Republican senators are calling it “Breakfast-gate,” a minor flap over the release of Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget that has sent some Democratic lawmakers into orbit, notably Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, squared off rather heatedly during Wednesday’s Senate floor session with Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Harford County Republican and the minority leader.
It seemed a minor dustup, yet it likely is another crack in the façade of bipartisan cooperation during this year’s session of the General Assembly, as Maryland’s political class heads into an election year.
Republican leaders met with Hogan over breakfast Wednesday morning to discuss details of his $44.4 billion budget, whose highlights were released to the press Tuesday afternoon. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, along with other Democrats, however, boycotted the breakfast.
In his words, “as a matter of housekeeping,” Miller apparently felt the need to explain his absence from the breakfast at Government House. So, shortly after the clerk began reading the list of bills being introduced, Miller suspended the reading of the legislation – among them, Hogan’s budget – saying they already were on the members’ desks.
“Some of you were at breakfast with the governor this morning,” Miller said. “I wasn’t there, and the reason being is that for 30-some-years-plus the governor’s always had a breakfast with the presiding officers and other members, the fiscal leaders of the House and Senate, before announcing the budget.
“For whatever reason,” he went on, “this year, the governor chose to brief certain people and then tell the public’s what’s in the budget, and then invite the presiding officers the day after he tells the public what’s in the budget.
“So, since we heard from the public what was in the budget, we didn’t feel we had to go to breakfast to hear what his version of the budget was,” Miller said.
Jennings then rose to tell Miller he was “a little disappointed” not to see the Senate president for breakfast, and offered an explanation of the perceived slight.
“The press conference that the governor had yesterday, that was sort of a 30,000-foot-view of the budget,” Jennings said. “Today was more of an on-the-ground look. You had the governor, you had the budget secretary, where we could all sit and talk and get deeper into the issues.
“As you said first day of session, we have big issues before us,” he added. “We all need to be rowing the boat the same way, and not having some people there made it a little tougher.”
That just seemed to set off the president.
“Senator, you’re my friend, but when you’re not Sean Spicer, it’s impossible to defend the indefensible, OK?” Miller said.
“Why is that indefensible?” Jennings shot back. “The budget’s introduced the same time every year. The governor has the breakfast at the same time every year.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Miller said. “Prior to announcing the budget, he has a breakfast, and he has Democrats as well as Republicans. He does not have five white men at the breakfast when he explains the budget. He has a diverse group. This is the Senate of Maryland.”
Jennings countered: “Well, I got the e-mail here of everybody who was invited.”
“Not true, not true,” Miller replied.
“You two,” the president said, pointing to Jennings and Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., the Upper Shore Republican and minority whip who sits next to him. “Three white Democrats and you two were invited to the breakfast the day after it was announced – and that’s not democracy.”
Jennings tried again: “Breakfast is the same time every year.”
“Absolutely not,” Miller said. “But thank you very much.”
End of discussion.
After the session, Miller, now in his 32nd year as Senate president, was still steamed.
“It’s never happened before, ever, as long as I’ve been here,” he said. “Democrats and Republican governors briefed the legislative leaders, the fiscal advisers.”
But, he added, “the day after the announcement, two Republican senators and three from our side: Five white men. You need to balance things out a little bit. You need it ahead of time, and you need to recognize the diversity of the Senate. OK?”
Jennings later dismissed the whole matter as “ridiculous.”
To refute Miller’s assertions, he pointed to Hogan’s e-mail invitation to the budget breakfast, a list that included four women, among them an African-American, in addition to eight white men.
“They decided not to come,” Jennings said of the Democrats. “We call it ‘Breakfast-gate.’”
Hogan’s staff was equally dismissive.
“Spending so much time talking about who invited who to breakfast is really counter-productive and the kind of thing that people are kind of tired of,” said Douglass V. Mayer, Hogan’s director of communications. “We’re going to move past it and chalk it up to a mistake on Senator Miller’s part.
“At the end of day the administration is not going to cry over cracked eggs,” Mayer said.