Demonstrating Leadership During A Crisis

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I’ve just completed my second session in office, which ended once again with a history-making Sine Die, this time in the midst of an international crisis. I’m strangely calm. I have written several versions of this month’s column because I think it’s important in this moment to strike the right balance. To discuss local issues or a wrap-up of the legislative session feels inappropriate and blithe, dismissive of the larger picture and massive scale of a crisis, yet with the rapidly changing landscape of this outbreak, anything addressing our strategies today will be obsolete by publication. I know people are also seeking normalcy, but to act as if we are simply returning to normal feels disingenuous and negligent.

Instead, I will write about my experience in the waning hours of the General Assembly as tensions ran high; a combination of concern, frustration, exhaustion and a desire to provide for the millions of Marylanders we represent, as the General Assembly stood firm in our commitment to perform beyond our constitutional mandate. During those final days, I heard colleagues call me and others socialist, fascist and Stalinist. The rhetoric grew louder and more abrasive, but in the end we put our heads down and continued to do the work, because the work we were doing, the bills we were passing, were the culmination of months and even years of work by our Maryland families.

I know my colleagues and I will have a different perspective on the necessity of continuing, and in truth, I was frustrated that we were adjourning early not only because a great deal of important legislation was lost but because in a moment of crisis, I felt that I owed it to you, my constituents, to stay, to remain in Annapolis for as long as needed to make sure our community had access to essential services, to be ready to pass emergency legislation as needed. I can only imagine the challenge posed by this crisis for our speaker and Senate president, both newly elected in each chamber, facing the worst pandemic in a century, weighing the needs of the members against the needs of all of Maryland, and determining in a matter days whether our presence or our absence would put a greater burden on the health system as we prepared for the surge. Leaders are forged not in moments of calm, but in moments of chaos and uncertainty. And in this uncertain time, our leadership in coordination with the governor gave us a level of certainty and a definitive timeline. We had three weeks of work to complete in three days with a few hours’ notice, and I’m proud of the work we did. Perhaps this means the bill you were championing didn’t make it. I know the bill that emerged from this community to aid adolescent access for mental health care would have been law but for the intervention of this crisis and even should we come back in May, it will be to respond to any gaps in service created by the pandemic, not to pick up where we left off.

In the coming weeks, we’ll have time to address the legislation that passed, the legislation that failed, and the legislation that was lost to a pandemic. We’ll have time to answer questions, talk with constituents and plan for the next session, but for now, it is far more important that we continue to work to keep people physically and mentally healthy as well as financially solvent.

We have a tradition in the General Assembly: to explain our votes. Out of a concern for time, I did not stand on the chamber floor, but I will do so now. I want to explain my vote for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a bipartisan bill that has been touted and disparaged for the last two sessions, and the culmination of years of work. I voted for the blueprint because it was not only a policy but a promise to our constituents, a promise that at the end of this crisis, we will come out on the other side. It is a promise that we have a future and that we will work to ensure the financial security of our state. It is a promise that we will come back, session after session, year after year to get it right. It is a promise to our businesses that we will develop a strong workforce, a promise to our taxpayers that we will attract new business and new revenue to our state, and a promise to our children and families that they will have an equal path to a bright and prosperous future.

I have been called a magical ideologue for my belief in this process, but in fact, I’m a pragmatic fatalist who is also an optimist; I anticipate how bad it can get, I will work to make sure we never get there, and I believe that there is an inherent strength in our community which can overcome any adversity. This is why I ran, this is why I remain committed and strangely calm, because we are already doing the work and we’re going to get through this together.

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