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Del. Bill Frank of 42nd District steps down after 12 years in legislature

Twelve years of standing up for small business, advocating for his 42nd District's constituents and arguing a Republican viewpoint in a mostly Democratic legislature have come to an end.

The primary election on June 24 is now in the rear-view mirror. But this election, Del. Bill Frank's name wasn't on a single billboard. Twelve years in Annapolis were enough, he said. For Frank, now it's time to go. 

"Every time I drive by [a sign], I'm glad I'm not running," he said with a smile.

Frank, 54, said he decided back when he ran the first time, he wouldn't overstay.

"I never planned to stay more than three terms," the lifelong Republican said.

He said that being diagnosed in 2007 with Parkinson's disease had no part in his decision to leave public office. He said his symptoms are minor; the most obvious being that his voice is softer now.

Too many legislators stay in office too long, he emphasized.

"They lose sight of why they ran in the first place," he said.

"The timing is right," he said.

Two of his and wife Mary Jeanne's three children have finished school. Kathleen, 25, has graduated from law school, Meredith, 23, from college. The youngest, Michael, 19, is now a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"I'm leaving on a high note," he said. "I've really enjoyed being a delegate. I really enjoyed representing the 42nd District."

Since he was first elected in 2002, Frank said he focused on business issues, along with the needs of constituents.

He continues to worry about the perception of Maryland as unfriendly to business. "I think that problem has worsened since 2002," he said.

Taxes and regulations remain burdensome for businesses, especially small companies, he said. Meanwhile neighboring states have lower corporate income taxes and right-to-work rules — and their economies are better off, he said.

Frank, who spent 14 years in banking, is proud of his 88 percent lifetime score by Maryland Business for Responsive Government. "I've always been endorsed in every campaign by the Maryland Federation of Independent Business," he said.

Frank opposed gas tax increases, but he did support "reasonable fee increases" that saw tolls go up early in his first term. "I'm not reflexively anti-tax."

He worked for changes in legislators' pensions — "I wasn't successful" — and still hopes for protections for doctors against "junk lawsuits."

As steadfast to his beliefs as the delegate was throughout his tenure, Frank remembers one important change of heart. When he was appointed to the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment in 2008, he supported capital punishment and voted against the commission's report which urged a ban on the death penalty. 

Then he changed his mind. 

Five years later, when the legislature voted to outlaw capital punishment, Frank voted with the majority and the ban was passed. 

When Frank stood in the House of Delegates' chamber to voice his approval for the ban, it was "a pretty profound moment on the floor," recalled his 42nd District colleague, Democrat Del. Steve Lafferty.

He recalled Frank speaking of his personal journey toward opposition of the death penalty. 

"That was really profound," Lafferty said. "He did a lot of soul searching because he is a man of faith."

"I had a change of heart," Frank said.  The vote, he said, "was consistent with my pro-life views.

"Even the worst of the worst I would be uncomfortable putting to death."

The next chapter

Frank has already started on the next chapter. An adjunct professor at Towson University since 2011, he's hoping for a fuller schedule in the spring. He teaches American national government, "a subject I know and love."

Since last August, he has been working as development director for the Center for Pregnancy Concerns, a crisis pregnancy resource center with offices in Arbutus, Canton, Dundalk and Essex.

Frank will continue serving his own community, as well. He is a member of the board of the Dulaney Valley Improvement Association, as he has been since 2001, and he's still raising money for the Fourth of July parade in Towson.

While he served the 42nd District in the state capital, Frank found himself involved in a number of heated controversies close to home.

He recalled a "raucous meeting" when plans were announced for a new basketball arena in Towson — too close, Rodgers Forge residents said — to their property lines. Frank said he helped get SECU Arena placed "so it didn't threaten the integrity of the Rodgers Forge neighborhood."

State Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat, who was elected to represent the 42nd District the same year as Frank in 2002, recalled another controversial proposal. An early Towson Circle III development would have put dormitories in downtown Towson.

"He was right there and incredibly helpful in stopping Town Circle," Brochin said. "We all were cohesive and Bill was right in the center."

