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Harris Jones & Malone: Spotlight on Delegate Charles Barkley

Delegate Charles Barkley, Member of the House Economic Matters Committee (Photo: mgaleg.maryland.gov)

On this final day of the 2016 Maryland General Assembly, many across the State will reflect on the hard work and compromise forged over the last ninety days. However, veteran legislators know how unpredictable things are on the final day of the legislative session” and understand the need to stay vigilant on “Sine Die”. As a result, many legislators display the same intensity and focus on the sessions’ last day that they have displayed through the first eighty-nine. Delegate Charles Barkley (D 39- Montgomery County), a seventeen-year veteran in the General Assembly, understands how important it is to see the legislative process through completely and to maintain relationships with colleagues even after the session ends. In an interview, I spoke with Delegate Barkley about his background, legislative career, and how he plans to spend the last day of the 2016 legislative session.

Delegate Charles Barkley, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Towson University and a Master of Education degree in Administration from McDaniel College, grew up in Hagerstown, MD. A life long educator, Delegate Barkley initially became interested in politics through his work as a member of the Maryland State Teachers Association and as Vice President of the Montgomery County Education Association. During his time serving in these positions, Delegate Barkley was able to assist on political campaigns and interact with House of Delegates and Maryland State Senate candidates throughout Montgomery County. As Delegate Barkley became more familiar with the legislative process, he began to recognize his potential as a candidate, particularly the insight he could bring to the General Assembly on education related issues. In 1994, Delegate Barkley decided to run for the Maryland House of Delegates. Although he was unsuccessful in his first bid, Delegate Barkley remained determined and ran for the House of Delegates again in 1998. In his second attempt, Delegate Barkley was elected to the House of Delegates and sworn in as a member of the General Assembly in 1999. Delegate Barkley served as a member of the Judiciary Committee from 1999-2002 and the Appropriations Committee from 2002-2009. Today, Delegate Barkley is a valued member of the Economic Matters Committee. In addition, Delegate Barkley has served as Chairman of the critical alcoholic beverages subcommittee since 2011.

Since 1999, Delegate Barkley has been a stable presence and a relied-upon leader in the General Assembly. Speaking of the record turnover in 2015, Delegate Barkley stated, “There were a lot of younger folks elected this last term than we had in the past. A lot of the ones that I came with back in 99’ are no longer here. There really has been a lot of changes especially this term.” However, despite these changes in the legislature, Delegate Barkley maintains, “[t]he biggest thing when you’re in Annapolis is that everything is all about relationships and if your going to get anything done you need support from colleagues. So I would say anything you can do to build relationships is important.” Thus, despite changes in both legislators and policy focus, Delegate Barkley remains confident that the legislature can work together to pass laws that benefit the citizens of Maryland.

Delegate Barkley’s ability to build relationships and accept input from colleagues has allowed him to accomplish a great deal in the Maryland General Assembly. In 2004, Delegate Barkley sponsored legislation creating a “cancer fund” check off on individual income tax return forms that allow individuals to contribute towards cancer research and finding a cure for the prevalent illness. Speaking of the bill, Delegate Barkley stated, “It took a while, four years to get that bill done, but in the final year when we passed it, I had every member of the House on the bill. One hundred and forty co-sponsors.”  The enactment of this legislation was a prominent example of Delegate Barkley’s determination and ability to garner support for his legislative initiatives through relationship building.

Delegate Barkley has also remained true to his background as an educator while serving as a member of the General Assembly. He has introduced and advocated for legislation improving K-12 and higher education. In 2005, Delegate Barkley successfully advocated for $250 million in the FY 2006 budget to build and renovate schools across Maryland. Thanks in large part to Delegate Barkley, Montgomery County was able to receive $30.4 million of the allocation. Similarly, in the same fiscal year, Delegate Barkley helped restore $43 million to Maryland Universities and $9.5 million to private colleges and Universities throughout the state.

Lastly, through his role as Chair of the Alcoholic Beverage subcommittee, Delegate Barkley has helped the State reform its alcohol laws. In 2011, the legislature passed legislation allowing Marylanders to have wine shipped to them and granting local wineries the ability to ship their products to customers around the State. In addition, Delegate Barkley has supported legislation fostering the establishment of breweries to the State and continues to work on legislation that will increase the number of distilleries in Maryland. Through Delegate Barkley’s leadership, the State has been able to increase business and modernize the law for the benefit of citizens statewide.

Although the final hours of the 2016 session of the General Assembly are approaching, Delegate Barkley will continue to pay close attention to education related issues and legislation affecting Montgomery County. Despite it being the General Assembly’s last day, Delegate Barkley underscored how important it is for him to continue coordination with members in both chambers to ensure impactful legislation moves forward. Delegate Barkley will likely spend Sine Die just like every other legislative day of the 2016 session. “My focus is still about the same. Some bills didn’t get through as usual but the focus doesn’t change.” It is good to know that even on the last day of the legislative session, a day where many will be celebrating, legislators like Delegate Barkley remain hard at work.

By:  Kenneth N. Harris, Jr.

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