After Congressman Jamie Raskin was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives for Maryland’s 8th congressional district, a vacancy was created for Maryland’s 20th District senatorial seat. Having served in the House of Delegates for two legislative sessions, Senator Will Smith was selected to replace Congressman Raskin in the Maryland State Senate. While many legislators in the General Assembly have served in both the House and Senate, few have accomplished the feat so early in their political careers. Moving from the House to the Senate in 2017, Senator Smith brings with him an outstanding public service and legal background. Additionally, he brings a passion for advocating for underserved communities with a results-oriented attitude. It was my pleasure to meet with Senator Smith to discuss how he became involved with government and his outlook on the 437th legislative session.
Senator Will Smith was born and raised in the Silver Spring community of Montgomery County, Maryland. Despite neither of Senator Smith’s parents attending college, they instilled in him a strong work ethic and explained to him the importance of obtaining a quality education. Thus, as a child, Senator Smith attended the Barrie School while his mother worked long hours in the federal government and his father drove a cab. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Senator Smith developed an interest in government and politics at an early age. Early on, Senator Smith completed internships on Capitol Hill and worked with local community organizations and nonprofits. After graduation from the Barrie School, Senator Smith attended The College of William & Mary where he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Government. Following college and while obtaining his Master’s in Government from Johns Hopkins University, Senator Smith worked on Americorps “Project Change”. Project Change is a collaboration of leading academic and service agencies at work in Montgomery County who share a common mission of improving the quality of life for county residents with a particular emphasis on those in southern Silver Spring. Next, Senator Smith would complete law school at William & Mary. While attending law school, Senator Smith volunteered to work on President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign and would soon after begin his career in public service.
Following law school, Senator Smith pursued a career serving Maryland’s most vulnerable populations. Initially, Senator Smith worked at the ACLU and also at a civil rights law firm handling employment discrimination cases. Subsequently, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and then as the Director of the Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council. Despite moving around for graduate and law school and working in the federal government, Senator Smith maintained a strong connection to Montgomery County. Therefore, when two delegates vacated their offices to pursue other ventures, Senator Smith decided to seek one of the open seats representing the County. Successful in his bid for office in 2015, Senator Smith began serving in the Maryland House of Delegates. In 2017, after the 20th District Senatorial seat was vacated, Senator Smith was chosen to serve in the Maryland State Senate.
Since joining the General Assembly in 2015, Senator Smith has remained committed to learning every day in order to best serve his constituency and the state of Maryland. Speaking of how he approaches the legislative session, he said, “I learn so much every single day in this job. Nothing surprises me anymore. I’ve learned just to be open. The more you learn, the more you realize you have to learn.” Having the unique opportunity to serve in both the House of Delegates and State Senate, Senator Smith has noticed just how different the two bodies can be. Discussing his early observations of these differences, Senator Smith stated, “The most stark difference is the size. In the house, you are 1 of 141. In the Senate, its only 47 of you so the workload is a little bit more. The issues are largely the same, but the relationships you have to build with each other are important. It’s a small, more intimate environment. You have to really invest a lot of time in getting to know your colleagues in both Houses but the Senate is so much smaller.” Notwithstanding the differences between the two legislative bodies, Senator Smith insists he will continue to be a stern advocate for issues affecting education, policy reform, criminal justice reform, and consumer protection.
Despite having a short stint in the General Assembly thus far, Senator Smith has a list of notable achievements. After speaking with him, however, it’s apparent Senator Smith’s most cherished accomplishments have not been in the form of passing legislation. Although he joined the General Assembly to make a difference by passing meaningful legislation, Senator Smith recognizes his primary task is serving his constituency and helping them access the government. When constituents come to Senator Smith with issues, he prides himself on helping them get the assistance they need. Recently, the mother of a developmentally disabled child in his district came to him explaining how she had to leave the workforce in order to provide care for her child. After explaining her need to work and how her loss of income negatively affects her family, Senator Smith quickly took action. Within two weeks, Senator Smith was able to set up meetings and get the constituent enough support hours to reenter the workforce. Because of Senator Smith’s quick and decisive actions, this family will not have to sacrifice income to make sure their child receives the care she requires. While not having yet been the sponsor of historic legislation, Senator Smith’s early actions have driven at the root of what it means to be a public servant. In his own words, he says, “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done. That’s the type of thing that you’re really here for.”
During the 2017 legislative session, Senator Smith will continue constituent outreach and will work to pass meaningful legislation benefitting Maryland’s citizens. So far, Senator Smith has introduced legislation prohibiting public schools from suspending or expelling prekindergarten students. Recognizing that students of color and children with developmental disabilities are disproportionally affected, Senator Smith believes the focus should be on restorative measures as opposed to excluding students altogether. In addition, Senator Smith has introduced a number of consumer protection bills and legislation prohibiting individuals from carrying or possessing firearms on the campuses of public institutions of higher education.
In his short time in the General Assembly, Senator Smith is adamant regarding the honor and privilege he has been given to serve the state of Maryland. Demonstrating his appreciation of his current role, Senator Smith explained, “I’ve been an officer in the Navy, served as a White House appointee, and this is by far the best job I’ve ever had. This is the best job. I hope my mom is proud.” We are confident that Senator Smith will continue his advocacy for communities he believes are often overlooked in Annapolis. Given his short but successful track record thus far, we expect Senator Smith will continue to ascend amongst the ranks of legislators in Annapolis well beyond 2017.
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