Maryland Student Legislature gives students a taste of the political system
By Allen Etzler Mar 5, 2017

James Mott’s first exposure to politics came when his parents took him to a polling station and he cast a mock ballot “voting” for Al Gore.

His parents were devout Gore supporters, and he was disappointed when in 2000 Gore lost the presidential election despite winning the popular vote.

“I just remember saying, ‘How could he lose when he got more votes?’” Mott said after the Maryland Student Legislature meeting at Hood College Sunday. “Ever since then I’ve been fascinated with why things happen [in government].”

Mott, a fifth-year senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, is on the board of the student legislature and participated in the winter session this weekend along with delegates from six colleges and universities across the state: University of Maryland, College Park; St. John’s College; Bowie State University; Mount St. Mary’s University; Hood College and Washington College.

The legislature passed numerous bills ranging from an act to implement a rank choice voting system to a resolution that makes it mandatory to have an infant changing station in every public and private male bathroom in the state.

“This weekend was definitely hectic at some points, but I’m glad that we were able to get through everything,” said MSL Gov. Dylan Wood. “I thought this week went great even when things didn’t go how we planned.”

Wood did not veto any of the bills that were passed during the session. After a bill is signed by the Maryland Student Legislature governor, it gets sent to delegates in the Maryland General Assembly so they can see what the students support and what ideas they have for legislation.

At the end of April, the legislature convenes for its Annual Session, which is a culmination of the Maryland Student Legislature and its flagship event that is held at the House and Senate chambers in the State House in Annapolis.

Wood’s lieutenant governor, Tyler Graham, announced at the end of the event his plans to run for governor for next year. He made a campaign announcement to help Maryland Student Legislature through challenges of retaining a high number of members in the legislature. College enrollment is dipping slightly nationally, and getting members involved in the legislature is becoming increasingly difficult.

“That’s partially my fault as lieutenant governor, because I’m in charge of recruitment,” Graham said. “But I’m going to continue to try to find ways to get students involved. I think we have to find a way to tap into the younger classes no matter how large they are and say, ‘Hey, if you’re interested, get over here.’”

Graham, a junior at Hood College, attended Linganore High School, where he became interested in politics. He has put numerous bills forward in his three years with the organization, which had all passed until Sunday.

Graham put forth a resolution that would allow private companies to acquire permits to pay to build roads through within the state, rather than have residents pay more in taxes for road construction. The resolution was killed after an argument was made that the resolution wasn’t specific enough in designating how and why a company would be able to get approved for road construction.

While the bills that were presented were issues of passion for many members, the discourse was cordial — something Graham notes is of increasing importance in today’s political climate.

“I hate that my winning streak ended,” Graham said. “But [a dissenting delegate] made a good argument, and I respect that. … I think it’s more important than ever to listen and see where an opponent comes from. Especially now with what’s going on in the world in politics today — with speakers being banned from college campuses and the current president.

“I think it’s more important than ever to respect a diversity of thought. I think that’s the best thing about MSL and why it’s a great organization.”

One more reason he will be fighting to help the Maryland State Legislature continue moving forward.