In Maryland, legislative sessions run 90 days, from January through early April. On the final day of each session—commonly referred to by the Latin term sine die—the capital city of Annapolis lets its hair down. There is dining and dancing and parties galore as aides, lawmakers, and lobbyists celebrate having survived the season.
A few years back, at one sine die soiree hosted by a legislator, a former Annapolis aide (who requested anonymity because she remains involved in Maryland politics) took to the dance floor. “I was dancing a little bit by myself,” she recalled. “All of a sudden I hear, ‘You’re packing a little bit more than I thought back here!’ I turn around, and this legislator is dancing right behind me. I was like, ‘Ooookay. This is a little weird. I know your wife and kids.’ So I tried to subtly move away.” The legislator followed, recalled the ex-aide. And then: “He got aroused.” The young woman made a swift escape, and, she informed me, “I have not spoken to that legislator one-on-one since.”
Stories of lawmakers behaving piggishly are common around Annapolis. Like far too many workplaces, the Maryland General Assembly has a long-standing harassment problem. Aides, interns, lobbyists, members—no one is exempt, although the young and inexperienced have an especially rough time. “It was really, really hard for me during my first terms. I cried quietly to myself a lot,” recalled Ariana Kelly, now in her eighth year in the house of delegates and the chair of the legislature’s women’s caucus. Starting out, Kelly endured not only gross comments but also wandering hands, including one male lawmaker’s grabbing her butt in front of two others. “I had worked in media and the nonprofit world,” Kelly told me, “but I had never worked in an environment that I felt was as hostile to women as the legislature I walked into. It was awful.”