Enter the tunnels at your own risk: 5 lessons from veteran Maryland politicos to new state lawmakers

Dozens of new lawmakers have descended on Annapolis for orientation.

With 60 new senators and delegates taking office in January, nearly one-third of the General Assembly will be freshmen. They will be tasked with tackling some of the state’s biggest issues, including an anticipated proposal from the Kirwan Commission to increase public school funding by billions annually.


But first, they have to learn the rules and customs of the Maryland State House.

Here are five lessons veteran members of the General Assembly imparted Wednesday to new lawmakers on the first day of a two-day orientation.

This week marks the orientation for 60 new Maryland General Assembly legislators — 43 in the House of Delegates and 17 in the state Senate. Before they can decide the future of the state, they first have to find their desks, figure out their committees and learn where to park.

1. You don’t own the road.

Just because you have new delegate or senator license plates does not mean you can park wherever you want.

First Sgt. George White of Maryland State Police told the freshmen it’s not uncommon for new lawmakers to complain to him about being towed after they’ve parked illegally. White says the most help he can provide is to point them to the impound lot.

2. Gentlemen, put on a blazer.

It doesn’t matter whether you call it a sports coat, a blazer or a suit jacket, just put one on.

That was the message from House Speaker Michael Busch, who told freshmen if they want to get called on to argue a point or ask a question on the House of Delegates floor, they need to be dressed appropriately.


3. Enter the tunnels at your own risk.

Yes, there’s a tunnel system that connects the various state government buildings. No, there’s no one there to help you if you get lost in it. And lost you will get.

If you’ve ever wondered how legislators go between the State House and their offices — or to lunch — without being seen by protesters and common folk outside, we'll tell you how they do it.

“I could walk you through in 10 times and you’d still be lost,” White told the new delegates and senators.

4. If you moved up from House to the Senate, you’re kind of dead to the House.

House of Delegates members often rely on Busch’s staff for advice, consulting on legislation and dealing with the news media. They need to look elsewhere for assistance once they leave the chamber.

“All the former delegates who are now senators, we don’t know you anymore,” said Busch’s chief of staff, Alexandra Hughes.


5. In the end, try to work together.

Bitter partisanship has consumed national politics in Washington, but that doesn’t mean it has to infect Annapolis.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller — who once vowed to bury Republicans “upside-down and it’ll be 10 years before they crawl out again” — urged new lawmakers to reach across the aisle and work on bipartisan legislation. He said his staff is happy to help all new members.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat,” Miller said. “We serve you and you serve the people of Maryland.”