‘We Rise and Fall Together,’ Ferguson Tells Nervous Montgomery Co. Leaders

Maryland Senate President Nominee Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) speaks at the Committee for Montgomery annual legislative breakfast. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

It was simultaneously a homecoming and an introduction for presumed next state Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), as Ferguson addressed a large gathering of Montgomery County leaders Friday morning to discuss the upcoming General Assembly session.

Speaking to the annual legislative breakfast of the group Committee for Montgomery, Ferguson moved quickly to dispel any concerns about the gravitational forces pulling legislative leadership toward the Baltimore region, with Ferguson’s looming ascension and the recent rise of House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).

Ferguson, 36, grew up in Montgomery County — in the Flower Valley neighborhood — and reminisced about “spending half my high school days” at a Roy Rogers on Rockville Pike. He also joked about the challenge of trying to get to an event at Montgomery County at 7 a.m.

Earlier this month, Ferguson announced that Sen. William C. Smith would become chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. On Thursday, he named several Montgomery lawmakers to key leadership posts, including Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan a vice chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher as Smith’s vice chairman on JPR (Sen. Brian J. Feldman is keeping his job as vice chairman of the Finance Committee).

Sen. Craig J. Zucker will become chairman of the Democratic Caucus and chairman of the education subcommittee on the Budget and Taxation Committee. Sen. Susan C. Lee will remain majority whip. While Ferguson removed Sen. Nancy J. King as chairwoman of the budget panel, he is moving her to the post of majority leader, and he said Friday that she would be an integral part of his leadership team.

Ferguson name-checked all eight Montgomery senators during his breakfast address, but was most effusive in his praise for King, listing some of her accomplishments and asserting that she would be “an absolutely incredible majority leader who I continue to learn from every day.”

During the breakfast, which brings together hundreds of politicians, business leaders, educators, civic activists and union leaders, Ferguson tried to dismiss any talk of creeping regionalism in the State House. He said communities across Maryland share common problems — and that solutions for tackling these problems can be found in every jurisdiction.

“We rise and fall together,” he said. “That’s the story of our state and I think our leadership structure reflects that.”

Ferguson did not mention by name the reform recommendations and funding increases sought by the so-called Kirwan Commission to improve public education in the state — a priority of Montgomery County officials also. But he did assert that “world-class opportunities” for Maryland students would be “priority No. 1, priority No. 2 and priority No. 3” during the legislative session.

Other speakers discussed the looming fight over Kirwan more directly.

“We are going to fight like hell for Kirwan and for school construction,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D). “This is game-changing. We all know it’s game-changing.”

Asked in a panel discussion whether Democrats had the votes in the General Assembly to override a threatened veto by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) if the legislature advances tax increases to pay for the Kirwan reforms, Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) replied, “Not only that. I’m not really sure that the governor really knows what he’s opposing.”

Korman predicted the legislature would adopt “a complex menu of revenue increases” that would not include increases to the sales, property or personal income taxes.

Asked the same question about a potential veto from Hogan, Zucker said he wanted to persuade the governor to persuade Hogan to support the Kirwan plan.

“My hope is the governor puts the children of Maryland first,” he said. “The children should not be political pawns in this.”

Also speaking at the Committee for Montgomery breakfast: U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) and Montgomery County Council President Sidney Katz (D).

Shortly after the breakfast concluded, Hogan in a news release announced that the state would invest an additional $130 million for education initiatives.

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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.