Mr. Hornberger Goes to Annapolis: Good Intentions, Rookie Mistakes

March 1, 2015


Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-35A) has withdrawn a controversial bill that would have authorized a four-year nursing degree to be offered by the two-year Cecil College, after college officials and members of the Cecil County Council criticized the freshman delegate for storming ahead with his bill without adequate consultation or understanding of fiscal and policy aspects of the issue.

Hornberger’s handling of the legislation, which he insisted was well-intentioned and based upon a request from a constituent, highlights some of the challenges facing a rookie in Annapolis and some lessons to be learned. But it is not the only bill or issue on which the new delegate could take some hints for being effective in a legislative body and building up his own credibility as a lawmaker.

Several days after his Cecil College bill drew a lightening rod of criticism from a majority of members at a Cecil County Council worksession in Elkton, the bill was withdrawn and an upcoming hearing on it cancelled. Hornberger told Cecil Times it was his decision to pull the bill after the criticism at the local worksession.

Other sources told Cecil Times that multiple officials had refused to testify on the bill, and there could have been the embarrassing prospect of a hearing at which the key players affected by the legislation refused to participate. The hearing was slated to be held at the House Ways and Means Committee, of which Hornberger is a new member.

Hint to rookie legislators: Don’t bring flawed, poorly-prepared or unsupported bills before your own committee or you’ll lose credibility in the most important arena you have and make your colleagues gun-shy about other bills you bring up.

Hornberger introduced his Cecil College bill on 2/13/15, after briefly mentioning his intentions to a Cecil College official at the “Cecil Night in Annapolis,” which is essentially a meet-and-greet between county officials and legislators from throughout the state, not a sit-down-and-discuss type of gathering.

College officials were surprised at the shortly-thereafter bill introduction and subsequently met with Hornberger to express their concerns with the substance of the bill and the way in which it was being advanced in Annapolis without solid input from the college. College officials asked him to withdraw the bill but he refused, according to Chris Ann Szep, vice president for government relations for the college.

Hornberger then asked the County Council to endorse his bill and it was brought up at a council worksession on 2/24/15, at which council members asked Szep to weigh in.

“We would have preferred the delegate talk to us first about this,” Szep said, choosing her words carefully. She went on to say that the college has cultivated relationships with several four-year institutions, including the prestigious Drexel University in Pennsylvania and Salisbury University, to ease transfers of locally earned credits in a local two-year associate’s degree program to their bachelor’s degree nursing programs. And Drexel and Salisbury faculty are even conducting classes on the Cecil College campus to help local residents complete advanced nursing degrees without having to travel.

After Hornberger’s bill was introduced, the college was peppered with concerns from its four-year degree partners and statewide community college associations and oversight authorities. Creation of a four-year degree program at a two-year college would require major policy changes under state law and higher education administration.

Szep pointed out that Cecil College cannot offer a four-year degree under its charter, or current state law, and that there would be extra costs that such a shift would entail.

(Community colleges are, in general, financed under a one-third/one-third/one-third cost-sharing, with the state, local county governments and student tuition each shouldering a third of the costs—with some variations due to grants, donations and scholarships.)

Hornberger said he had not obtained a fiscal policy note—as is always required of legislation that is to have any chance of proceeding in the General Assembly—because it was premature to assess how much it would cost the state or Cecil County and pointed out that his bill did not mandate a four-year nursing degree but only authorized the college to do so if it wished.

While costs were a concern for the college, officials were most concerned about the “process” of a delegate moving ahead with such a significant change without a solid consultation process with those affected by the bill.

“This is really about the process,” Szep told the County Council. “We went right to marriage without any courting.”

In an interview with Cecil Times, Hornberger said he had sought an advisory letter from the Attorney General’s office on the legality of his plan and he said it showed precedent for it. However, a review of the letter showed that Hornberger’s request focused primarily on his contention that there was an “unlawful monopoly” violation by four-year colleges to limit community colleges such as Cecil College from offering bachelor’s degrees. The letter found there was no such monopoly violation.

The letter went on to note that the General Assembly had in limited instances permitted bachelor’s degree programs at some community colleges, but the lawyers also held that state higher education authorities were appropriately empowered to oversee programs for “avoidance of duplication” of programs, and “legitimately exercising its authority to administer and regulate a higher education system in the public interest of its citizens…”

Hint to rookie legislators: Those AG advisory letters, which are not a formal legal opinion, focus as narrowly as possible on the legal issues you raise in your own letter. They don’t get into policy, or politics—both of which are important in getting legislation passed.

