CONVERSATIONS WITH HJM
By: Valerie Skvirsky, Government Relations Associate
“For me, being in the Maryland General Assembly, it’s important because, … it’s a part of who you are, and we have the benefit of living within the laws that we create.”
Delegate C.T Wilson (D – Charles County) of District 28 just stepped into his new role as the newly appointed Chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee (ECM) following the election of longtime Chair Dereck Davis (D – Prince George’s County) as State Treasurer during the 2021 Special Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly. Wilson has been a vital member of ECM since 2015, serving as the Chair of the powerful Business Regulation Subcommittee. Wilson also chairs the Business Implementation Subcommittee for the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Work Group and is a part of both the Joint Committee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Biotechnology, and the Joint Committee on Unemployment Insurance Oversight.
As a key part of his success and proven leadership in the House of Delegates, Wilson brings his skill as a seasoned trial attorney who runs his own law practice, The Law Office of C.T. Wilson, LLC. His experience as a litigator gives him a unique ability to effectively debate policies in committee and on the House floor while efficiently navigating the nuances of crafting legislation within the fast pace of a legislative session. Wilson’s desire to practice law is rooted in his experience growing up in foster care, which gave him first-hand experience with broken systems and neglectful attorneys. “The only person I consistently had in my life was an attorney. Every six months, they would go to court with me when I was a young child, and they never did a good job.” That experience led Wilson to become an attorney so that he could help himself and others that were or have gone through similar experiences.
Originally from The Ozarks, Missouri, Wilson has made an enormous impact in public service through his many years of actively serving his community. After graduating from Freeburg High School in Illinois, Wilson enlisted and served as a combat soldier in the United States Army for eight years. After his stint in the military, Wilson went on to earn his bachelor’s in psychology from Upper Iowa University and then his Juris Doctor from Howard University School of Law. Directly after law school, Wilson was admitted to the Maryland Bar and soon relocated from Washington D.C. to Maryland to serve as an Assistant State’s Attorney and Division Chief of the Community Prosecution Unit in Prince George’s County. There, Wilson also oversaw the Prince George’s County Prevention of Child Exploitation and Cybercrimes Division.
As the 2022 Legislative Session approaches, Wilson is working hard to execute a seamless transition into his new role as Chair of ECM. Wilson is not only excited about his new position, but also very proud and honored to take on a new challenge. Amid running his business, raising his daughters, and preparing for the Session, Wilson was generous enough to take time out of his busy schedule to speak with me.
Where are you from and what brought you to Maryland? How did you decide to get into public service?
I’m from the Ozarks in Missouri, originally. I went to Upper Iowa University after an 8-year stint in the military and settled in Maryland after going to Howard Law School…and I chose public service because I was a combat soldier for years and I think it’s very important to serve your community. From there I went to law school and then went directly into being a State’s Attorney in Prince George’s County as a Division Chief. Public service is something, I think, [that] no matter what else you do, it is something you should do in addition to whatever else you are doing. And I believe that for me, being in the Maryland General Assembly, it’s important because, it’s basically a part-time job…it’s a part of who you are, and we have the benefit of living within the laws that we create. [Being a Delegate] was never designed for people to do as a career, it was never designed to be a full-time job. It was designed as a citizen legislature and that’s what we do in the House. That’s why I joined, because I knew that it was something where I could have a business, have a career, and still be able to give part-time back to my community.
Can you take me through what led you into joining the military, and from there making your way to law school?
Well, I grew up in foster care and so the only person I consistently had in my life was an attorney. Every six months they would go to court with me when I was a young child, and they never did a good job. So, since I was in the sixth grade, I’ve always wanted to be an attorney because I wanted to be able to help myself. Plus, being a black kid in Missouri, getting arrested a lot, messed with by the cops, I really wanted to be able to defend myself, so that’s why I always wanted to be a lawyer. Unfortunately, I was very poor, and coming through foster care, I didn’t have the means to go straight to college, so I joined the military as a path to get to college. [All] those things just coalesced and then allowed me to go to undergrad, grad school, and then eventually go to law school.
Do you believe that being an army veteran has impacted you as a legislator in any way?
Without a doubt. In The United States Military, especially in combat units, you learn to be a straight shooter. People may not like me for this, but they know me, and they know what I’m willing to do. My integrity is tantamount… and I think that the military has also shown me that it’s not good enough to just complete or to just do something. You must do it well, or you do it twice. The army taught me how to be focused on what it is that I need to do to fully accomplish a mission. So yes, it definitely has a great impact on me.
