Editorial - Trading public office. . .

November 13, 1997

When Anita Stup decided to announce the end of her 16-year career in elected office, she didn't call a press conference, or phone up a favorite reporter. Instead, she took out a quarter-page ad in local newspapers this past Wednesday, to reveal that her current term as a District 3 delegate representing Washington and Frederick counties in the Maryland General Assembly would be her last.

Her announcement comes with more than a year left to serve, but she says there's no big mystery behind its timing, nor are there any health problems forcing this decision on her.

"I always said I would only serve two terms," Stup said. She made up her mind to keep that promise a long time ago, but didn't want to distract from the Frederick city elections by announcing it before now.


As for her health, she said, "I'm in better shape at 52 than I was at 35." The arthritis that once forced her to walk with a cane has been brought under control, and she just spent four months helping refurbish one of the buildings at her church, spackling and sanding right along with rest of the crew.

She knows she will not have the last word in this story - Washington County Commissioners Ron Bowers and Jim Wade are already talking about a run for her seat - but she said she wanted the first words to be hers and hers alone.

In a quote she can't pinpoint the source of, Stup's ad said that "I must leave you now, to wander through the gardens of my minds, to see what has grown there since I was last in it."

The quote is a little bit cryptic, but tending one's own garden is not something there's a lot of time for when you're a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly. Committees meet year-round; Stup was in a House Enviromental Matters meeting in Annapolis when I caught up with her. When the session is over, the home folks want you to come to a series of breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings to tell them what happened. And as for constitutent service, well, the phone rings no matter what day it is.

Not that Stup's complaining, although as a member of a minority party whose bill to help dairy farmers get a decent price for their milk got amended to death in the last session, she might be excused for wondering if public service was worth the effort.

That particular bill was remarkable because it was not something politically popular, like jail time for jaywalkers. No, this bill asked General Assembly members to help combat urban sprawl and preserve dairy farms by tacking a couple of cents onto the price of each gallon of milk.

But instead of doing the statesman-like thing, metro area delegates struck Nader-like poses as the protectors of consumers ' pocketbooks. What they wouldn't admit, although they can't be dense enough not to realize the truth, is that accelerated development will cost Marylanders more in the future than the pennies shoppers would pay to help farmers stay in business today.

Stup is proud of the work she did on that bill, and on the state's open-meetings law, which the leadership asked for on short notice, but which nevertheless balanced the public's right to know against the ability of a small municipality to perform.

One part of that proposal, for example, would have forced municipalities to make typed copies of their minutes available the day after the meeting. For some towns which only have part-time staff, that would be tough to do, Stup said.

Other points of pride?

"Probably that I was the second female commissioner and the first female delegate to represent Frederick and Washington counties. And I'm proud of my constitutent service,"

And how will you be remembered?

"I would like to think that the people thought I was honest," she said.

From where I sit, she was more than honest. Some elected officials are on auto-pilot when you're interviewing them, watching your reaction and weighing each word accordingly. Not so Stup, who decides what's right and then speaks her mind firmly without being diagreeable about it.

So what's next?

"I still have my duties until January of 1998. And after this session is over, I guess I will find a job," she said, adding that she has worked previously as an administrator in a law office and will probably seek something similar again.

And what happens if there's a groundswell of citizens asking her to run for office again?

It hasn't happened yet, she said, but added that the people who called after after the ad ran have been "very, very kind."

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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