Hornberger said that he now “understands” the concerns raised by the college but wouldn’t characterize his handling of the matter as a mistake: “We don’t call these things mistakes; we call them learning opportunities.”

Hint to rookie legislators: You may be a one-man-band in a political campaign, running on your own platform and message, but once elected you can’t get anything done unless you collaborate with, listen to, and are willing to work with and learn from others—from fellow lawmakers to local elected officials to policy experts with expertise on the fine points and potential ramifications of legislation.

Hornberger won an upset, and solid vote-margin, win over 20-year incumbent Del. David Rudolph, a Democrat, in November. Hornberger had never held elected office before and was not a regular participant or attendee at local government meetings in the county.

Hornberger’s election campaign was overwhelmingly financed by US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), through his own campaign account and a Political Action Committee he operates.
Harris’ own campaign account transferred $4,000 and his “leadership PAC” (Chesapeake PAC) kicked in another $4,000, according to state elections records. And a Washington, DC entity, Presidential Coalition, LLC, donated $1,500 to Hornberger, who said that the coalition donation was facilitated by the “House Republican leadership.”

Hornberger has repeatedly missed deadlines to file campaign finance reports with the state Board of Elections and was assessed a total of $380 for three late filings in 2014. He paid those fines but a new penalty of $390, assessed for late filing of his latest finance report that was due in January, still has not been paid.

“Thanks for reminding me,” he said when asked about the late filing penalties. He said he was very busy with the start of legislative business in Annapolis and had overlooked payment of the latest fine. He said he would take care of it immediately.

Hornberger said negative blow-back over the Cecil College bill had come mostly from “public officials” rather than constituents.

Even before being sworn-in to his delegate seat, Hornberger had raised eyebrows among some area officials who felt he was unwilling to listen when they offered to arrange briefings for him on various issues to assist in the transition. “He said he knew all he needed to know” about an issue, according to one official who had offered to arrange meetings for Hornberger with various state and federal agency experts.

Hornberger carried two other rookie delegates along with him on the ill-fated Cecil College bill: Dels. Andrew Cassily and Teresa Reilly, Harford County Republicans from District 35B which also covers parts of western Cecil County. They won their seats in the November election. No veteran members of the all-Republican delegation, in District 36 that covers southern Cecil County as well as other counties, signed on to the Cecil College bill.

Hint to rookie legislators: When members of your own delegation and party who’ve been around the issues in the region and in Annapolis longer than you have don’t sign on to your proposal, you might want to ask why.

Hornberger took a go-it-alone approach on two other bills that would ban non-disclosure and non-compete clauses in employment contracts. He said he was inspired by reports that a hamburger fast-food chain had imposed such requirements on minimum-wage workers and said he felt such language was an impediment to job creation, especially for people who can only obtain part-time employment and need to get a second job to make ends meet.

Such contracts are a staple in high-tech industries, from computer to software to biotech companies where protection of proprietary information and intellectual property are key concerns. Cecil County has been trying in vain for years to attract high-tech employers to the area.

Cecil County is a member of the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor, which seeks to bring tech jobs to the Cecil-Harford- Baltimore county region, and the newly-created Northeastern Manufacturing Additive Innovation Authority, which is pushing to bring the latest “3-D printing” technology and manufacturing operations to the area. Both panels operate in co-operation with Aberdeen Proving Ground, a major player in area technology utilization and development.

Hornberger acknowledged he had not consulted with those panels before offering his bills but he said he had recently met with Cecil County’s director of economic development on multiple issues.

Not a single other delegate has agreed to co-sponsor Hornberger’s employment contract bills and he conceded the legislation will likely “go nowhere.”

“It’s a radical idea,” he said, and Maryland may just not be ready for it. “But I was elected to bring jobs” to the county, he added, and said he had no regrets about proposing it.

Hint to rookie legislators: A national hamburger chain’s misguided policies don’t necessarily reflect the job market realities on the Upper Shore. So why not ask the folks who do know the ins and outs of the local job market, especially in the high-tech businesses that the region hopes to attract. And when no one in Annapolis supports your legislation, ask why—and listen to the answers.

And a final hint to rookie legislators: Larry Hogan won an overwhelming victory to become Maryland’s governor in the November elections despite his Republican party affiliation in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Hogan’s campaign was marked by his willingness to listen to citizens of all political persuasions, meet with and listen to local elected officials, and avoid hard-line partisan positions and an ‘I know better than you’ attitude. If it worked for Hogan, you might want to try the same approach.

