Senate Leadership Team Gets Younger as Ferguson Reveals Picks

Senate President nominee Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Maryland Senate will look very different in 2020.

The changes will begin at the rostrum, where Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) will serve as President, and Sen. Melony C. Griffith (D-Prince George’s) will serve as President Pro Tem. The pair, age 36 and 56 respectively, will replace long-serving Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), 77, and President Pro Tem Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), 69.

Half of the Senate’s four primary committees will have new leaders next year, and three will have new vice chairs.

As Maryland Matters first reported in November, Ferguson has chosen Sen. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard) to chair the Budget & Taxation Committee. He replaces Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery), who remains a member of the panel and will replace Guzzone as majority leader.

Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s) moves up to vice-chairman of the budget panel.

Guzzone supported Ferguson’s bid to become president at a critical moment in October when Miller revealed to his colleagues that he was relinquishing the gavel after a record 33 years. King backed Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s) after abandoning her own brief run.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) will continue as chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Ferguson announced in his memo to colleagues, with Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) winning a promotion to vice chairwoman.

Kagan will replace Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County), who resigned the legislature earlier this month, citing health challenges.

Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) will chair the Judicial Proceedings Committee in 2020, moving up from vice chairman. He replaces Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who recently announced that he will step down in January.

Ferguson announced Smith’s elevation at a “welcome home” rally held by supporters in Silver Spring earlier this month, when the Naval Reserve intelligence officer returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) moves to up vice chairman of JPR.

Senate Finance is the only committee that returns in 2020 with the same leadership duo it had in 2019 — Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) as chairwoman and Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) as vice chairman.

In his memo, Ferguson said the Senate has “much work to do to increase diversity in our chamber,” but he said he is “proud that half of our standing Committee chairs are African-American, and that the Senate leadership team reflects our diversity.”

He said he attempted to balance “the input of the Senators” against geographic, gender, racial, knowledge and “many other” areas. (In a nod to the efforts to sway his decisions over the last few weeks, Ferguson began his letter “Thank you for your calls, meetings, texts, and emails since the Democratic Caucus meeting in October.”)

In a bid to soften the blow of King losing her gavel at the budget committee, Ferguson said “King is known by all members of the Senate for her firm grasp of the issues and her eagerness for fairness, while advocating on a variety of issues, especially education. In her new role she will be a central part of our leadership team and help drive key decisions on strategy.”

Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery) will continue to serve as Majority Whip.

The incoming Senate President chose Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery) to lead the Democratic Caucus and Sen. Antonio L. Hayes (D-Baltimore City) to serve as caucus vice chairman.

Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s) will remain chairwoman of Senate Rules; Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Frederick) will stay on as head of Executive Nominations.

Miller, who will remain in the chamber with the title of Senate President Emeritus, gets a seat on the influential Budget & Taxation Committee, essentially replacing Ferguson, who served as B&T vice chairman last session.

Klausmeier similarly will be given the title of Senate President Pro Tem Emeritus.

Education, Health and Environmental Affairs gets two new members — Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard) and Sen. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City), both of whom move over from JPR.

Judicial Proceedings will have three new members — Young, who moves over from EHEA, and the replacements for Nathan-Pulliam and Zirkin, who have not yet been chosen. The Democratic Central Committees in Baltimore City and Baltimore County will recommend Nathan-Pulliam’s replacement in the coming weeks, and the county central committee will pick Zirkin’s successor.

Ferguson, a late entry into the field to replace Miller and a surprise winner in the potentially once-in-a-generation leadership chase, officially takes over for the legendary leader when the Senate convenes on Jan. 8,

In his memo he said, “Every day, I realize more the shoes I must fill in January, and am strengthened by the knowledge that we have a talented team of lawmakers who are eager to work together for the betterment of the state.”

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