Volume 14, Issue 29 ~ July 20 - July 26, 2006

Sizing up Paula Hollinger

Will Maryland’s only woman
in the U.S. House
stand just four-foot-ten?

a Bay Weekly interview
with Sandra Olivetti Martin

So she doesn’t get lost in a crowd, Paula Hollinger wears high-heeled shoes that add three or four inches to her sub-five-foot height. This summer, she stands out in the political crowd running for the Democratic nomination for the seat of Rep. Ben Cardin, who is leaving to run for the Senate. Hollinger may not be tall, but she has this going for her: She’s the only Democratic aspirant to have held elected office or organized a major campaign. And she’s not lost one yet.

For the past 28 years — eight years as a delegate and 20 as a senator — she’s lived and worked three months of every year in Annapolis. Because Hollinger, of Pikesville, has represented Baltimore County in the Maryland General Assembly, you may not know of her — unless you’re a close watcher of laws that touch the environment, including Chesapeake Bay.

In the powerful committees where bills go as embryos, to develop or miscarry, the former nurse has specialized in environmental matters from her first days in the House back in the late 1970s to her present position as chair of the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. So she’s had a hand in — and often midwifed — the birth of every Bay bill from the phosphate detergent ban that helped kick off the Bay restoration effort to this year’s Healthy Air Act.

If you’re a registered Democrat who lives south of the Severn River and north of the South River, you’ll see Hollinger’s name along with six others on the ballot in the September 12 primary election.

If that’s not you, you’ll still enjoy this story as a tour of backroom pro politics.

Bay Weekly If you win, Maryland could have the most compact female congressional delegation in Washington. In height, do you outrank Sen. Barbara Mikulski, or is she taller than you?

Paula Hollinger A number of years ago, I read that Sen. Mikulski was four-foot-eleven. I saw her that night and said, No one else would ask this question, but I look down at you. You’re not really four-fooot-eleven. I am, she said, I just got measured at the doctor.

A number of years ago, I read that Sen. Mikulski was four-foot-eleven. I saw her and said, “you’re not really four-fooot-eleven.”

“I am,” she said, “I just got measured at the doctor.”

I said, “take your shoes off,” and we measured. I wear higher heels but I’m an inch shorter, four-foot-tenish.

If you’re a woman running for Congress from Maryland, you have to be under five feet tall.

I said, take your shoes off and we measured. I wear higher heels but I’m an inch shorter, four-foot-tenish.

If you’re a woman running for Congress from Maryland, you have to be under five feet tall.

Bay Weekly You declared for this race a year ago, one of the earliest of the seven Democrats seeking to replace Ben Cardin in the Third Congressional District …

Paula Hollinger Exactly a year ago. July 13, 2005. My announcement was on a Wednesday. I was fresh back from China on a legislative exchange; we got back Saturday night. My grandchildren appeared Tuesday, and I had no food in the house. That’s a story in itself.

Bay Weekly Congressional districts are hard to visualize. Let’s give our readers a picture of the Third. What counties, and what part and proportion of Anne Arundel, make up the Third?

Paula Hollinger Pieces of four: Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard. Population-wise, Anne Arundel has the most at 40 percent; then Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and Howard. In terms of Democratic primary voters, it’s Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Anne Arundel and Howard.

Anne Arundel’s portion of the third is south of the Severn River and north of the South River, including most of Annapolis, all of Crofton, Laurel over to the Prince George’s County line and pieces of Glen Burnie and Linthicum.

Bay Weekly With all that territory to cover, you must have had a busy campaigning day on the Fourth of July …

Paula Hollinger I walked in four parades. Annapolis was a story in itself. It wasn’t raining. It was a storm with thunder and lightning. With all the other candidates and their T-shirts, it looked like a wet T-shirt contest.

Hollinger Adviser: I can’t believe you said wet T-shirt contest.

Paula Hollinger I always vowed as a politician that I would not measure my words so much that I don’t know who I am anymore. There has to be a little bit of fun and sense of humor and laughing at yourself in this game.

Bay Weekly Why — beyond the ideal of service, which we’ll stipulate — do you want the job of representing us in Congress?

Paula Hollinger I grew up in Washington, in the shadow of Congress, and I only knew Congress as my government. Anything that we were interested in had to go through Congress. There was no local government, no mayor, no city council, no votes. The D.C. committee in Congress ruled D.C.

I had very informed parents, very interested in national politics, so I grew up with that. When I moved to Maryland, I was finally old enough to vote and lived in a state that had a vote.

But when I went to register for the presidential election, I was told I had to live here a year. I had all these roadblocks to practicing good citizenship, so I had to get others to vote. Politics became my hobby before it was my profession.

With my background in nursing, over the years I’ve sponsored bills to help [elderly and disabled] people stay in their communities.

