Meet the State Senate's New Committee Chairmen and Vice Chairmen

The new roster of state Senate committee chairmen, announced Friday by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), represent change from their predecessors in many ways – but not generationally. With three of the four committee gavels available, thanks to the retirement of Budget and Taxation Chairman Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Howard/Baltimore counties) and the surprising primary defeats of Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City) and Finance Chairman Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles), Miller, the wily Senate leader, has remade his leadership team. But even as the Senate is bound to get younger in the next legislative term, the chamber’s chairmen are not. In fact, the average age of committee leaders will go up slightly, from 64.75 years old this term to 66.25 years old in 2019. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (right) with Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Robert A. Zirkin, the only holdover in Miller’s new lineup of Senate committee leaders. File photo. The four new committee vice chairmen are considerably younger, however, with the average age dropping from 68.75 to 51.75. Many of the changes in Senate leadership were reported by Maryland Matters earlier this month. This represents the greatest turnover in Senate leadership since after the 2002 elections, when all four committees got new leaders following retirements and electoral defeats. Then, as now, Miller called the shots. At Budget and Tax, Miller is replacing Kasemeyer, who is 73, with 68-year-old Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery). Sen. William C. Ferguson IV (D-Baltimore City), who is 35, will become vice chairman, replacing 50-year-old Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), who ran unsuccessfully for governor. On the Finance Committee, Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), who is 82, will take over from Middleton, 72. Fifty-seven-year-old Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery), is the new vice chairman, replacing retiring Sen. John C. Astle (D-Anne Arundel), who is 75. On the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs panel, Miller is elevating the vice chairman, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), to replace Conway. Pinsky is 68 and Conway is 67. The new vice chairwoman will be Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County), who is 79. The only holdover chairman of a standing state Senate committee will be Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), at the Judicial Proceedings panel. He is 47. But the committee will get a new vice chairman – Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), who is 36. “This leadership team has a depth of experience and expertise which will be critical as we fight to strengthen our schools, stabilize our health care system, protect our natural resources, and make our communities safer and more inclusive,” Miller said in a statement. “I believe strongly that our diversity is our strength, and this leadership team reflects the diversity of the Senate and the State.” In a letter to fellow state senators Friday, Miller elaborated on his choices and extolled their virtues. In many ways, the most significant selection is Pinsky, who has been one of the most outspoken progressives in the Senate since his arrival in 1995 – someone whose positions are often diametrically opposed to Miller’s. In contrast to Conway, a transactional politician with pet causes and close ties to certain lobbyists, Pinsky is an ideologue, a staunch environmentalist who is a longtime organizer with the teachers’ union in Montgomery County. He has never been an Annapolis insider. But Pinsky has gained the respect of his colleagues through the years, and has endeared himself to Miller by letting him know early when he is going to oppose him. It will be interesting to see how much freedom Miller gives Pinsky as chairman. “While Senator Pinsky and I have had our policy disagreements over the years,” Miller conceded, “I have always respected his intellect and work ethic – two traits which will serve him well as a committee chair.” He added that Nathan-Pulliam, who joined the Senate in 2015 after a long career in the House, is an immigrant from Jamaica and a nurse, who is “a champion for strengthening our healthcare delivery system and eliminating health disparities.” Kelley, who had been serving as vice chairwoman of Judicial Proceedings but spent the majority of her 24-year Senate career on Finance, also represents significant change. Her predecessor as chairman, Middleton, was a Miller favorite and a fellow moderate from Southern Maryland. While Middleton was a straight shooter who maintained cordial relations with business groups even when he opposed them, Kelley is something of a wildcard. She’s more of a cerebral politician than Middleton, and has been strategic about which battles to wage. Miller said Kelley “has a deep understanding” of the wide range of issues that come before the Finance panel, which has oversight over health insurance and financing, banking, energy and telecommunications policy, economic development, labor issues, the horse racing industry, and state agencies. At Budget and Tax, King is not too different from Kasemeyer temperamentally or philosophically. She is a consensus-maker who will confer closely with Miller on major budget and tax fights. “She is widely recognized as one of the Senate’s leading voices for women and children, and she is respected for her fairness, thoughtfulness, and balanced approach to policymaking,” Miller wrote to his colleagues. On the budget panel, Madaleno has frequently been the chief critic of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and his spending priorities – a role that Ferguson now seems likely to assume. And on Judicial Proceedings, becoming vice chairman adds to Smith’s meteoric rise. He was elected to the House in 2014, then was appointed to the Senate in late 2016 to replace Jamie Raskin after Raskin was elected to Congress. Miller called Smith “an intellectual powerhouse in the tradition of great Montgomery County Senators like [now-Attorney General] Brian Frosh, Jamie Raskin and [now-U.S. Sen.] Chris Van Hollen.” The new lineup of chairmen includes two women – up from one in the last legislative term – and the same number of African-American members, one. The number of black vice chairmen has also doubled, from one to two, and the number of women vice chairs remains the same, one. “As the state has grown more diverse, I have worked to make room at the table for capable leaders regardless of their race, color, religious creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or age,” Miller wrote his colleagues. The one thing the chairmen and vice chairmen lack in diversity is geographical balance: All represent the Baltimore-Washington corridor. But that’s as much a function of political trends in the state as anything else, with Democratic representation dropping outside of the state’s two most heavily populated regions. [email protected]  

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