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10 Responses to Mr. Hornberger Goes to Annapolis: Good Intentions, Rookie Mistakes

  1. Ron Lobos on March 2, 2015 at 8:35 am

    I believe that Kevin Hornberger is a good man. Rookie mistakes are never good and it is important that the rookie learn from these mistakes regardless of what profession they are in. But I’m searching to try and find an article on hint’s for veteran legislator’s. I can’t seem to find any. You see, if Rudolph had taken some hints from us on mistakes he was making, he might still be in office.

    Fortunately, these mistakes by the first year delegate didn’t cost citizens anything substantial. However, Rudolph backed 40 new taxes and tax increases passed on by the O’Malley Administration over the last 8 years. He also co-sponsored HB332 that imposed a fee on people like me that goes directly to the power company. That fee cost me over $300 during the first year and doesn’t benefit me at all. I thought he was supposed to be representing me, not the power companies. He told us that a $12 toll was being sought to cross the Susquehanna and that an $8 fee would be acceptable. I never believed any of that for one moment.

    So let’s give young Hornberger a chance to grow into his new job and encourage him rather than ridicule him. His head is pointed in the right direction. One last thing. I only think it is fair to Hornberger to let him know what official quoted, “He said he knew all he needed to know”. That would be the only prudent way for Hornberger to defend himself of let us know if this was taken out of context.

    • Joe C on March 7, 2015 at 7:42 am

      Spot on! I was disappointed that the article did not reveal Del. Rudolph’s PAC donations! That would be revealing. Quite to the contrary we need more nurses, how we get him should not be an issues. We just need quality nurses. Last time a relative was in the hospital most of the nurses were imported from foreign countries. Interesting when we have US citizens who need job with a good income and an aging population. Wake up, think out the box!

  2. Harold McCanick on March 2, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    This article(?) sounds like an op-ed rather than objective reporting.Where was the similar criticism when the former delegate was supporting most if not all of the fortysomething tax increases of the past eight years?He didn’t have the”rookie”excuse only blatant disregard.I also hope the former delegate’s relationship with the college isn’t the motive with these objections.

  3. Cecil College Mom on March 2, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    I voted a straight Republican ticket in the elections because I hated O’Malley. I didn’t know much about the delegate Hornburger but voted for him because he was a Republican. Now I’m sorry I did that.

    My two kids went to Cecil College and got a great education there and have gone on to do great things in their lives. I’m sorry I didnt look at this delegate more before I gave him a vote. Cecil College is fantastic and should not be hurt by a politician who didnt ask them first.

    • Ron Lobos on March 3, 2015 at 9:09 am

      Dear CC Mom, I went to Cecil Community College too and was involved in their nursing program. I also got my BS from Towson University. I’m not sure where you’re coming from. What is it that Hornberger did to hurt this college? I believe that all he was doing was trying to create more opportunities for careers that are in demand. This particular idea didn’t work out. That’s life. Fresh ideas should be encouraged, not ridiculed. Not all of them should be implemented but all should be considered. I didn’t see many fresh ideas coming from Rudolph in recent years, just new taxes and fees.

  4. scott on March 2, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Never mind, voting partisan will fix everything. Cecil County voters got exactally what they deserved.

  5. SchoolMarm on March 4, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Oh, goody. All I need to do is send Kevin an idea of mine and he will introduce a bill for me? I love Democracy (and I don’t eat meat so I need not worry about hamburger chain policies).

  6. John Ulrich on March 4, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Lets not give too much credit to Hogan for listening to all sides. Democrats that voted for him did so holding their nose. The only reason Hogan won was because Brown ran probably the worst campaign in recent Maryland history. Brown gave no one a reason to come out and vote. Hogan will be a one termer just like Ehrlich once voters see who he really is.

    • Rick O'Shea on March 6, 2015 at 7:22 am

      Democrats held their noses over O’Malley enhancing his extreme Liberal credentials at the state’s expense in quest for the Presidency. He was aided and abetted by Miller and Bush. The voters saw that Brown would be a pawn for Miller and Bush.

  7. Harold McCanick on March 4, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    Cecil College Mom,Interesting you hate Owemalley but guess who was at his disposal.Sorry,I had to point that out.
    Mr.Ulrich,I beg to differ with A.Brown running the”worst campaign in recent MD history.”That would be B.Ehrlich.I believe more people held their nose and voted for OMallez even though every indication was there that the stench from his first term would get even worse in his second,lo and behold!As far as that being the”only”reason,see Cecil College Mom’s post.

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