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Commentary

Mileah Kromer: Alright, Millennial

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

Alright, Millennial.

I didn’t think Bill Ferguson would be the next Maryland Senate President, TBH.

Was he a passionate advocate for the Democratic agenda? Yes.

Was he a policy wonk who did his homework? Absolutely.

Was he respected by colleagues, both in his party and across the partisan aisle? You bet.

Was he able to pull off a sweater vest? Not relevant. But also, yes.

Most importantly, was he a political animal capable of the backroom maneuvering necessary to secure one of the most powerful political positions in the state? I thought, no.

Like many others, I was surprised to learn, in October, that he would be the first Senate president of the post-Mike Miller era. To be sure, his ascension, with nary a hint of real political drama, illustrates just how much I underestimated his political acumen.

Bill Ferguson’s tenure as Senate President began on Wednesday, Jan. 8, when the Maryland General Assembly convened for the 441st time. And I’m excited to see how he will lead the chamber and serve the people of Maryland in his new role.

Part of my reaction is because Sen. Ferguson and I are close in age. It’s inspirational to see your contemporaries begin to hold positions of real power and influence in society. Senate President Ferguson now has significant control over public policy in Maryland, and thus, the livelihoods of millions of people. That’s some serious #adulting.

I was reminded of our shared generational experience at The Daily Record’s Annapolis Summit. During an exchange with Marc Steiner about tax revenue, Sen. Ferguson demonstrated how incongruent Maryland’s tax policies are with the current economy by looking at how we purchase music. He asked the audience “how many of you still own CDs?” before noting that purchases of digital downloads are not subject to Maryland’s sales tax.

Note that Apple introduced iTunes almost exactly 19 years ago, while Bill Ferguson was in his senior year of high school. By the time Ferguson was an undergraduate at Davidson College, the iPod was making the CD as obsolete as the CD had made the tape. I’ll leave it to him to disclose whether the iTunes playlist (perhaps called “Bill’s Party Mix”) on his first iPod included hits by Shaggy, Matchbox Twenty or Ashanti.

Using the generational parameters established by the Pew Research Center, the Maryland Senate is fairly diverse, albeit Baby Boomer-heavy. Boomers hold 46 percent of seats in the Maryland Senate while Gen-Xers hold 28 percent.

Interestingly, Senate President Ferguson’s generation (Millennials) and Senate President Emeritus Miller’s generation (the Silent Generation) each hold 13 percent. With the 11th District seat vacated by Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin open, the average age of a Maryland state senator is 57. According to the most recent US Census American Community Survey the average Marylander, on the other hand, is about 39. Senate President Ferguson is 36.

Last year, the Goucher College Poll found that 41 percent of Marylanders approved of the job the Maryland General Assembly was doing, 30 percent disapproved and 26 percent said they didn’t know — a net positive approval rating. (Three percent did not answer the question.)

How will the public evaluate the General Assembly under the new leadership of Senate President Ferguson and under House Speaker Adrienne Jones, who brings different, and even more important, change as the first African American and first female presiding officer?

I can’t wait to find out.

— MILEAH KROMER

The writer is the Director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College which conducts the Goucher College Poll. She can be reached at [email protected] Twitter: @mileahkromer