As Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and incoming Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) step into the roles long held by Michael E. Busch and Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), respectively, Maryland Democrats met Tuesday to commemorate their service and move forward into a new legislative session.
“We are hours away from what is sure to be a historic legislative session,” Maryland Democratic Chairwoman Yvette Lewis said to crowds of energized Democrats at a luncheon in Annapolis.
Lewis said despite an impeached president, turmoil in the Middle East, wildfires in Australia and inequality in the United States, “I remain hopeful because the Maryland Democrats in this room will spend the next 90 days improving the lives of the poor, the incarcerated, the undereducated.”
With over 70 women in the Maryland General Assembly and one of the largest legislative black caucuses in the country, the 441st legislative session will see more diversity in the State House than ever. The legislature will convene Wednesday with a new House speaker and a new Senate president, the first turnover in top leadership since 2003.
“We lost two giants this year,” said Jones, who replaced Busch following his death in early April. Busch had served as speaker for 17 years.
U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) died in October.
“Our grief is slowly transforming to gratitude that the Good Lord was willing to share a modern-day prophet Elijah with us,” U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said at the luncheon. “Now we are carrying on the work he exemplified.”
Several Maryland lawmakers are running to fill Cummings’ position in a special election: Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), and Dels. Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City), Terri L. Hill (D-Howard) and Jay Jalisi (D-Baltimore County).
U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) also offered a tribute to Busch and Cummings, then said, “But I want to talk about a living legacy, and that is Mike Miller.”
Miller was unable to attend the luncheon, but was awarded a “Lifetime Democratic Service Award” by Cardin. He is stepping down as Senate president after 33 years on the job, the longest-serving state Senate leader in the country, but will remain a state senator as he continues his battle with prostate cancer.
“To me, he is a master of the Senate,” Cardin said.
Ferguson, nominated by Democrats to succeed Miller and certain to take over as Senate president Wednesday, also paid tribute to his predecessor.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said.
Ferguson is 36 years old, and was the youngest member of the chamber until freshman Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), 31, joined last year.
“If my math is right, when Mike entered the U.S. Senate, you had not been born yet,” Cardin said to Ferguson, to laughter from the Democrats in attendance. “Believe me, you are going to age very quickly.”
Speakers promoted education, health care and criminal justice reform legislation in the upcoming session, to cheers and applause from the lawmakers and Democratic activists in attendance.
“It will be a change in direction, a change in leadership,” Hill said in an interview. “There’s a lot of energy and ideas and commitment. It’s going to be a win-win for Marylanders.”