As the newbies gathered in the House chamber in Annapolis Wednesday, absorbing the sobering news of the $600-million budget hole they face in January, it was clear many had a lot to learn.
On Day 2 of orientation, no one had yet told the freshman lawmakers – the largest class in decades — they need to stand up when they grab a microphone to speak.
"I can't follow you," groused chief legislative analyst Warren Deschenaux as he stopped his budget presentation to take a question. "That's just a disembodied voice."
Sixty-nine new senators and delegates were learning the nuts and bolts of how to be one of Maryland's 188 part-time legislators, who give up their day jobs for 90 days to go to the state capital for the annual session. It begins Jan. 14.
The influx of new-to-Annapolis lawmakers will change committees and possibly alliances in the General Assembly. But first, the new lawmakers had to learn how to navigate the tunnels in the State House complex, how to get a bill drafted and how much time they have to spend helping their constituents each year.
"Oh my god, I got none of this," said Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, who had to settle for a crash course when was appointed to his seat last year. "When I came, the speaker gaveled the 2014 session to start, introduced the new delegates, and we were off. This is amazing."
More than a third of the House of Delegates will be new to the legislature this year, and almost a quarter of state senators will be on the job for the first time. The huge influx of freshman lawmakers has the potential to reshape the way the legislature responds to issues, as well as slow it down as new politicians learn the system.
"The winds of change were clear," said Del. Addie Eckardt, an Eastern Shore Republican who was elected to the Senate. "There's always a learning curve, and with a new administration, it's always a good time to pause."
Although the vast majority of new lawmakers are Democrats, there are more Republicans in the House than there have been in decades. Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan was ushered into office promising to "Change Maryland," a theme that some delegates say has bi-partisan appeal.
"A lot of people – from both parties – ran on a platform that they wanted to change something," said Del.-elect Jeff Ghrist, a Democrat from Caroline County.
The new freshman class will bring the legislature's first husband-wife team, with Sen. Ron Young and Del.-elect Karen Lewis Young from Frederick; as well as the father-daughter team of Sen. Bryan Simonaire and Del.-elect Meagan Simonaire of Anne Arundel; plus a pair of brothers: Sen.-elect Bob Cassilly and Del.-elect Andrew Cassilly of Harford County.
Rank and file legislators earn about $45,000 a year.
On Wednesday, new members hauled around black Maryland General Assembly tote bags, already loaded down with the Power Point presentations and briefings that will become a daily diet as the session picks up steam.
"Hey, have you found the power source in your desk yet," Del.-elect David Moon, a political blogger from Montgomery County who won his first election, asked one of his fellow freshmen.
Several of the things that make the job seem real have yet to materialize. No office space will be ready until next year, and the voting boards in the chambers still bear the names of out-going delegates.
"I'm used to the rigor of the military, where if you get a new job, there's a new office and a new desk waiting for you," said Deb Ray, a retired Air Force major and Republican from St. Mary's County who ousted long-time Democrat Del. John Bohanan from office.
"I get here and hear, 'There might be furniture in the hallway that you can go through," she said, laughing. "I thought, 'What is this? A free-for-all?' "
Del.-elect Mark S. Chang, a Democrat from Glen Burnie, spent the past eight years doing constituent service for Anne Arundel County residents for two elected officials. On Wednesday, he flipped through a 58-page budget presentation, brow furrowed and marking up the pages with a red pen
"I've comes a pretty far way from filling pot holes," he said, then laughed as an aide handed him another thick stack of briefings. "I'm not used to having all this staff. I used to be the one doing this work."
Even though Sen.-elect Susan C. Lee, a delegate from Montgomery County, has served a dozen years in the legislature already, she came to orientation.
"It's an excellent way to start networking," said Lee, who said she will be the first Asian-American to serve in the Senate. "The first time, everything is intimidating. Now it feels like continuing education."
Day 1 had focused on ethics rules, which was helpful even to legislators who may have served a term or two before.
"You have to get the ethics down, everything else you can learn on the job," said Del.-elect Bob Flanagan, a Republican from Howard County who served 16 years in the legislature before becoming former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s transportation secretary in 2003. Ethics rules have shifted some since Flanagan left public office in 2007. "It's tightened up over the past eight years."
"A lot of them have a different perception of what it means to serve when they get elected than when they get here," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch. "I tell my members: It's a distance race, not a sprint."