Analysis: Winners and Losers from Thursday’s Senate Democratic Caucus Meeting

Any time a record-setting leader steps down, it’s a momentous occasion.

So the imminent departure of history-making Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) as Senate president is a very big deal. He’s a man of unparalleled stature in Annapolis – and the fact that he plans to remain a rank-and-file senator adds a new and unscripted chapter to his long and storied career.

But in turning to Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) to replace him, Senate Democrats couldn’t have chosen a more different leader. Other than being straight, white males, in a Senate chamber that is slowly diversifying – and being smart and strategic – the two don’t have very much in common. While it’s not going to happen overnight, the culture in the Senate is going to change dramatically – more so, most likely, than if any of the other contenders to succeed Miller had prevailed.

What remains to be seen is how much Ferguson shakes up his leadership team. Who benefits from helping the incoming Senate president? Who suffers from betting on the wrong horse? How swiftly and resoundingly will the transition take place?

With Ferguson set to take over in January, and new House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) ready to preside over her first General Assembly session next year, we’re in for something different. While it isn’t exactly unchartered territory – when Miller became Senate president, in 1987, a new speaker, R. Clayton Mitchell, took over in the House – it doesn’t happen very often.

So this is a moment in Maryland history – and a moment to be savored. Who thrives in the new state Senate environment? Read on.

WINNERS

Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City): Let’s start with the obvious. Ferguson was already a star in the Senate, a go-to guy on budgetary matters, education policy debates, Baltimore City priorities, and more. And, at age 36, he was assumed to have a bright political future. But it wasn’t clear until just a few days ago that this was the opportunity for him. He had already taken a furtive look at running for mayor in 2020 but realized there wasn’t a path to victory. Yet he came to realize that there was a path of victory for him in the race to succeed Miller, and by all accounts, he played his cards perfectly and peaked at exactly the right time. Those kinds of skills are innate and will serve him well in the days, months and years ahead. He could dig in for a long tenure in the Senate, as Miller did, or choose to do something else not too far down the line. It will be fun to watch this young man grow and put his stamp on a sometimes-calcified culture in Annapolis.

The Kirwan Commission: While the Democratic legislature was going to push for most of the reforms and funding proposals emanating from the commission working to improve public education anyway, the commission now has a major champion, fluent in education policy and funding formulas, in the Senate president’s chair.

Baltimore City: With Ferguson’s ascension, and Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D) as House Appropriations chairwoman, the city now has its strongest one-two punch in the legislature since Del. Howard P. “Pete” Rawlings (D) and Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D) in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. This will benefit the city not only during funding fights but in the next round of redistricting.

District 46: While Baltimore County’s 10th District, which has Jones and Senate Finance Chairwoman Delores G. Kelley (D) in its four-person delegation, can lay claim to being the most powerful district in the legislature, Ferguson’s 46th District may have the edge. In addition to the presumptive Senate president, the district features House Judiciary Chairman Luke H. Clippinger (D), Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D), who just got a subcommittee gavel on the House Environment and Transportation Committee, and Del. Robbyn T. Lewis (D), an emerging and passionate voice on community development and transit issues.

The lawmakers in the 46th District wasted no time in celebrating state Sen. Bill Ferguson’s victory. Campaign literature

Progressive groups and progressive lawmakers: They’re not going to get everything they want, but on occasion they felt Miller was an impediment to achieving their goals. Now they have one of their own in the president’s chair – and that will make a difference. The Democratic caucuses in the Senate and the House have been moving left in the past few elections, and Ferguson’s promotion reflects that.

Young senators: Ferguson is the second-youngest lawmaker in the Senate chamber. Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), the youngest, helped Ferguson plot his victory in recent weeks. Sen. Antonio L. Hayes (D-Baltimore City) is an old friend – Ferguson was field director on Hayes’ unsuccessful legislative campaign in 2006. Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) is another admirer and strategic thinker. The Kiddie Corps isn’t quite ready to take over completely; there are still plenty of mature lawmakers with plenty of power. But the younger members are excited and will feel emboldened by Ferguson’s rise.

Johns Hopkins University: The 800-pound gorilla gets another one of its own into the top echelons of legislative leadership. Ferguson is a Hopkins grad (earning a Masters in Education) who is director of reform initiatives at the Hopkins School of Education. For years, McIntosh was also a Hopkins official.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County): Soon she’ll be the senior presiding officer of the Maryland General Assembly, after just half a year on the job. She won’t have a wily and experienced counterpart set in his ways as her opposite number; instead, she and Ferguson can grow together. They share the same passion for education and boosting school funding – and she can probably expect Ferguson to take a more aggressive approach with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) than she’d be inclined to. Together, though for different reasons, they’ll contribute to a notable change in culture in the State House.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) embrace on the Senate rostrum during the final day of this year’s legislative session. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert): He may not be going out on quite the terms he imagined. He’s not healthy and Ferguson was not his first choice to succeed him. Yet no one sees the big picture like Miller; he surely must admire Ferguson’s moxie and achievement. At the same time, he’s fulfilling a dream by returning to the Senate as a rank-and-file and cherished member. Every accolade he receives is 100 percent heart-felt. And he has an unrivaled record of leadership and achievement, spanning decades and every corner of the state. There won’t be another like him.