How do you usually get ready for the Session? Is there anything different that you may do apart from your colleagues? What is your overall process?
So, you’re kind of in it all the time. I know I said it’s part-time, but even though you’re out of Session, you’re still dealing with community issues … you’re talking to citizens. And you know being in the General Assembly, we have a lot of workgroups, so your kind of one-foot-in all the time, so I don’t really do anything specific to get started, because you never really finish. It’s always something you do… you spend at least one or two days a week focusing on legislative issues, citizen issues, things of that nature, so I don’t think I ever totally step out of it. The only thing is, is that when we do get closer to Session, I start taking more meetings with advocates and lobbyists about what they believe are upcoming issues. Because of my position, I start meeting with folks [which] I don’t do as much all year round. The rest of the year, I’ll meet with constituents, but I try to cut the lobbyists and advocates out so that I can focus on constituent work, raising my daughters, and my business, but as we get closer to Session, I do take on more meetings, just to try to hear people’s voices early on.
You stated that you start to take on more meetings with advocates and lobbyists to try and see what they believe are upcoming issues in the Session, so what do you think will sort of dominate the General Assembly this year?
I believe that Family Medical Leave will be a big one.
How do you believe COVID is going to impact the Session this year? Is it going to be more hybrid than anything else?
To my knowledge, the Statehouse and the buildings will be open to the public, but we will be having virtual hearings. As in, the legislators, I believe will be attending…but I don’t believe that the citizens will be testifying [in person], they’ll just do it via Zoom. You know, I don’t think that’s a bad thing…I think it’s the best way of doing it to be safe because it does allow the committee to meet which is important and it allows the House to meet on the floor, but it doesn’t bring so many citizens in that people can, you know, spread something because it gets very close and confined. In addition, a Zoom does open it up for a lot of people, [like] business owners who would normally not have the time to hang out in Annapolis all day. It kind of broadens the scope of what we’ll hear. Instead of hearing just from lobbyists and advocates, we’ll get to hear from a lot more regular people which I’m a big fan of.
Is there anything that you are particularly excited about for the upcoming session?
This will be my first Session as Chair of ECM, so I’m very excited about the entirety of it and what it entails. It’s a challenge that I am looking forward to becoming more of a subject matter expert on all the different areas that we cover in ECM, as well as attending to the needs of my committee members. So, it’s going to be a very interesting transition…I’m just, in general, looking forward to the new experience.
What does it mean for you to become the Chair of Economic Matters and what are you doing to approach such a new leadership position?
Well first, and it’s very important that, you know, I know that I’m following in the footsteps of someone who is much more experienced, and much older than I am. Dereck Davis, you know he’s both my senior in experience…and in age, which means it’s big shoes to fit into. So, I do see it as a challenge. I know he’s been doing it for nineteen years, and I would like to be able to … you know, make it seamless, but I understand I’m not going to be filling in all the holes as he once was. I see that as the big challenge there, trying to meet the expectations. I’m very grateful that the Speaker saw something in me and gave me the opportunity to do this…and I just want to make sure that I’m able to make her proud as well. The things I’m doing in preparation obviously are kind of focusing on the points that are…lesser known. I chaired Business Regulation, so I’m very good with that, and a few of the other areas like alcohol, but then there are certain things like public utilities that I know are difficult for everyone to master, so focusing on those and familiarizing myself more with those; meeting with my committee staff, and trying to meet with each of my committee members individually to talk about, you know, what their focus is, what’s important to them, and what we can do to further their political and personal goals.
Is there anything going on in the Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Work Group that might be a future conversation point for the legislature?
So, I’m the chair of the Business Implementation Work Group which means writing all the legislation for licensing and structure of recreational cannabis. If the community chooses to vote that into law, what I think that people may not know is that just because it gets on a ballot…doesn’t mean it’s going to be instantaneous. That’s because it’s very important to me to make sure that we have racial equity in the system, because currently there’s not much in the medical marijuana system, as it currently stands. I don’t want to rush into something and leave an entire group of people behind… so although we may start the process, it is not something that is going to be done in 2022. There’s going to be some time that it takes to make sure that the growing licenses, and the licenses for the distributors, are distributed in an equitable way to ensure people from out of the State don’t come in and take over our industry. Make sure it’s Marylanders that are making the money and making sure that minorities have a fair chance to be growers as well as dispensary owners and processers. We will take as much time as needed to ensure that we have leveled the playing field as much as we possibly can.