Meet the Freshmen
This year's class of incoming legislators is looking to make immediate impact
The 40 freshmen legislators who make up the General Assembly's Class of 2011 possess various backgrounds.
Only two of the 10 incoming senators have not served previously in the House of Delegates, and three House Republicans are reclaiming seats they lost or relinquished four years ago, so the number of "true freshmen" is lower. Several more have held local office, and others have Annapolis experience as one-time legislative staffers.
There are entrepreneurs, educators and, of course, numerous attorneys.
Predicting the political stars of tomorrow is something of a crapshoot, but here is a handful of newbies to keep an eye on during the upcoming legislative session and beyond.
Sen.-elect Bill Ferguson (D-Dist. 46) of Baltimore
At 27 years old, Ferguson becomes the youngest member of the Senate by far (36-year-old Victor Ramirez is next in line), and his surprising defeat of Sen. George W. Della Jr. puts him in the spotlight.
A former Baltimore city high school teacher who went on to work for school system CEO Dr. Andres Alonso, Ferguson is the only incoming senator who has never served in public office.
Despite being the new kid on the block, Ferguson said he looks forward to learning from veteran senators and figuring out what role he can play early in his term.
"I feel pressure from the district to be effective, and that requires me to have open ears and open eyes," he said.
Sen.-elect Joseph M. Getty (R-Dist. 5) of Manchester
No other freshman senator has more diverse legislative experience than Getty, who served two terms in the House of Delegates, was policy and legislative director under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and spent the past four years as policy adviser to the Senate Minority Caucus.
"I feel like I can be engaged from day one," he said, pointing to his strong knowledge of legislative procedures and process.
Getty, a practicing attorney who served on the House Judiciary Committee during his second term in that chamber, hopes to assume retiring Sen. Larry E. Haines' seat on the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
And while they might not see eye-to-eye on policy all the time, Getty and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach share at least one thing: They're both big history buffs.
Del.-elect Bonnie Cullison (D-Dist. 19) of Aspen Hill
The looming debate on how to pay for the escalating cost of teachers' pensions is right up Cullison's alley. A former president of the Montgomery County Education Association who now works for the National Education Association Foundation, she figures to be a solid vote against any proposal to shift the burden of teacher retirement costs from the state to county governments.
Although Cullison is passionate about schools and expects education policy to be one of her top priorities, she doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a single-issue advocate, specifically citing her interest in health care legislation.
"My successful mode of operation in my 35 years has been building relationships and understanding others' perspectives, and I'm going to take time to do that," she said.
As one of three openly gay freshmen, Cullison also likely will join the fight to legalize same-sex marriages in Maryland.
Del.-elect Cathleen M. Vitale (R-Dist. 33A) of Severna Park
An Anne Arundel County councilwoman for 11 years, Vitale is one of several local officeholders making the switch to the State House, and she is pledging to stay true to her roots in key discussions about local funding.
Still recovering from a summer automobile accident that left her in a wheelchair, Vitale believes the relationships she already has fostered will pay dividends in her new job.
"It seems like a more comfortable transition than listening to what I hear from some of my [freshman] colleagues," she said.
Her service on the Maryland Critical Area Commission could give her unique insight on issues that impact development and the environment.
Del.-elect Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Dist. 23A) of Bowie
A Bowie city councilwoman since 2007, Valentino-Smith is no stranger to Annapolis.
She also has worked the State House halls for 17 years, primarily advocating on health care policy for MedChi and two lobbying firms. Her sister, Ellen Valentino, is state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Like Vitale, Valentino-Smith knows how cuts in state aid can cause hardship for local governments. Sitting through a session during this week's orientation on how a bill becomes a law, she noted the importance of working a bill behind the scenes, outside of the chamber or the committee room.
"I really think I have an appreciation for the importance of compromise, the importance of realizing there's another session," Valentino-Smith said. "Your enemies today on one bill are your friends tomorrow on another bill."
Del.-elect Kelly Schulz (R-Dist. 4A) of New Market
Sometimes, legislative aides are the eyes and ears of what really takes place in Annapolis. Schulz is one of several former staffers making the leap to elected office in 2011 and thinks that experience offers an important perspective on how to get things done.
"I know who has been an advocate for certain issues in the past," she said. "I understand the issues and why they have died in the past, whether I agree with it or not."
Schulz has worked on both sides of the hallway, for Sen. David R. Brinkley and the House Republican Caucus. She also has worked for the federal government, as an appointee to the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.
Currently, she works for a consulting firm in Annapolis that gives her an understanding of small business.
"Being able to manage your bottom line in Maryland is difficult," she said.
Del.-elect C.T. Wilson (D-Dist. 28) of White Plains
The first black state legislator to represent Southern Maryland has a compelling background that led him from several orphanages to serving in the military to a legal career, where his portfolio as a Prince George's County prosecutor includes working to reform juvenile offenders.
"I've been there without a voice," he said. "I know how important it is for everyone to have a voice."
His Charles County colleagues see a bright future for Wilson, but he's just focused on the next four years.
"I've got to vote my conscience, not what's going to get me re-elected," he said.
Del.-elect Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. (D-Dist. 44) of Baltimore
The former Baltimore city councilman who ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 2007 has begun a political comeback that some observers believe could go far.
According to campaign finance data, he raised more money in the past election cycle than any other candidate for delegate, including House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis.
But in Annapolis, he acknowledged being no different from other freshmen learning the ropes, regardless of his family's political lineage (his uncle, Clarence Mitchell III, was a state legislator for more than 20 years, while his cousin Clarence M. Mitchell IV is a former delegate and now a popular talk radio host).
"It's a far cry from City Hall when you're dealing with potholes and streetlights and trash not being picked up," he said.