At nursing school at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, in Spanish Harlem, I developed an interest in areas I had not been exposed to. I was already looking at a relationship between the environment and health care. Before there was a designation of environmental medicine, the chair of one of our departments was lead researcher on asbestos. This was before the Clean Air Act, and as an emergency room nurse, I’d see Puerto Ricans who’d lived in rural areas develop asthma as soon as they got to New York. This was before lead standards, so I had a very early experience of kids with lead-paint poisoning.

I spent a number of years having kids and in hands-on nursing. I’d read the paper every day and get angry. I decided I can do just as good a job as those guys. In 1978, I went out and ran for the House of Delegates and won, with my little corps of grass-roots people and PTA and League of Women Voters and women pulled off the tennis court.

Bay Weekly We’ve written about the family background of one of your Democratic opponents, John Sarbanes [bayweekly.com/year06/issuexiv24/directxiv24.html].

Tell us about your family.

Paula Hollinger Both my parents were first generation Americans, my father, Sam Colodny, from Manhattan, my mother, Ethel, from Jersey City. He was a law school graduate who wound up in the liquor business. He had a lot of integrity, and he believed in giving back to this country because we are blessed to live here. That’s how I grew up debating on the side of Adali Stevenson when I was in the sixth grade.

When they moved to Maryland, both were very active politically in Montgomery County. My mother went to work in the governor’s regional office in 1977, and as a precinct captain in Silver Spring she brought in the biggest vote.

My husband Paul is a packaging engineer and salesman. The first fight I had with him, we were dating and he picked me up on election night of 1960. I said, Did you vote? and he said, yes. I asked, Kennedy? and he said, no. It almost ended our relationship. I think it was his last Republican vote.

Our daughters Ilene, 42, and Marcy, 40, are both teachers. Ilene teaches at a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in Atlanta, and Marcy went to law school and passed the bar but hated it. She teaches high school in Florida.

Our son David, 38, went to culinary school and is managing partner of a Texas Roadhouse in Atlanta.

Bay Weekly As a 20-year senator and a member of the party in control, you’re in a powerful position. In Congress, you’ll be starting at the bottom. What’s the trade-off for you?

Paula Hollinger First, Annapolis has gotten a lot like D.C. We don’t have the same across-the-aisle relationships we used to. It’s very fractious, and that’s too bad.

I’m used to working hands across the aisle. I’ve worked with lots of people now in Congress — and they’re not all Democrats — in the National Conference of State Legislatures, where I’ve chaired committees on Health, Science and Technology as well as the Women’s Legislative Network, whose chair comes from a different party each year. So I start with relationships that go back a long way.

Finally, I’m not going to Congress to be Speaker of the House. I’m going to make change. This is about taking my experience to the federal government and knowing what changes need to be made as they impact the state. Issues like the impact on our state and the Bay of lowering environmental standards.

Understanding legislation and ability to get it passed: These are the things I bring with me to D.C. Washington is no place for a kindergartener. You need experience to go in and hit the ground running.

Bay Weekly You were chief sponsor of Maryland’s new law funding stem-cell research at $15 million this year. That was a controversial bill, with lots of antagonism on religious grounds, and one the governor originally opposed. How did you get the support to pass that bill?

Paula Hollinger Governor Ehrlich fought my bill and was very happy when the Republicans were filibustering. But I was able to negotiate with one of the Democratic opponents of the bill [Sen. Roy Dyson of St. Mary’s County, whose district includes southern Calvert] on amendments that enabled him to vote against the filibuster and have a say in adding religious ethicists to the commission that reviews research proposals for funding. That’s how we got the bill passed. It had to be worked out so people could make it happen.

Bay Weekly Congress is taking up the issue of embryonic stem-cell research right now, with presidential advisor Karl Rove declaring, “We were all embryos once,” and the president threatening a veto. What lesson would you take from Maryland to Congress?

Paula Hollinger It’s a matter of knowing that things don’t generally come out the way you put them in. You have to know what you can do to make something happen, and that has been my talent: bringing people together and making things happen.

Obviously, we’re getting closer [to supporting stem-cell research] in Congress. We need, hopefully within the next two years, to get to the point where it’s veto-proof because we can override a veto. Of course we also need a new president …

Bay Weekly We’re a nation at war, and that takes up a good deal of energy in Washington. Many members of Congress say we’ve committed too much to draw back now. As a politician, woman and nurse, would you have voted recently for that time-certain withdrawal?

Paula Hollinger I would have, and I have my own plan. I’m actually the only candidate in this race who has voted against the war.

Bay Weekly How’s that?

Paula Hollinger One of things the Republican Caucus does is put in resolutions you don’t want to be counted as voting against.

One was entitled Support Our Troops. But after the first paragraph, it was all support President Bush and the war.

I left it in my drawer as any good Democratic committee chair would, as you do not want to put anyone in your committee on the spot. Then the last week of the session, the minority leader came to me saying where’s my resolution? and that he was going to petition it out of committee.

