Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, has received his political indoctrination, discovering that the 47-member Senate is like a reliable train driven by an entrenched power structure, grinding forward with few stops for new passengers.
"Veterans volunteer very little help or information," said Haines, Carroll's only freshman legislator, upon completing half of his first 90-day session. "Advice is notfreely given here. You have to ask questions if you're not understanding the rules, procedures or protocol.
"Nobody has really taken me under his wing, but I don't want anyone to. I think each senator is very independent. As a whole, it doesn't matter whether you're a freshman or veteran legislator when it comes time to vote."
The General Assembly has been much as expected, said Haines, 52, owner of Haines Realty in Westminster. But the businessman and former dairy farmer said experiencing its workings from the inside has been illuminating.
"Participation really brings to light how much influence leadership has," he said.
He said it appears that Democratic Senate leadership protected its own interests in making committee assignments before the session, trying to establish chemistry on each panel that would provide the best chance of support for administration proposals.
"There appears to be about four conservatives on every committee," said Haines, who relied on a conservative platform to defeat former County Commissioner Jeff Griffith in theNovember election. The four Senate committees have 11 to 13 members each.
But unlike the election, in which Haines' identity as a conservative Republican helped carry him to victory, the senator has found that blanket labels are of little value once inside government. He is one of nine Republicans in the Senate.
"Party affiliations become less important than when you're on the campaign trail," he said. "You're looking for people who agree with you philosophically on issues to support your legislation. Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican doesn't matter when you're on the floor."
He is beginning to recognize who might support his legislation and positions and how members of the committee he serves on, Economic and Environmental Affairs, might vote on certain issues, he said.
But still, there's no substitute for experience and connections, he said.
"Veteran legislators have issues they've been involved with for a number of years, legislation they've been unsuccessful in passing in both houses," he said. "Over time they build support. Freshmen don't have the benefit of being involved."
As an example, he cited a bill introduced last year by Anne Arundel County senators requiring developers to replace trees they cut down, which passed the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the House. This year, more than half the Senate is co-sponsoring the measure, virtually guaranteeing its passage in that chamber.
Haines said he is concentrating on serving constituents in his first year, rather than becoming immersed in his own legislative initiatives. He said he receives between 50 and 80 letters every day and about the same number of phone calls. He has set up a Westminster district office, open two days per week.
Reviewing bills that have been defeated in committee has been an educational process, he said, teaching the pitfalls of "bad legislation."
"You have to hear debate onboth sides of the issue and know what your constituents are looking for," he said. "It's obvious on a number of issues where my constituents stand."
Haines' initiatives include bills requiring governmentoffice buildings to fly Missing In Action-Prisoner of War flags, mandating that real estate licensees have an "errors and omissions" insurance policy to protect consumers and make the insurance more affordable for small agencies, and establishing a Board of Safety Practitioners to regulate the occupational safety industry.
He investigated introducing bills to establish stricter penalties for certain crimes,but did not file any. He is a co-sponsor on several bills.