When the Maryland General Assembly started its 2015 session last month, Wade Kach gave a gulp.
When Maryland's governor, Republican Larry Hogan, was inaugurated last month, Wade Kach gave a double-gulp.
Even though Kach, who spent 40 years as a state delegate and a Republican at that, had made his decision months previously, he couldn't help feeling a little wistful.
'When the state legislators were arriving" for swearing in, "I had a few moments," Kach said of the traditional opening session of Maryland's House of Delegates and Senate. Not to mention, he added, "Now we have a Republican governor, it would have been nice."
Last December, Kach had his own swearing in. The newly elected Baltimore County 3rd District councilman moved from a statewide forum to the local fray. But it's an arena he knows well.
During his years as a state delegate, his legislative district covered some of the same geographic area as the 3rd Councilmanic District.
"My council district is three times the size of my delegate district," said Kach, and with a corresponding increase in population. His delegate district had 43,000 people versus 117,000 people in the councilmanic district.
The 3rd District runs east to west from Harford and Joppa roads to Glyndon, north to south from the Pennsylvania line to the Baltimore Beltway Interstate 695. Thanks to the widespread population, especially in the North County, the district accounts for roughly half of Baltimore County's land mass.
The district is a mix of suburban and rural, residential and some commercial, including Hunt Valley Towne Centre, McCormick and other corporate headquarters and, even, a few light manufacturing facilities.
Although Kach joins two other Republicans on the seven-member County Council, the 3rd is the "most Republican," in his observation, of all the districts. Split 42 to 41 percent Republicans to Democrats, along with 17 percent Independents, the GOP enjoys a razor-thin 1 percent margin among registered voters.
On a blustery winter day, Kach is found in his County Council office in the Historic Courthouse in Towson where the county executive also has his office and the County Council holds twice-monthly work sessions and public meetings.
Kach, 67, white-haired and courtly, is a native of West Baltimore. He graduated from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. For two decades, he was a middle-school math teacher in Baltimore County Public Schools before moving to the system's audit office in 1992. His wife of 34 years, Evelyn, is a retired public school teacher. The couple lives in the Ashland community. They have no children.
Kach wasn't thinking of leaving the House of Delegates until "a number of people," as he puts it, asked him to do so. They weren't happy with the then-3rd District councilman, Todd Huff, a Republican, for a variety of reasons. But it was a difficult decision nonetheless.
Kach had built up a lifetime of relationships. He has a reputation for collaboration and expertise that, as a Republican in a heavily Democratic state, roughly 2-1 Democrats to Republicans, has enabled him to be an effective legislator. He has served on important House committees and had a role in important issues such as enforcing child support law, licensing new home builders and cleaning up reservoirs in northern Baltimore County.
Said Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat from Howard County and a longtime colleague, "Wade leads by example. He is gentle and incisive. He was my go-to person on health insurance," a subcommittee on which they both served.
"They wanted a strong voice in the County Council while also involving residents in decision-making," said Kach, who also had name recognition in spades as well as a list of more than 8,000 constituents' email addresses from his delegate days.
"I felt I could make a difference on the County Council," Kach said of his decision. He won the Republican primary against the incumbent by more than 65 percent of the vote, and the general election against his Democratic opponent by more than 68 percent of the vote.
Kach says the 3rd District's main issues are zoning and development, a refrain heard in other councilmanic districts of the two, often interlinked factors. "You have to have a reasonable balance between the two," he said, and has been meeting with constituents to determine what it should be.
Both issues are fast approaching. The county's next quadrennial rezoning cycle is in 2016. Kach wants to avoid controversies such as the 2012 rezoning cycle when the district's councilman approved a zoning change that allowed a townhouse development on York Road north of Hunt Valley mall despite a 1,100-signature petition opposing it.
In suburban areas of the district, Kach is seeking to preserve the open space that already exists. He points to community unhappiness over the loss of a park due to the construction of the Mays Chapel Elementary School.
"Many people feel closed out of county government. I want to find a way to give the public a forum to participate on county issues," said Kach, who is considering holding town hall meetings.
In rural areas of the district, urban sprawl threatens. Kach gives an example: Drive north on York Road to Shawan Road, turn left and you hit Hunt Valley mall, hotels, office buildings and the Light Rail terminus.
"That's where commercial development stops. That's where it needs to stop," he said. "I feel there is enough property south of the Ridgebrook community [in Sparks], north of Hunt Valley mall [for future development]. It's not a good idea to develop beyond that."
Kach has other items he wants to address. He is looking into the county liquor laws and how they differ from the state laws. He is considering a move to reduce the county's 4 percent allowable increase on property taxes, perhaps linking it in some way to the average cost of living.
"I can use my experience in the General Assembly in the County Council for constituent issues," Kach said. "I know who to go to, how to read legislation and craft amendments."
Eric Rockel has known Kach since the 1980s. Kach was the Lutherville resident's state delegate before redistricting. Rockel sounds delighted that Kach, on whose campaign he volunteered, will represent him again, as the 3rd District councilman.
"Kach is replacing a Republican, so it wasn't a party issue. It was the legislative representation he will bring," said Rockel, president of the Greater Timonium Community Council and a board member of the Lutherville Community Association.
Sharon Bailey, a Prettyboy Reservoir area resident, also volunteered on Kach's campaign. As her state delegate, he worked with her on various issues. The one that stands out was the installation of a traffic light at Hereford High School. The school's parking lot opened onto York Road, creating a dangerous situation for students, staff and motorists.
"It turned out to be a long, complicated process that took over a year and involved many, many meetings," including one Kach arranged with the head of the state transportation department, said Bailey, president of the Prettyboy Watershed Alliance.
In the end, the problem was resolved, not with a simple traffic light but with a more thorough and expensive rerouting of roads to create a roundabout.
"Kach was at every single meeting. That says something to me," Bailey recalled. "He's a genuine person, and a dedicated public servant."