Friday, March 9, 2007

Looking after Maggie’s farm

McIntosh excels at bringing together sometimes divergent parties for the greater good, a quality her colleagues say may mean the speakership if she wants it

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Del. Maggie McIntosh grew up on a farm in Kansas. She says she sees no natural conflicts between business, agriculture and the environment, a mindset that has won her praise from all sides of the issues her House Environmental Matters Committee hears.
Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby is the House minority leader. He was misidentified below and this story has been corrected to reflect his title.

ANNAPOLIS — Maggie L. McIntosh is walking through the Lowe House Office Building when a reporter mentions that an interview would be for a story that is part personality profile.

‘‘Personality?” she repeats. ‘‘I don’t have personality.”

‘‘You don’t have personality?” a colleague passing in the hall says incredulously.

As if to drive the sarcasm home, McIntosh begins a subtle strut, singing a Lloyd Price hit.

‘‘Walk,” the Democrat from Baltimore’s District 43 sings. ‘‘Personality. Talk. Personality.”

More than 14 years after she was appointed to the House of Delegates following Anne S. Perkins’ resignation, McIntosh says she feels at home.

Colleagues say it is right where she belongs.

‘‘The day I met her I immediately knew that she’d be in the legislature,” said Del. Curt S. Anderson (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore.

McIntosh is what baseball refers to as a ‘‘four-tool player,” Anderson said. ‘‘She had A, the ability, B, the popularity in her Democratic club, C, I knew she could raise money and D, she had a mission.”

McIntosh’s mission when Speaker Michael E. Busch chose her to lead the Environmental Matters Committee in 2003 was to bridge a divide between environmental interests and the farmers many were blaming for polluting the Chesapeake Bay.

The agricultural stewardship bill that McIntosh guided through the legislature last year went a long way toward doing that, environmentalists and farm advocates said.

‘‘From farmers’ perspective, she has been very open and interested in concerns of farmers and in finding mutually beneficial ways to address Bay cleanup,” said Valerie Connelly, a lobbyist for the Maryland Farm Bureau.

‘‘She runs a good committee meeting,” said Connelly, who regularly appears before McIntosh’s committee. ‘‘Everyone gets a chance to say what they want to say, and they get the work done.”

McIntosh’s command of her committee has taken on greater urgency in a year when environmental issues have come to the forefront — in the General Assembly, where Democrats’ control is even firmer, and in the governor’s office, where Martin O’Malley (D) is highlighting environmental initiatives.

A bill to require lower emissions for cars sold in Maryland breezed through McIntosh’s committee on the way toward passage and awaits only a conference meeting to reconcile slight differences between House and Senate versions.

McIntosh has brought a ‘‘commitment and a level of political savviness” to the job of chairwoman, said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. ‘‘The relationship between the [farm and environmental] communities is a very productive relationship now and Chairwoman McIntosh had a lot to do with that.”

The man who put her in the position to build that relationship agrees.

‘‘One of the first things she did when she became chair of Environmental Matters is [she] went up to the business community and the farmers and said, ‘Hey, look, I’m not the enemy. I’m here to work with everybody to solve problems,’” said Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis.

Too often leaders can lean too much to one side or the other on issues, but not McIntosh, colleagues say.

‘‘She’s been able to bridge all the different special interests that center around the major issues,” Busch said.

He counts the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act, which funded upgrades at wastewater treatment plants around the state, among McIntosh’s accomplishments, as well as an annexation measure passed last year in which she brought counties and municipalities together.

One of McIntosh’s chief initiatives this year is the Chesapeake Bay Green Fund, which would levy a surcharge on new development to pay for Bay restoration.

‘‘I’m not against development,” McIntosh said. ‘‘But you’ve got to develop smart and you’ve got to develop green.”

She sees business, agriculture and the environment as going hand-in-hand.

‘‘If the environmental community joins hands with the farming community, we can encourage best practices in the farming community and get a lot further along in terms of our goals toward nitrogen reduction in the Bay than we can by fighting one another,” McIntosh said. ‘‘... You know there’s a saying — I believe it’s true — that the farming community was our original environmental community, protecting open space, protecting and nurturing the land, providing food for the world.”

That perspective has won her fans in the farming community.

‘‘She’s a farm girl,” said Lynne Hoot, director of the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts and a lobbyist for a number of agricultural interests.

The granddaughter of a chicken farmer, McIntosh grew up in Kansas, spending summers on a cousin’s farm in Abilene. ‘‘Everything about growing up, our schooling, was about farming,” she recalled.

That upbringing has influenced her dealing with farmers, Hoot said.

‘‘She gives us the benefit of the fact that we are trying,” Hoot said. ‘‘She gives us whatever she can. She gives us the resources. She makes it so that everyone wants to work with her.”

That includes Republicans.

“She’s a very hardworking, conscientious legislator,” said Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby, the minority leader and a member of McIntosh’s committee. “She runs a very good committee, and I’m pleased to be her friend. We often disagree on policy, but we still maintain a good friendship.”

McIntosh’s ability to reach out was evident from the start of her career as a lawmaker, said state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D), a former delegate whom McIntosh counts as one of her mentors.

‘‘She was very smart when she first came to Annapolis in both trying to seriously understand issues and problems and also working with people from around the state,” Kopp said.

McIntosh has many friends in the legislature, although she is admittedly reticent about her personal life.

Still, in 2001, while serving as majority leader at the height of debate about the state’s anti-discrimination laws, she revealed that she is gay.

‘‘I think former governor [Parris N.] Glendening said, ‘It shouldn’t matter who you choose to love,’” McIntosh said. ‘‘And I think that’s the best way of looking at it. This is not about anything mysterious, it’s who you choose to love.”

Her future is uncertain, McIntosh said. She considered running for Congress last year, but chose not to, deciding she is happy where she is.

‘‘I really feel like I’m getting more done here in the House of Delegates than I would have as a freshman member of Congress,” she said.

Whether she decides to stay in the House or go elsewhere, ‘‘her future’s unlimited,” Busch said. ‘‘She could be the next speaker of the House.”

Busch has not decided whether this will be his last term, although he has been quoted as saying that two terms is enough for any presiding officer.

‘‘I think all of that is timing and if I’m here when [Busch retires], I’m here,” McIntosh said. ‘‘If I’m not, I’m not. And it’s something I would consider, but so are — I’ll bet you — about 12 other people I can name.

‘‘I don’t run around thinking about it every day. I’m just trying to do a good job and if the next job comes along, it does,” she said. ‘‘But it may not be speaker. It may not be anything in the House of Delegates. It may not be anything.”

That, by all accounts, would be a loss.

‘‘I think Maggie’s one of the most astute policymakers that we’ve ever had in Annapolis,” Busch said. ‘‘She understands the process, she likes government, she works hard at it. She’s good at bringing people together, and she’s a problem solver. And I think it’s been demonstrated by the way she’s handled her committee for five years.”

Maggie L. McIntosh

Chairwoman, House Environmental Matters Committee since 2003

Born: Dec. 22, 1947, in Quinter, Kansas

Education: Bachelor’s inarts education, Wichita State University, 1970; Masterof Science, Johns Hopkins University, 1987