PUSH

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D): With Miller stepping down, the comptroller, for the second time in a year, loses a presiding officer who despises him. On the other hand, with Ferguson as Senate president, Franchot is losing a major foil in Miller. It will be a lot harder for Franchot and his politically turbo-charged lieutenants to inveigh against “The Machine.”

Sens. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard) and Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s): They were both also-rans in the race to replace Miller. Guzzone was one of the first out of the gate and found he wasn’t as popular as he imagined, despite generously donating campaign contributions to his colleagues and stumping for them. Pinsky has become chairman of a powerful committee but still confronts skepticism that he’s a little too far left and inflexible to rise higher in the Senate. But they got behind Ferguson at the right time and helped put him over the top. Pinsky will likely be a trusted adviser to the new Senate president; Guzzone could be in line to become chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee sooner rather than later.

University of Maryland: It’s the state’s flagship public university and will always have plenty of support in Annapolis. But with Miller stepping down, the College Park campus is losing its No. 1 champion. At least Ferguson is a graduate of the UMD Law School.

LOSERS

The D.C. Suburbs: You’ve got the numbers in the Senate and House Democratic caucuses – can’t you get your act together and throw your weight around?

Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D): During the race for House speaker earlier in the year, she worked the phones for an unsuccessful candidate, Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s). During the race for Senate president, she signaled her support for the runner-up, Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s). You can’t blame her for supporting her local lawmakers and you certainly can’t blame her for their defeats. And yet, if she ever runs for statewide office, people will remember that she was pushing candidates who, in the case of Davis, opposed same-sex marriage and who, in the case of Peters, opposed gay marriage and abortion rights. Alsobrooks does, however, have a longstanding relationship with Ferguson and the two spoke by phone shortly after his victory.

Lobbyists: Don’t be fooled, they’ll still rule the roost in Annapolis. But they lost a major ally and friend – and in some cases a former colleague or boss – in Miller. Some lobbyists served as advisers and cheerleaders for some of the senators who imagined themselves replacing Miller; very few of the top hired guns in Annapolis have close ties to Ferguson. Lobbyists and the special interests they represent will continue to be powerful players in the legislative sausage making. And Ferguson will come to rely on them as he becomes the Senate’s leading fundraiser. Still, there’s a potential for a paradigm shift and it will be interesting to see how the lobbying corps adapts.

Diversity: White guy replaces a white guy, in a caucus with 13 women and 14 members of color.

Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery): At some point, King was touted as a leading contender to replace Miller. In fact, some political pros think King was Miller’s top choice. Whether she truly believed it or wanted the job is hard to say. As chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, she ceded a lot of ground to Ferguson during the legislative session, and he took full advantage. In recent days, King was a vocal supporter of Peters in his fight with Ferguson. She did herself no favors. It remains to be seen what consequences there will be, if any.

Senate Budget and Taxation Chairwoman Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) presenting the Senate’s budget proposal to her colleagues this year. Despite her position, some colleagues considered her vice chairman, Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), the chamber’s go-to person on budgetary matters. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R): Hogan and Miller have known each other for over 50 years. Miller, though a partisan warrior, showed Hogan plenty of deference and occasionally ran interference when he felt Democrats in the legislature were going too far or picking unnecessary fights with the governor. Ferguson, while saying he looked forward to working with Hogan, has no real incentive to do so – and no relationship with him. Democrats demonstrated in the last legislative session that they find Hogan largely irrelevant. As he gets deeper into his final term, that trend will only continue. It may not be a total loss for Hogan, as he lurches more regularly into more partisan territory, since he imagines more and more that he’s playing to a national audience. But still, Ferguson will not hesitate to make his life miserable.

Rural power in the legislature: The rural parts of Maryland have just about been wiped out in legislative leadership. Miller, with his Southern Maryland district and statewide perspective, was their last best hope.

It’s true that Speaker Jones recently appointed Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Middle Shore) to be speaker pro tem. But think of all the losses in leadership the rural areas have tallied in the past decade-and-a-half: Miller, replaced by a Baltimore City senator; Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles), chairman of the Finance Committee, loses a Democratic primary and is replaced as chairman by Baltimore County Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D); St. Mary’s County Sen. Roy Dyson (D), vice chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, loses reelection; Del. Van Mitchell (D-Charles), a subcommittee chairman on the Appropriations panel, gone; Del. Sally Jameson (D-Charles), vice chairwoman of the Economic Matters Committee, gone; Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s), subcommittee chairman on Appropriations, gone; Del. Tony O’Donnell (R-Calvert), former House minority leader, gone; Del. Joseph F. Vallario (D-Prince George’s), former chairman of the House Judiciary, is defeated in a Democratic primary; Del. James Proctor, vice chairman of Appropriations, dies in office; Del. George Owings III (D-Calvert), majority whip, gone; House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), loses reelection; former House majority leader D. Bruce Poole (D-Washington), loses reelection. Wow!

Danielle E. Gaines and Bruce DePuyt contributed to this report.

[email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here