It’s 12:02 p.m. Wednesday in the state Senate chamber, and more than two dozen senators are milling around.
A reporter walks in and a senator quickly approaches him, wondering if there’s any news from the House, where the Democratic and Republican caucuses and the Legislative Black Caucus have been meeting on and off for almost two hours in advance of a floor vote to determine who will be the next speaker. Nothing definitive yet, is the reply.
“I’m glad it’s them and not us,” the senator says.
“Your day will come,” the reporter feels compelled to reply. The senator smiles ruefully.
At 12:08 p.m., the bells ring, summoning senators to the chamber.
With the House in town to elect a new speaker, the Senate is constitutionally bound to show up, but with no agenda and no real duties.
“It’s going to be a very short session,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) announces from the podium, as the bells are still ringing. “Five, 10 minutes at the most.”
State Sen. George C. Edwards (R-Garrett), who lives deep in Western Maryland, has traveled the farthest to be here. Why show up?
“They said we had to be here,” Edwards explains. “We’re in session. Duty calls.”
He pauses for a minute.
“You never know when something might come up. So you might as well drop in, just in case.”
At 12:14 p.m., Yaakov “Jake” Weissmann, Miller’s chief of staff, joins the longtime Senate leader on the rostrum.
“I think we’re ready, ok, boss?” he tells Miller.
At 12:15 p.m., a quorum call commences. As it happens, 41 of 47 senators are present – a pretty impressive number, all things considered. Absent: Sens. Pamela G. Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), Michael Hough (R-Frederick), Justin Ready (R-Carroll), Andrew Serafini (R-Washington) and William C. Smith (D-Montgomery), who is in the Naval Reserves and is currently doing intelligence work in Afghanistan.
At 12:17 p.m., there’s a two-minute prayer.
At 12:19, Miller tells his colleagues that he’s received an attorney general’s opinion informing him that the Senate does not have to stay in session as long as the House is meeting.
“They told us they’re not going to come in anyplace near 12 o’clock,” he says (the House, as it turns out, does not convene until 2:35 p.m.).
The point of the Senate session? “We’re going to document everything and tell everyone we’re here,” Miller says.
He adds that senators who have traveled more than two hours to make it to Annapolis will be reimbursed for their expenses, if they so choose.
“There is nothing for us to take up,” he says, adding, “Our constitutional responsibility will be fulfilled.”
At 12:25 p.m., Miller announces, “The desk is clear.” He then invites his colleagues to speak.
Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County) rises to wish Sen. Delores B. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) a happy birthday.
At 12:27, Kelley, who most years makes it a point of acknowledging people’s birthdays that occur during the nine months when the General Assembly is not in session, says she forgot to do so this year.
“For years it has been my practice to remind this body that some of the moms didn’t have a good sense of timing,” she says, inviting those whose birthdays don’t fall between mid-January and mid-April to stand up. About 25 senators do.
At 12:28 p.m., Sen. Robert Cassilly (R-Harford), who rarely resists an opportunity to speak on the Senate floor, rises to note the death of Gino Marchetti, the Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer who died Monday at the age of 93.
“The state has lost a true hero and a role model,” he observes.
Then Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) rises to wish Senate Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore) a happy birthday.
“So he’s going to put in his [travel] voucher and celebrate tonight in Annapolis,” Miller cracks.
At 12:29 p.m., Miller thanks his colleagues for coming. “It’s an important duty.”
A second later, he takes note of the presence of Maryland Matters contributor William F. Zorzi, a veteran State House reporter who just walked in the chamber.
“Mr. Zorzi just showed up, a day late and a dollar short,” he says.
Someone in the back of the room wonders whether, like most Sine Die sessions, there will be balloons when the chamber adjourns. “No balloons, no confetti,” Miller blurts out.
At 12:31 p.m., the Senate adjourns. No balloons, no confetti.
Asked if this brief session was worth the trip, Edwards shrugs. He’s got an appointment in half an hour with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).
“I tried to kill as many birds as I could with one shot,” he says.
Two hours later, in the chamber across the hall, the House of Delegates makes history by voting for Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), an African-American woman, to become speaker of the House.
The 41 members of the Senate who showed up Wednesday, in some small way, played a small part in history.