Get to Know: Delegate Shane Robinson
Newcomer to Annapolis expects to focus on environmental issues.
As he embarked on his first term in public office, Patch sat down with Shane Robinson, the freshman delegate from Maryland’s District 39, which covers Montgomery Village, Washington Grove and parts of Germantown, non-municipal Gaithersburg and North Potomac.
Robinson, 34, was born to Peace Corps parents and spent his younger years in no less than eight countries, including Iran, Brazil, Bolivia and South Korea. A former U.S. Forest Service firefighter, he went with his now-wife to Zambia via the Peace Corps. He is now a senior associate for a Northern Virginia firm that manages nonprofits. He has lived in Montgomery Village for three years.
It’s been a week since he took his place alongside the 140 other delegates in the State House, taking with him his with his wife Mary, their parents and their newborn son Gordon for the 90-day session. Robinson also takes with him a broad worldview built from his travels and his career helping manage nonprofits.
“I was born into a privileged kind of middle class environment where going to college was a foregone conclusion, where having my parents’ support in whatever I wanted to do—within reason—was a foregone conclusion,” he said. “I’m a guy. I’m white. I’m from a Protestant background. I’m an American. All these things are in my favor, where if you changed any of those things, it’s one extra roadblock I’d have to get past in order to achieve whatever it is that I want to achieve. There’s something to be said for pulling yourself up by your bootstraps—the whole American dream thing—but we’re not on the same level playing field when we start out and I don’t think anybody can argue that.”
Having worked with nonprofits in legislative advocacy, he says he’s not unprepared for dealing with Annapolis’s reputation as a difficult place to get things done.
“I don’t have clearly defined, concrete expectations,” he said. “If what I perceive Annapolis to be is not what it is, it’s not going to really derail me. I’m trying to keep as open a mind as possible and be able to change my plans, trying to be as flexible as possible so that I can meet whatever challenges actually surface.”
Much of his impact will come in helping decide what bills get through the House’s Environmental Matters committee. Robinson isn’t looking to push too many of his own bills; rather, he expects to help longer-serving legislators with their initiatives.
He is, however, mulling a bill that would prevent homeowners associations from banning “cool roofs,” lighter colored roofs that reflect rather than absorb sunlight. Their color and material can run afoul of Montgomery Village’s closely guarded architectural covenants—for many homeowners a linchpin of the Village’s allure.
“It’s a little touchy, but my mindset is that if it’s going to help the planet and it’s going to save constituents some money, I think those are two good things,” he said. “I understand that there’s a downside; perceived property values and that sort of thing. But I also think that the way we value our property is going to shift, and I think it’s going to come in line with things that are actually going to be greener. If I was going to buy a house, I would value something with a cool roof higher over something that didn’t because I know it’s going to save me money and I know it’s a more forward-thinking design.”
If he moves the measure forward, he would write it so as to promote roofs that are “as close as possible to the covenants.”
“I’m not going to go against the voters, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people would be behind it,” he said.
Maryland’s $1.6 billion shortfall looms over everything this legislative session. One budget battle that will trace back to Montgomery County is the state’s $33 billion obligation on teacher pensions. Some state officials and lawmakers want county school systems to take on as much as half the cost.
“I don’t think it solves the problem, it just kind of shifts the responsibility,” Robinson said. “We need to solve it. I’ve seen some of the proposals; shifting certain amounts. I think we need to look somewhere else.”
Filling the budget gap will likely require new sources of revenue. Like many of his colleagues, Robinson supports raising the gas tax and the alcohol tax.
“I think the people in Montgomery County are willing to lose the benefits that we all receive from being here only to a certain point, and beyond that they’re willing to pay a little bit more so that their standard of living doesn’t go down too much,” he said.