On move-in day at the House Office Building on Jan. 12, freshman Del. Chris West carried in armloads of files. He also carried a bag of M&Ms, imprinted with his campaign slogan, "Go West" a gift from his wife, Anne.
He had seen his name added to the voting board in the House Chamber and found his seat among the Baltimore County Delegation.
The newly elected Republican delegate representing the new District 42B, which stretches from Towson to the Pennsylvania line, might have seemed a little giddy as he anticipated the opening of the 2015 session two days later on Jan. 14.
But there he was, part of the freshman class of 58 at their swearing-in, joining his new colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, in a standing ovation for the newly-re-elected Speaker of the House Michael Busch and Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, whose inauguration took place Friday.
"It's very exciting," West said on Friday. "I was so thrilled when there seemed to be a determination not to let partisanship block our ability to solve the state's problems."
Now the work begins. West had been advised to take his time to learn the ropes, see how the business of governing gets done.
"I was warned that as a newly elected delegate that I would have to stay on the back bench for a couple years," he said.
But by Friday, West had received a committee assignment he believes will keep him busy.
"It appears as if I'm going to be a genuine contributor right out of the box," he said.
Already assigned to the Health and Government Operations Committee, where he'll consider health care issues, retirement community regulations and a wide variety of government concerns, he was asked to join the subcommittee on estate and trust matters turned over to the committee by an overburdened Judiciary Committee. These are matters with which West, an attorney, is well acquainted.
"I'm excited about developing a niche in that area in my first year," he said.
'A citizen legislator'
All of the excitement of beginning a his term in office might be described as surreal for West, of Towson, who on primary election day in June was convinced he was losing based on reaction he got at the polls.
"This is over," he remembered thinking. So he put on his game face, smiled and greeted voters and waited for the day to end so he could call his opponents and congratulate them on their success.
But as the saying goes, "the first appearance deceives many," and it did West as he went on to win the primary and then the general election in November with a healthy margin.
"It validated all the work I'd done," he said.
Now, he represents the new District 42B.
"I call it the reservoir district," he said, noting both Prettyboy and Loch Raven reservoirs fall inside District 42B's boundaries. "It's an interesting district," he said: Two-thirds are rural and agricultural and the rest, he said, "is intensely suburban" and majority Republican.
In Annapolis, he shares an office in the House Office Building with Del. Susan Aumann, a fellow Republican also representing District 42B. His office used to be occupied by Republican Del. Bill Frank who decided not to run for re-election.
Aumann has offered a helping hand as West gets settled in his new role.
"I think he's going to do very well," Aumann said.
West had served on the Republican Central Committee, but he wanted to run at least once for public office in his career. After statewide legislative redistricting in 2012, which included the splitting of District 42 into 42A and 42B — creating a new district with no incumbents — the timing seemed right, he said.
So for two years he knocked on doors and attended community meetings.
"I gave it my all," he said.
He discussed his views as a social moderate, fiscal conservative. And he talked about guns with voters a lot during his campaign and found his constituents in agreement.
Since he considers the U.S. Constitution "the most brilliant document humans ever created," West said he believes in the wisdom of the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
"The Second Amendment is as important as the First Amendment" [which guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition], he said, adding that he believes "reasonable restrictions" are acceptable.
And with a Republican, Hogan, as governor, elected for the first time since Gov. Robert Ehrlich was elected in 2003, "The whole landscape has changed," West said.
At age 64, he considers himself "a citizen legislator" rather than a new career politician.
He plans to focus on issues of concern to his constituents: budget and taxes, education, transportation. He supports Hogan's plans to improve the business environment in the state.
He recently sat with county school teachers at a teacher's union luncheon and they talked about a variety of concerns from salaries to testing to the workload.
"The workload is unbelievably crushing," he said.
West listened to Hereford High parents who opposed changes in their students' class schedules. "We need to be more nimble, creative and flexible," he said.
West recognizes he has a conservative district and as he works to present their views, he intends to be a man of compromise,as he does in his work as an attorney for the law firm of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes while sitting across the table from other lawyers and their clients hammering out a deal.
"I'm perfectly happy to give up what I need to get what I want," he said.
Before the session, West spent five days in orientation with the other 57 new delegates, including a three-day bus trip around the state.
They all shared the same view: "We're all in this together," he said. "I want to do all I can to promote that in Annapolis."
His colleagues in District 42, Aumann and Sen. Jim Brochin, also sensed that bipartisanship.
"The opening yesterday was a real happy and joyous ceremony," Aumann said Jan. 15, the day after the 2015 session opened. With so many new members, Aumann, who has been a delegate representing Towson since 2003, said she saw "a lot of excitement and hope that I haven't felt in the General Assembly in a long time."
Hogan has shown a form of leadership that's "more inclusive," Aumann said. She added that she has high hopes for bipartisan cooperation on fiscal issues, too.
Both Aumann and Brochin, who represents the District 42, including 42A and 42B, said they expect the budget and taxes to be a priority.
"The people have spoken about all the taxes and fees," said Brochin, who has held his seat since 2003. He has his own bills drafted: a repeal of the stormwater management fee or the so-called "rain tax;" repeal of business fees; and cutting the link between the consumer price index and the gas tax.
Aumann, a member of the Economic Matters Committee, said they have to find more efficient ways to govern and especially to fund mandates from the federal government. "I think that's going to be a big focus," she said.
Brochin said he'll have to part ways with the new governor on other issues, however. He opposes a hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) proposal for western Maryland and has drafted a bill calling for a moratorium. "I don't think these energy companies are our friends," Brochin said.
Brochin said, too, he has high hopes for his new colleague. "He's going to be great," Brochin said about West. "He goes to community meetings, he cares, he takes notes."