Catonsville native Ebersole prepares for new life as a legislator

Catonsville's Eric Ebersole in Annapolis

Eric Ebersole spent last Tuesday afternoon rubbing elbows with politicians in the governor's mansion prior to the inauguration of newly elected Attorney General Brian Frosh.

The new District 12 delegate, a longtime Howard County teacher, would normally be finishing up a math lesson at Reservoir High School.

Instead, he parked in former District 12A Del. James Malone's parking spot in Annapolis, then spent the day preparing for a new routine as a member of the Maryland General Assembly.

The Catonsville native takes his oath on Wednesday, Jan. 14, to begin his new role as a member of the House of Delegates. He will be joined by fellow Democrats Dr. Terri Hill and Dr. Clarence Lam, who will also represent District 12.

The transition has been an exciting one for Ebersole, 56, who has taught math in Howard County public schools for 34 years.

"This is a brand new world for me with new friends, new procedures, new daily schedules," Ebersole said, adding that he's no longer waking up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for school. "I'm absorbing it as I go. It's a lot, but I consider myself a quick study.

"But for me it, comes at the right time," Ebersole said, who is eligible for retirement from the school system.

"I'm at a place in my life where I felt like I had a lot of options," he said.

Since the winter break, he's been splitting time between his classroom and preparing for the legislative session. He is taking unpaid leave during the legislative session, which begins on Jan. 14.

Still, it's tough for Ebersole to leave the classroom behind. "There's some trepidation attached because I have to leave behind some students I'm already vested in," Ebersole said. "At the beginning of the school year, you develop a real affinity for the kids you teach, so they'll be in someone else's hands for a while.

"Being at school was sort of a touchstone for me, and now I have to give that up for awhile," he said.

After the Frosh inauguration last week, Ebersole headed from Annapolis to the George Howard Building in Ellicott City to meet Mary Kay Sigaty, the recently-elected chairwoman of the Howard County Council.

Ebersole, whose district includes portions of both Baltimore and Howard counties, said he has already developed a close relationship with 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the First District in Baltimore County.

"He lives two blocks away," Ebersole said with enthusiasm and a warm smile.

On Jan. 7, Ebersole was given an office assignment in the expansive House of Delegates building located at 6 Bladen Street.

He will be sharing the space with Del. Stephen Lafferty, a former Baltimore City math teacher who was first elected to the House in 2006. Lafferty is a Democrat who represents Towson in District 42 and is deputy majority whip.

Ebersole has hired a legislative aide, Laura Bacon, a fellow Catonsville resident, who has experience working for other delegates.

"The connection was made pretty quick. I sensed there were others interested in hiring her on," Ebersole said. "Someone told me, 'You really struck gold with her.' "

Having staff is new for Ebersole, who isn't used to delegating responsibility.

"As a teacher, you have to do most of the work yourself," Ebersole said. "But I'm getting used to the idea of having other people who will help."

Ebersole said running for public office has been on his mind for many years. He has received encouragement from friends and family, including his cousin, Brian Ebersole, a former Washington State House Speaker, who thought he would be a good public servant.

When District 12A Dels. James Malone and Steven DeBoy and District 12B Del. Liz Bobo announced their retirement, Ebersole decided it was time to try his hand at politics.

His son, James Ebersole, was about to graduate with a bachelor's degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland, his alma mater, armed with knowledge about political strategy.

Everything fell into place — the timing was right.

Ebersole described his campaign as "truly a family affair." In addition to his son, help came from his wife, Tara Ebersole, a professor and STEM liaison at the Community College of Baltimore County, and daughters Caroline and Rebecca.

"Overall, it has been a unifying experience," said Tara Ebersole, who holds a doctorate in public policy analysis.

"It has been an exciting new adventure, but Eric and I have always looked for adventures," she said.

James Ebersole, 23, served as manager of his father's campaign and said he was proud to see a thoughtful man who likes to listen to others and shares his values, in office. "Getting my dad in was a particular joy for me. I really wanted to see him in [office]," James Ebersole said.

"It proves you can affect government in a positive way — a ragtag team of kids can put you in the statehouse," he said.

The educator has been appointed to the Ways and Means Committee led by Del. Sheila Hixson, a Democrat from Montgomery County who has been a member of the House since 1976.

The committee is body responsible for legislation related to children and families, education financing, election law, gaming and horse racing, state and local taxes and transportation funding.

As far as priorities go, education is at the top of the list, Ebersole said.

"There are a number of issues on the forefront and one is the amount of testing we do in schools," Ebersole said.

From his perspective as a longtime educator, he'd like testing to focus on ways to improve instruction rather than simply evaluating schools, he said.

"Although testing is valuable because it can inform instruction, testing has also become an impediment to instruction because it takes too much time," he said.

Ebersole said he supports mass transportation projects such as the Red Line light-rail project planned for Baltimore and Baltimore County suburbs, and the Purple Line light-rail project planned for the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

"As fuel becomes more expensive ... mass transit is going to be much more efficient at moving people with less energy," Ebersole said. "The Red Line and the Purple Line look expensive now. But someday, they'll look like a bargain."

Like other state legislators, Ebersole expects balancing the budget to take the spotlight this legislative session.

"Going door to door during the campaign, people really felt their voices weren't being heard when it comes to economic concerns," Ebersole said.

James Ebersole said he doesn't expect his father to begin proposing big ideas right away.

"He knows he's not the most important person in Maryland," James Ebersole said. "I don't think he has a particular agenda to put forth."

Ebersole says right now he's reveling in the new position, walking the streets and learning the ins and outs of Annapolis.

"I'm spending time walking around and getting a sense of what it's like to be here," Ebersole said.

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