I called my committee member Roy Dyson, who represents Patuxent Air Naval Station, and said we all want to support our troops. We need amendments to take out the war so we can vote for troops and against the war. Back in committee, we offered the amendments, voted against the war and then were all able to vote to support the troops.

Bay Weekly What’s your plan?

Paula Hollinger Send no more troops; they’ve more than done their service.

Let the troops finish their tours. Then do the opposite of what we did in Vietnam, where we sent first advisors, then troops. We’ve sent troops. Now it’s time to send advisors.

They’re in a religious civil war, and our presence isn’t helping. We’re an irritant causing more violence. It’s time for advisors and diplomacy, not irritation.

Bay Weekly Closer to home, what are you seeking to do for the Third Congressional District?

Paula Hollinger Three areas I want to focus on — health care, education and the environment.

We should have universal access to health care. It’s not impossible. There are ways. One is the expansion of federally qualified health centers and school-based health centers, opening them up to the uninsured, letting them pay a reasonable membership fee and sliding scale.

With my background in nursing, over the years I’ve sponsored bills to help [elderly and disabled] people stay in their communities. Federal law says if you’re in assisted living getting care at home, and the money runs out you have to go to a nursing home. That’s a bad law.

Second is education. I see the issues before my committee and I hear from my two daughters, who are teachers, all the time. I have dealt with No Child Left Behind and seen the money left behind.

Third, environmentally, I’ve been extremely active and very concerned with actions not just by Congress and the White House but also the Supreme Court.

With this court, we have no checks and balances. The ruling last week on wetlands was insane. If a wetland dries up in a drought, it’s undesignated. If this is what we have to look forward to, we’re not going to have anything left.

That’s what’s happening on our Eastern Shore. Just as we’re looking to our farming community to develop alternative fuels, we’re losing our farmland. I’m familiar with agriculture and how farmers are trying to hold on. I got the bill to block development next to Blackwater Wildlife Refuge out of committee, though it died on floor.

We’ve got to have some federal incentives so we don’t lose all our farmland; it has to do with energy independence.

Bay Weekly Every candidate is a friend of the Bay. What can you offer besides talk?

Paula Hollinger My record. I’m the only candidate who has a record.

In 1979, when I joined the House of Delegates, I was assigned to the Environmental Matters Committee. For all the years I have been in the legislature, including the years I chaired and vice-chaired Education, Health and Environmental Affairs, I have been on the committee that dealt with Chesapeake Bay. When I was in the House, I was one of four that brought the Chesapeake Bay package to the floor.

I’ve twice been Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Legislator of the Year, and this week I’m being named Environment Maryland’s Legislator of the Year.

I’ve examined every bit of the Bay and I’ve been involved with it in my committee. I’ve been out on the Bay with watermen. I’ve seen where oysters lived and where they died. I supported the ban on rockfish. I’ve been through the Perdue Plant and seen what they’re doing with chicken waste. I can show you what I’ve done and made happen.

Bay Weekly So you remember the very beginning of Maryland’s 22-year commitment to clean up Chesapeake Bay?

Paula Hollinger The phosphate bill came to my committee, Environmental Matters, from the Senate. It was the last week of the session. Immediately, the other side — the chemical industry — hired $500,000 worth of lobbyists in one week. All the environmental groups did some strategy with Gerald Winegrad, who was then in the Senate, about paying one lobbyist to work for our side. It was Bruce Bereano [see a Bay Weekly profile at www.bayweekly.com/year05/issuexiii5/leadxiii5.html], who lives on the Bay and was not working for the other side.

Everybody had assignments, and we’d meet every morning and count the votes. But some really bad amendments got on in my committee, and when we took it to the floor, word got out that they were going to put a study amendment on it instead of passing the ban. I called up the governor’s office, Harry Hughes, and said, send down all the studies you’ve got. They sent down a stack that was about this high [she measures about two feet].

I sat them on my chair, and when I got to the floor, I sat down on the top of the stack.

Mr. Speaker, I said, we don’t need another study. I started reading names of the studies out and throwing them on my desk. By the time I went through the whole pile, people were too embarrassed to vote for the amendment.

When the House and Senate versions of the bill came to conference committee, I was the fourth signature, and the only one from my committee, that brought the right bill through. One of my colleagues [passed along word] that I’d been threatened; it was probably from the industry.

The ban actually reduced phosphates in water at a higher percentage than studies showed it would, so it was more successful than anyone expected.

Bay Weekly How about the 2005 Flush Tax, which we all pay to upgrade sewage treatment plants. Does it have a story?

Paula Hollinger This governor was going to veto his own Flush Tax because I put septic systems in the bill. He got angry because the majority of septic users live in rural areas that vote Republican. He wanted the poor schleppers living in row houses in Baltimore City to pay for septics. I said no. This bill passes with septics, or it’s dead. Septics went in and he vetoed all of my legislation that session.

You have to be willing to stand up for what’s right and not be afraid of the political consequences.

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