December 13, 2019

Insight 2020: Leadership Changes

Our Insight 2020 blog series will provide you with updates and news regarding the Maryland General Assembly and the 2020 Legislative Session.

The first day of the 2019 legislative session was marked by Senate President Mike Miller’s announcement that he had cancer and ended with the passing of House Speaker Mike Busch the day before Sine Die.  Those two events set in motion a sea change in Maryland’s legislature that is still being felt today.

As the kick-off of the 2020 session nears, the Maryland General Assembly leadership will be brand new with both a new House Speaker and Senate President – President Miller announced last month that he would be resigning his role as Senate President.

President Miller has been the longest serving Senate President in Maryland’s history and in the United States.  He has served in that capacity for more than three decades.  An achievement that is most tangibly exemplified by the fact that the Senate Committees have held their public hearings in the Miller building for nearly two decades.

Speaker Busch led the Maryland House of Delegates since 2003.  He was the longest serving Speaker in Maryland’s history.  When you have stable forces at the helm in both chambers vacate their posts, significant change is all but guaranteed.  This shift in power was made more pronounced with the last two election cycles.  The Maryland legislature has seen retirements, vacated seats by those seeking different offices, and surprise losses in elections over the last two elections that already made for many new faces in Annapolis.

During the interim, the House of Delegates convened a special session to elect a new Speaker.  With three candidates in the beginning then down to two, the race between Chairs Dereck Davis (House Economic Matters Committee) and Maggie McIntosh (House Appropriations Committee) heated up.  Either person would have been a historical selection with Davis being African American and McIntosh being openly gay.  After many hours of debate and closed-door meetings, neither candidate could gain a unanimous vote by the House Democratic caucus.  Davis had a path to gain the necessary votes via the support of the House Republican caucus, an option ultimately not tenable by the majority of the caucus.

When the stalemate could not be broken, Delegate Adrienne Jones, the third candidate who bowed out to throw her support behind Davis, became the favorite.  With a unanimous vote by the House Democratic Caucus, she was the first woman and first African American to become Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates.  An historic moment for the State.

Although she has maintained the same Chairs of House Committees, there have been a number of changes in both chambers that created a chain reaction of moves that are still in process.  To name a few, Delegate Eric Bromwell (Vice Chair of the House Economic Matters Committee), retired from the House to become the Opioid Strategy Coordinator for County Executive Johnny Olszewski in Baltimore County.  Replacing Bromwell as Vice Chair is Delegate Kathleen Dumais.  She was formerly Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and most recently House Majority Leader.

At the same time, Delegate Steve Lafferty retired from the legislature to join the Baltimore County Executive as his Chief Sustainability Officer.  Both Bromwell’s and Lafferty’s House seats have been replaced by new people.

Just a few months after the ascension of the new Speaker, Senate President Miller announced that he is stepping down as President.  He will continue as Senator of his district but called a meeting of the Senate Democratic Causus to elect his presumptive replacement.  There were a few people seeking the post, but the caucus unanimously elected Senator Bill Ferguson from Baltimore City.  Although Ferguson, 36, was not yet five when Miller became a Senator, he has risen quickly through the ranks of the Senate in the nine years he has been in office.

Ferguson will presumably be elected by the entire Senate on the first day of the 2020 session.  A few weeks after Ferguson’s announcement, Senator Zirkin (Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee) announced his retirement from the legislature.  His Chairmanship will be taken over by Senator Will Smith, 37, a member of the Senate since December of 2016.  Additionally, Senator Guy Guzzone has been tapped to Chair the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.  Each of these shifts causes another chain reaction of moves within the body, including Zirkin’s seat in district 11, which will be sought by Delegates Cardin and Hettleman.

With the core of power shifting to Baltimore City and Baltimore County and the two new leaders coming from the budget committees, it will be interesting to see how these jurisdictions fare.  Although the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations on education reform will dominate the discussions in the budget committees, and the legislature as a whole, renewable energy, vaping, sports betting, and the Preakness will top the headlines.

Be sure to follow our blog and our podcast in the coming weeks as we provide a deeper dive on key issues. For more information about how our team can help you achieve your government affairs goals for 2020, contact us or visit our web site.

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