Democrats gained eight seats in the Maryland House of Delegates in the November midterm election and while Republicans picked up a seat in the Senate, they fell short of their “Drive for Five” goal in that chamber.
That leaves Republicans — including the majority of lawmakers representing Carroll County — in a precarious situation as senators and delegates flock to Annapolis for the start of the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session Wednesday, Jan. 9.
“Somebody said elections have consequences, and indeed they do,” said Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5. “For those of us in the minority party, our work’s gonna be cut out for us and it’s gonna be a challenge. There’s no doubt about it.”
Shoemaker chairs the Carroll County House Delegation, which includes lawmakers from District 4 (Frederick and Carroll counties) and District 9 (Howard and Carroll).
Voters in the three districts encompassing Carroll opted for incumbent Republican lawmakers at the polls in November in all but one tightly contested race. Democratic newcomer Sen. Katie Fry Hester ousted incumbent Republican Gail Bates in District 9, making Fry Hester the lone Democrat representing any part of Carroll in the state legislature.
Losing seats in the House means there will be one less Republican delegate on each of the seven standing legislative committees and will make it more challenging for minority party lawmakers to push back on legislation they disagree with — and to pass bills of their own.
“In order to get any piece of legislation passed in the Maryland House of Delegates, you have to get at least 70 friends to come along and support that legislation,” Shoemaker said. “In Carroll County, our delegation has had some success in doing that because most of the times it is common sense, and I think most of our colleagues recognize and respect that.”
Finding common ground and compromise are key to working across party lines.
“We certainly try to find areas of compromise where we can work together on something,” said Del. April Rose, a District 5 Republican. “The perfect example of that was the [Safe to Learn Act] last year. We were able to work in a bipartisan way on that in our committee and it was unanimous.”
There are some tools that minority party legislators can employ to push their agenda or to shed light on different perspectives.
“We’ve got to try to educate and we have to speak on the [House and Senate] floor on issues as they manifest themselves,” Shoemaker told the Times. “And let people know how those proposals will affect folks on Main Street in Maryland.”
Shoemaker said most legislation — “probably 90 percent” — that the General Assembly addresses is nonpartisan.
Where there’s a clear divide, Rose explained, “our caucus makes very good arguments, and we still stand up and make those arguments in the hopes that maybe our friends on the other side of the aisle might change their mind or [amend a bill.
“You just try to find areas where you can have some success.”
Republican Sen. Justin Ready, who represents District 5, said he’s found that often he spends more time fighting legislation he disagrees with or sees as unfit.
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He pointed to communicating with his constituents to understand how legislation would impact them as being crucial. Stories of people can impact other lawmakers’ views.
“Giving specific examples I’ve found is very helpful in talking to my colleagues,” Ready told the Times. “My instinct is always to show statistics and show facts: If you do this thing, this bad thing will happen because we’ve seen it in the past.”
Sen. Michael Hough, a District 4 Republican, said that he tries to pick apart bills when fighting against them.
“If you actually talk about the law and the bill and the text in front of you, I’ve found that to be the most impactful thing to do,” Hough told the Times. “And actually argue about the law, not about the policy or ideology or politics, but argue about the actual text in the [legislation] in front of you.”
At the end of the day, Republicans will need Democrats’ support to pass legislation.