Over the last fifty years, the United States has made tremendous progress in race and gender relations. As a result of this progress, local and state governments now more than ever reflect the diversity America so happily boasts. The State of Maryland is not exempt from this progress, as the General Assembly has become increasingly more diverse in recent decades. The Washington Post noted this progress in January of 2015 when it recognized Maryland welcomed one Lebanese immigrant, sixteen African American, five Asian, and two Hispanic legislators to the General Assembly.
Speaker Pro Tem for the Maryland House of Delegates, Adrienne Jones, recognizes these great strides in diversity, but believes more can be done to ensure minorities and women have influence in government. According to Delegate Jones, she is one of only six women in the Nation who currently serve as Speaker Pro Tem and one of two African American women. A fixture in the Maryland General Assembly since 1997, Delegate Jones has been both an effective legislator and a pioneer for women and minority legislators. While it may not have been her intention, Delegate Jones’ career is as much about breaking down racial and gender barriers as it is about her legislative accomplishments. As Delegate Jones enters her nineteenth year in the legislature and her thirteenth year as Speaker Pro Tem, I had the opportunity to sit down with her to discuss her upbringing, her career as a legislature, and her advice for newer members of the Maryland General Assembly.
Delegate Jones grew up in Cowdensville, Maryland, a largely African-American community in the Arbutus region of Baltimore County. The only girl of five children, Delegate Jones learned from an early age to have thick skin. During her childhood, Delegate Jones attended Baltimore County public schools and graduated from Lansdowne High School. Although Delegate Jones grew up in an area heavily populated by African Americans, she spent the majority of her schooling in the greater Arbutus region mainly occupied by Caucasians. Growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, Delegate Jones remembers experiencing racism at an early age. For example, she recalls the humiliation she felt when the parents of her 6th grade square dance partner refused to allow the two to dance together. In addition, Delegate Jones recalls being one of about four African American graduates in her high school class.
Following high school, Delegate Jones attended UMBC where she majored in psychology. Unable to find employment post graduation, Delegate Jones took advantage of the Federal Government’s newly enacted Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA). Under CETA, which was created in part to assist individuals interested in public service, Delegate Jones was able to find a job as a clerk in Baltimore County aiding the Assistant Director of Central Services. She would go on to work for Baltimore County government for thirty-seven years before retiring in 2015. During her thirty-seven-year career, Delegate Jones served as the Director of Minority Affairs for Baltimore County, Director of Fair Practices and Community Affairs for Baltimore County, and Deputy Director of Human Resources. Consequently, Delegate Jones’ achievements and ability to break barriers is not limited to her role in the Maryland General Assembly.
Although Delegate Jones majored in psychology, she always had an interest in government and politics. As such, Delegate Jones was an active participant in her community and a frequent volunteer to numerous political campaigns. Because of her active role in the community, Delegate Jones was appointed by then Governor William Donald Schaefer as an at-large member of the Democratic State Central Committee. In 1997, following the death of Delegate Joan Neverdonn Parker, Governor Parris Glendening appointed Delegate Jones to represent District 10 of the Maryland House of Delegates and serve on the House Appropriations Committee. The following election year, Delegate Jones ran for and was elected to the same seat. She has occupied that seat since 1997. During her first full term in Annapolis, Delegate Jones was admittedly uncertain about her future in the Maryland General Assembly. Despite this uncertainty, Delegate Jones continued to pride herself on being a diligent worker and a consensus builder. In her second full term in 2002, Delegate Jones’ hard work would pay off, as her role in the legislature would increase dramatically.
In many ways, 2002 was the year of the unthinkable in Maryland State politics. The State of Maryland elected its first Republican Governor in nearly forty years and the longest serving Speaker of the House of Delegates in Maryland’s history lost his bid for reelection. When Delegate Michael Busch was elected Speaker of the House of Delegates, he chose Delegate Jones to hold the office of Speaker Pro Tem. Delegate Jones became the first African American woman in Maryland history to hold the position. As Speaker Pro Tem, Delegate Jones is responsible for presiding over the House of Delegates when the Speaker is unavailable and she also has a number of special committee assignments. When speaking of her position as Speaker Pro Tem, Delegate Jones maintains, “I never sought out these things but they presented themselves. I always tell incoming freshman who come into the General Assembly everybody is watching from the Speaker, the President of the Senate, to the custodial staff.” For Delegate Jones, her work ethic and ability to interact with colleagues helped propel her to be a leader in the Maryland General Assembly.
Delegate Jones is a firm believer that legislators who forge relationships with their colleagues are more effective than those who focus solely on introducing legislation. In order to be successful in the General Assembly, she believes legislators must take a vested interest in getting to know each other. When asked of the skills that make her an effective legislator, Delegate Jones stated, “It’s important that you just be yourself and be a person of your word. Develop relationships, learn your subject matter, be adept at a particular area so you can become an expert, and get advice and have a mentor.” Delegate Jones’ ability to consistently display these skills is one of the reasons she has been able to accomplish a great deal in her time as a legislature.
In her nearly twenty-year career in the legislature, Delegate Jones has passed a number of bills dealing with education, juveniles, and discrimination. In 2013, Delegate Jones sponsored legislation that granted foster children enrolled in vocational certificate programs at public institutions of higher education tuition waivers to attend certain Maryland schools. In addition, Delegate Jones sponsored pilot legislation aimed at both counseling and preventing children who fall into trouble from immediately being sent to juvenile services. The legislation established a program which encourages juveniles to alter the directions of their lives and become productive members of society. When speaking of her legislation concerning juveniles, Delegate Jones stated, “[e]verybody has something that they have a talent in. Even the worst behaved student has something that they’re gifted in. You got to find that, hone it in and you got them.” Lastly, Delegate Jones was also responsible for legislation that expanded Maryland’s hate crimes statute to include crimes committed against individuals due to sexual orientation or gender identity. As an African American woman who once felt the sting of discrimination and prejudice, Delegate Jones sponsored this legislation without any urging from advocates or special interest groups.
In 2016, Delegate Jones will continue to be a valued member and leader in the Maryland General Assembly. Her leadership will be crucial as the General Assembly continues to adjust to turnover in both the General Assembly and the Office of Governor. According to the Washington Post, 40 percent of Delegates taking office last year were new and 25 percent of Senators were new. Thus, Delegate Jones will once again have her hands full trying to continue to ease the learning curve and demonstrating the importance of teamwork to legislators. In the end, Delegate Jones hopes that all legislators abide by the principles that have helped her become a leader in the legislature. “My philosophy is if you’re successful, we’re all successful. I may not agree with you on everything, but we can come to a common ground in terms of trying to work things out,” says Delegate Jones.
Now entering her nineteenth year in the legislature, Delegate Jones can begin to assess her legacy as a member of the Maryland General Assembly. She will undoubtedly be remembered for her legislative achievements in education and with issues concerning juveniles. However, Delegate Jones also hopes to be remembered as a voice for minorities and women across the State. In the 436th session of the General Assembly, Delegate Jones hopes to continue to be a voice in her roles as a member of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and the Women Legislators of Maryland. She takes great pride in what she has been able to accomplish as an African American woman and hopes to open up the door for future women and minorities throughout the State. As such, it is only fair that Delegate Jones is measured by both her legislative accomplishments and the inspiration she has provided many individuals throughout the State.
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