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Government & Politics

Senate Republicans Pick Simonaire, Hough as New Leaders

Left to right: Republican Sens. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., Michael J. Hough, Bryan W. Simonaire and J.B. Jennings following the GOP caucus meeting in Annapolis Saturday. Senate Republican Caucus photo.

State Senate Republicans on Saturday tapped Anne Arundel County Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire and Frederick County Sen. Michael J. Hough to be their top leaders for 2021, as expected.

They’ll replace Minority Leader J.B. Jennings of Harford County and Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. of the Upper Shore, respectively ― who have held the top jobs in the GOP caucus for six years.

“We want to thank Senator Jennings and Hershey for their years of service to our caucus, and we hope to build upon their success,” Simonaire and Hough said in a joint statement following the Saturday afternoon caucus meeting in Annapolis. The Republican senators met in a large conference room in the Miller Senate Office Building.

The move to replace Jennings and Hershey with Simonaire and Hough was seen as a desire by the 15-member Republican caucus to practice a sharper-edged brand of conservatism in the State House at a time when the Senate Democratic caucus is perceived as moving to the left ― especially since the election of new Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) almost a year ago.

Jennings had a close relationship with Ferguson’s longtime predecessor, now-Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), and hosted widely-attended parties during the Maryland Association of Counties and Maryland Municipal League conventions in Ocean City that attracted both Republicans and Democrats.

Hershey has caught some flak from Maryland conservatives over the past year for his occasional tweets criticizing President Trump. Those social media posts appear to have been taken down in recent weeks.

Democrats hold a 32-15 advantage in the Senate chamber.

Simonaire, a 57-year-old computer systems engineer, got his bachelor’s degree from Bob Jones University and an M.S. from Loyola College. He is a vocal social conservative, opposing abortion rights and same-sex marriage ― but is also an environmentalist who co-sponsored a measure to ban hydraulic fracturing in the state, which Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) signed into law in 2017.

Simonaire’s family attracted publicity in 2018 when his daughter, then-Del. Meagan Simonaire, who has since left the legislature and switched to the Democratic party, spoke in favor of a bill banning so-called conversion therapy in the state ― and described how her parents attempted to enroll her in a conversion therapy program when she came out to them as bisexual. Bryan Simonaire voted against the measure ― which has become law.

Simonaire currently serves on the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, where he is the chair of the Alcohol Subcommittee.

“Senate President Ferguson has shown a genuine willingness to work with all senators and we look forward to working with him in a manner that benefits all Marylanders,” Simonaire said in a statement. “However, we must realize that while Maryland politicians have constructed a one-party dominant legislature, we are not a one-party state. Nearly half of all Marylanders are not in the Democratic Party and even more do not subscribe to the recent far-left trajectory taken by the Senate. They deserve a strong minority voice advocating their concerns and desires, and we intend to fulfill that responsibility.”

Hough, who serves on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, has been a strong conservative voice in the legislature on criminal justice issues. He has represented Frederick and Carroll counties in the Senate since 2015 ― after defeating incumbent Sen. David R. Brinkley, who is now Hogan’s budget secretary, in the GOP primary.

Hough, 40, previously served a term in the House of Delegates, and works as chief of staff to West Virginia Congressman Alex X. Mooney (R) ― a former Maryland state senator.

“We will focus on policy,” Hough said in a statement. “We don’t expect to win every fight, but we will make the Senate work better to serve the people of Maryland. As the minority party we are the watchdogs against abuse of power. When the Democratic majority is in the wrong, we will call them out. We will cooperate to make wiser laws and be careful guardians of the people’s checkbook.”

Ferguson in a statement congratulated Simonaire and Hough and said he met with them on Saturday in Annapolis following the GOP caucus vote.

“I served on committee with Senator Simonaire when I first entered the Senate, and have had many opportunities over the years to work closely with both of these Senators,” he said. “I look forward to working collaboratively to build a stronger Maryland, particularly as we face the challenging times ahead.”

At press time, Hogan had not weighed in on the Senate GOP vote.

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Senate Republicans Pick Simonaire, Hough as New Leaders