It’s easy to get lost in the pomp and grandeur of the Maryland State House. The splendid marble floors and staircases, the historic artwork and sweeping glass-paned ceilings of the chambers can transport one to another place and time.

But as lawmakers mixed and mingled among lobbyists and local officials on the first day of the legislative session, what kept them anchored to the reasons they ran for office in the first place?

Most of the lawmaking course has already been charted by legislative leaders, a logistical necessity, given there’s only 90 days to work. Priorities pegged for this year include closing a budget shortfall, increasing affordable housing and improving public safety, for starters.

But legislators bring with them the individual names and unique stories of their constituents, even those who didn’t vote for them.

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The Baltimore Banner asked legislators what keeps them connected to their districts, what they’re in Annapolis fighting for, and what they’ll be proud of when the 90 days are up.

Portrait of Jeffrie Long Jr. for a Q&A
Del. Jeffrie Long Jr. is a Democrat representing Prince George’s and Calvert counties.

Del. Jeffrie Long Jr., Prince George’s and Calvert counties

“People’s issues are our driving force,” Del. Jeffrie Long Jr. said. The Democrat’s constituents in Prince George’s and Calvert counties sent him to Annapolis to bring back funding for their districts, and to address transportation issues and health care inequities, he said.

He said he thinks he can accomplish these goals over the course of his four-year term.

While the atmosphere is opulent and the the day ceremonial, “the real work starts after today,” he said.

Sen. Malcolm Augustine, Prince George’s County

Freshly reelected Senate President Pro Tem Malcolm Augustine said he brings his concerns with him to the legislature. “I hear from people and they’re hurting, they’re struggling, they’re trying to pay their bills,” the Prince George’s County Democrat said.

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After session ends, he said, “I want to look them [constituents] in their eyes, and tell them that I looked out for their best interest,” he said.

Del. Marlon Amprey, a Baltimore City Democrat, listens to floor debate at the Maryland State House on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Del. Marlon Amprey, Baltimore

Del. Marlon Amprey stays connected to his Baltimore constituents by going home many times during the weeks and making himself available by phone: “I make my presence still felt back home,” he said.

Amprey, a Democrat, comes to Annapolis to improve his constituents’ quality of life, which means increasing affordable housing and access to child care, adding new grocery stores and supporting education, he said.

“One decision I will say that’s never difficult, and that is putting our kids first,” he said.

For him, this also means funding community programs for children in the context of a larger discussion on juvenile justice.

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“My focus is making sure we address that [the juvenile system], but also making sure, more importantly, that we give them [youths] the tools and resources they need to be productive citizens so they don’t make the mistake in the first place,” he said.

Del. Dana Jones, Anne Arundel County

Other members, like Anne Arundel County Del. Dana Jones, don’t have to travel far and come with timely and specific bill plans.

“I can’t wait to pass the Freedom to Read bill,” the Democrat said, about a measure aimed at stopping attempts to ban books based on their content.

Maryland Senate Minority Leader Steve Hershey speaks during the opening session in Annapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Sen. Stephen Hershey, Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties

Republican Minority leader Sen. Stephen Hershey said in light of structural deficits fast approaching, “My constituents want to see responsible government.” Funding state transportation projects and ensuring public safety are at the top of Hershey’s agenda and also on the minds of his constituents, he said.

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Legislators, he said, will have “to find ways that all of us can go back to our constituents and say that we made our streets safer.”

Del. Steven Arentz, Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties

Del. Steven Arentz, a Republican representing four Eastern Shore counties, said his constituents sent him to Annapolis to “watch their money,” especially when it comes to energy costs.

“In my humble opinion, I think sometimes Maryland needs to rethink our policy to the point where it’s not costing those that can’t afford it as much as it’s going to cost them,” he said.

Maryland Senator Shelly Hettleman smiles during an interview after the opening session in Annapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Sen. Shelly Hettleman, Baltimore County

Sen. Shelly Hettleman of Baltimore County said what she hears from her constituents is: “Do no harm.”

“I think people are excited to have us back into session. We have a lot of public safety issues, so that’s certainly something I’m going to be following closely,” said Hettleman, a Democrat.

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As a member of the committee that reviews the state budget, Hettleman expects to be focused on ensuring the budget is balanced.

In her district in Northwest Baltimore County, Hettleman hears concerns “about people whizzing around the Beltway at unbelievable speeds — and I witness it.” Residents are also worried about public safety and environmental issues — highlighted by a police shooting in her district this week and then torrential rainfall and flooding on Tuesday.

Maryland Senator Nick Charles speaks during an interview after the opening session in Annapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Sen. Nick Charles, Prince George’s County

Sen. Nick Charles spent his first day as a senator representing Prince George’s County, after previously serving in the House of Delegates.

The Democrat held pre-session town halls in his district — which includes communities such as Largo, Forestville, District Heights and Clinton — where residents were full of concerns about public safety and transportation and promoting economic development.

“We took a major hit on the budget for transportation,” Charles said. Even maintaining highways and keeping the roadsides clean and the grass cut is important, he said.

Residents also want improvements to the healthcare system, and Charles expects to work hand-in-hand with Maryland Hospital Association CEO Melony Griffith — who knows a thing or two about Prince George’s County, having represented the district as senator before Charles.

Maryland Senator Johnny Ray Salling works on his laptop during the opening session in Annapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, Baltimore County

Sen. Johnny Ray Salling said his constituents in southeast Baltimore County have plenty of worry about crime, particularly involving young people.

“Our biggest problem is juvenile justice. ... We need to answer their call. I work for my constituents,” the Republican said. “We want to support our police officers, we want to support our communities and we want to support our victims.”

Salling said he wants to work to prevent crime, too, by supporting businesses that can hire people to work. He especially wants to take advantage of Tradepoint Atlantic, a steel mill-turned-distribution-hub in his district.

“The more people who are working, the less crime we have,” Salling said.

By the end of 90 days, when he reports back to constituents: “I hope that I’ll be able to say, ‘We’ve done our job,’” Salling said.

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