"The entire 42nd delegation was in opposition to the project," Frank said. A new Towson Circle III project is underway — but without dorms. "Everybody is happy,"Frank said.

Not everybody has liked what he did, Frank said. He remembers the controversy over traffic lights at Goucher College's entrance and at Sister Pierre Drive and York Road.

"The neighbors weren't too pleased with me," he said, "but I think it was the right thing to do."

Frank's colleagues in the 42nd District say when it came to local issues, parties didn't divide them.

"I can't think of a county issue when we weren't on the same side," said Brochin, who has served all 12 years with Frank. 

"He was always there," Brochin said. "Bill always put the community first."

"In local issues the political affiliation is not really relevant," said Lafferty, who has served eight years in the legislature. They may have had disagreements on the state budget, bond issues or speed cameras, but when it came to school issues, especially — the district delegations worked together.

"Education issues have been the principal way in which we've worked together," Lafferty said.

The hybrid school board — with some members to be elected beginning in 2015 — was one such success story. It passed in the 2014 session. 

"The majority of my colleagues took a leadership role in that and I supported them," Frank said.

Brochin noted the cooperation between colleagues on several education issues, including air conditioning for Ridgely Middle School and expansion of Hampton Elementary School. It didn't look like funds would be approved but the delegation — Republican and Democrat — worked together.

"There was no Democrat and no Republican," Brochin said.

"That's rewarding to see you're making a different for the schoolchildren in your district," Frank said.

Republican Del. Susan Aumann, of District 42, was elected in 2002 with Frank, called him "a guy with a common sense point of view. "He's worked hard for the community over the years."

Aumann said Frank's Catholic background gave him "a sense of service."

"He's always brought his Catholicism with him to help others," she said.

Republican since high school

Politics has been part of Frank's life since before he could vote.

While he was a student at Archbishop Curley High School in the Class of 1978, he joined the Young Republicans. Frank was chair of the Maryland Federation of College Republicans, graduating from Mount St. Mary's College, with a bachelor's degree in political science in 1982, and from Johns Hopkins University with a master's in administrative science in 1992.

He ran for the retiring Rep. Helen Delich Bentley's seat in Congress in 1994. Frank won 38 percent of the vote but another Republican, Bob Ehrlich, won the seat, which Ehrlich held until he was elected governor. Both Ehrlich and Frank began their public service in Annapolis in 2002, Frank in the House of Delegates while Ehrlich moved into the governor's office.

He has served as chair of the Republican House Slate Committee, was named 2012 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, and was a member of the Finance Team for the Maryland Republican Party from 2011 to 2013.

Frank said that during his first term, governing required a lot more give and take between the two parties, a lot more compromise. "We at least had a semblance of a two party system," Frank said.

The last eight years, however, were a different matter. It was tough being a Republican in the General Assembly when the majority of both the House and Senate were Democrats, as was the governor. 

"I call it the one-party monopoly," Frank said. "I don't think good government flows from a one-party monopoly."

And, he said, it's hard to get much done. "Republicans generally don't get a lot of bills passed," he said.

Frank said he was disappointed at the failure of legislation requiring identification at the polls. "Something as important as voting, we say that's off limits? That doesn't make sense to me."

Pro-life legislation was doomed in a pro-choice-dominated General Assembly. "Even modest bills went nowhere," he said.

"A good day in Annapolis for Republicans is killing bad bills in committee," he said. "We're continually playing defense."

Ehrlich said, as governor, he knew he could count on the Republican delegate from the 42nd District, Bill Frank.

"He's as solid as you get," Ehrlich said. "As a person, as a family man, as a delegate, as a leader. Everything about him is solid."

Ehrlich said he wrote a long letter of appreciation to Frank as soon as he heard the news about his retiring from the House. They had worked together in politics since Larry Hogan Sr.'s unsuccessful run for a U.S. Senate seat in 1982.

"Bill votes the right way, he thinks the right way," Ehrlich said. "I wish there were more like him in Annapolis."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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