By Heather Bagnall
Delegate, District 33
It is easy to forget that politicians are people, that we have lives, and families, and that sometimes we are messy. I was a messy candidate; I didn’t come from money, I didn’t come from politics, I entered the legislative body with a vertical learning curve. My background is in theater, and oftentimes the arts attract people who have not been accepted by the community at large, yet in the arts they find a home and a family who accept them as they are. This is the world from which I emerged when I ran for office.
I am a compartmentalizer, so when I’m working in the General Assembly, I leave that world at the door; however, the impact of this work is always with me. In February, my political world and my theater world came crashing together as one of our own from my theater world took his life. It was a humanizing moment and I was left unsure of what to do. I ran to solve the mystery of behavioral and mental health care, to try to sort out the puzzle and understand why some people turn to violence, why some turn to drugs, why some turn away from the world and why some are able to turn things around.
The same week my friend took his life, we as a body voted to decriminalize attempted suicide. It was a difficult vote for me, not because I doubted for a moment how I would or should vote, but because I was witness to all the people who were willing to call my friend a criminal rather than see the act as a tragedy.
They say politics is personal, and this was personal to me. I know some people who would disagree with my vote and might even say I voted against the will of my constituents, but I think we have to vote not necessarily as they would but in the best interest of their futures. I do not want my constituents, my friends, and neighbors or even my dissenters to ever have to experience what I have repeatedly, and then to have to qualify their friends or family in crisis as criminals. I said I would change the narrative, but we can’t do that if we don’t talk about it.
This is the challenge of being an elected official. We must consider not only the legislation but also the consequence of our vote, we must be accountable to the anger and pain, and need, and we should and must shoulder that responsibility with an open heart, a thoughtful mind, and a steely resolve. We have to see a bigger picture; how increasing wages, decreasing costs and expanding access are all part of addressing quality of life for Marylanders, and take a longer view to how every piece of legislation impacts every other. I know we have many more challenging pieces of legislation that will come across our desks and I will not have the luxury of distance because I must vote with my heart and my conscience. I do not have the answers to solving the crises of health care, but I am uniquely positioned to speak to the inadequacies that exist and to work to address them. I acknowledge that this is not easy, but I didn’t run because it would be easy; I ran to do the hard work. I am listening, while keeping an open mind and an open door. My office is messy but welcoming, because we can’t solve these issues alone.