difference and people listen to me,” he said of his work as a general contractor.
Myers also was alluding to his position as a member of the General Assembly, where Democrats hold a strong majority in both the House and the Senate, and Republicans sometimes struggle to get their bills and amendments passed.
Being a Republican in the State House, some Washington County GOP lawmakers say, can mean trying to balance the interests of constituents back home while trying to forge working relationships with the powers that be in Annapolis.
Ideally, Myers said, party affiliations should be left at the door of the State House. But he knows that’s not how it works.
“I’ve had Democrats in my committee come up to me on some occasions and say that we know you are right, but we can’t vote that way,” Myers said.
A bill that passed during the current legislative session that seeks to give a credit against the state income tax to wineries or vineyards making capital improvements is a case in point, Myers said.
In 2012, Myers introduced the same piece of legislation, but it stalled when a House committee took no action.
This year, the same bill was sponsored by Del. Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery, who also is the House majority leader, and it passed 138-0 in the House of Delegates on the last day of the session.
Myers, who co-sponsored the bill this year, said the measure was a great example of bipartisanship, while acknowledging that it was the addition of Barve’s name that helped it become law.
Myers’ advice: Make as many friends as you can and do not ruffle feathers.
Trying to work together
Serafini, who is chairman of the Washington County delegation, said the idea of collaborative work might have been easier to achieve in the past.
“I don’t criticize Maryland alone,” Serafini said. “I think we have lost that nationally.”
Echoing Myers’ views, Serafini said he has seen bills sponsored by Republicans fail and fail again, and then become law once a Democratic legislator put his or her name on it.
“I am sure we feel the same way that Democrats (legislators) in Texas do,” he said.
Serafini said there are downsides to trying to work across party lines.
“If you are seen as someone who compromises from either party, you can be in trouble,” Serafini said.
The effect of all this, he said, is that the General Assembly misses out on possible improvements to legislation.
Although members of the minority party, Myers and Serafini said they felt that their legislative jobs were important because they are able to speak for those back home.
“I do what I do because we go to Annapolis not to win, but be a voice for our constituents,” Myers said.
“They want us to go there and fight the best fight we can fight.”
Serafini said one way of working with a House of Delegates with a Democratic majority is to introduce new ideas and have them debated. He mentioned pension reform and alterations to the corporate tax structure as two issues that are starting to gain traction.
“We are starting to see some movement on ideas we have talked about,” he said. “The idea of pulling together as a team for what you believe is right, there is something of value in that.”
‘An uphill struggle’
Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who is one of two Democrats in the county delegation — state Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, is the other — said the most important job of a legislator is to be able to represent the interest of their constituents.
“If you want to work for your constituents, you have to work within the system,” he said. “I think there is a way to do things, and there is a way not to do things. For the sake of your constituency, you have to be able to be work with people and get things done.”
Donoghue said bashing every idea that Democratic legislators might have does not help.
Alliances in Annapolis can switch depending on the issue at hand, said Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, but the key is being a voice for the community that one represents.
Parrott gave an example of the gun-control legislation that passed the General Assembly this year.
“Had we (Republican legislators) not been able to work on the bill, it would have been a worse piece of legislation,” Parrott said. “For me, I’m glad to be in Annapolis for people who don’t have much of a voice.”
State Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who was a member of the House of Delegates before he moved to the Senate in 2011, said there is a marked difference between the two chambers.
“The House is much more partisan,” he said. “I much prefer the Senate way of working.”
But it still can be difficult, he said.
“It takes a confluence of events to be successful. The deck is stacked against us,” he said. “They (local constituents) deserve this representation. But it does mean an uphill struggle.”