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Pendergrass, Chair of House Health Committee, Won’t Seek Re-election

House Health and Government Operations Chair Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard) meets the press after the House narrowly passed her end of life option bill in 2019. Pendergrass announced her plan to retire on Monday. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

More dramatic turnover is on the way in the General Assembly: Del. Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard), the chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, announced Monday that she won’t seek an eighth term in 2022.

In an email to supporters, the 71-year-old lawmaker, who also spent eight years on the Howard County Council, said she was making the decision to end her political career “with gratitude and some sadness.”

“Thirty-six years ago, I could not have imagined how difficult it would be to decide to leave a job I had never intended to hold,” Pendergrass wrote.

In a chamber with seven standing committees, Pendergrass becomes the second committee leader to decide to retire rather than seek re-election next year. Earlier this month, House Appropriations Chair Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) announced her plans to depart at the end of her term.

What’s more, former House Ways and Means Chair Anne R. Kaiser (D-Montgomery) recently gave up the gavel, citing her desire to expand her teaching and policy role at the University of Maryland. Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard) is taking over as Ways and Means chair.

In addition, House Economic Matters Committee Chair Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) is almost certain to be elected state treasurer when the General Assembly meets in a special session next week, meaning his gavel would also become available.

Pendergrass was a progressive firebrand when she first landed in the legislature in 1995, and while she never yielded her ideals, she became more of an inside player as her career progressed, becoming chair of Health and Government Operations in 2017 after years leading several subcommittees and joint legislative panels and workgroups. Pendergrass also had two stints as chair of the Howard County House delegation.

In her email to supporters, Pendergrass recalled getting her political start as a local parent activist, working to fight overcrowding at her daughter’s elementary school.

“That first People for Pendergrass campaign was built with energetic friends and neighbors, bake sales, meetings around the dining room table, rallies at Carroll Baldwin Hall and a lot of door-knocking,” she wrote. “We were political novices, but we were determined to improve our community.”

Pendergrass, who worked as an art teacher and hospital art therapist before launching her political career, went on to describe the highlights of the rest of her “improbable” journey:

“As it turned out, I wanted to work on so much more, including establishing Howard County’s first adequate public facilities law, making health insurance affordable for more Marylanders, protecting women’s access to abortion, maintaining a not-for-profit health insurer in Maryland, codifying a patient’s bill of rights, bolstering our public health system, addressing minority health disparities in our state, safeguarding the separation of church and state, and, most recently, battling a pandemic,” she wrote.

Pendergrass expressed regret that her legislation to provide for physician-assisted suicide in Maryland, which narrowly passed the House in 2019 but has not advanced since, has yet to become law — a tacit admission that the bill will not be brought up during the coming election-year session.

“I hope that one day Marylanders will have this right,” she wrote.

House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) praised his colleague on Twitter Monday.

“Shane Pendergrass has done incredible work for the State of Maryland,” he said. “Her leadership has left a healthier, safer, more compassionate Maryland for future generations.”

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) called Pendergrass “an exemplary public servant and a model for Maryland’s core values.”

“As Chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee, she has been essential in expanding health insurance coverage to make it more equitable and accessible to Marylanders,” Jones tweeted. “She was instrumental in creating the country’s first-ever Prescription Drug Affordability Board helping to lower the cost of prescription drugs in Maryland and has been at the center of the push for healthy food options for low-income Marylanders.”

The speaker added that she was looking forward to what the lawmakers “will accomplish together in the 2022 session.”

As currently drawn, Pendergrass’ District 13, which takes in North Laurel, Savage and parts of Columbia and Clarksville, is a Democratic stronghold and will likely remain that way after the next round of legislative redistricting. The two other incumbent delegates, Atterbeary, who is completing her second term, and Jennifer R. Terrasa (D), who is completing her first, are expected to seek re-election.

Two other Democrats are also running for the seat: teacher and community activist Amy R. Brooks, and attorney Becca Niburg, who formerly worked for the federal government. With Pendergrass’ departure, other candidates could follow.

On the Republican side, Chris Yates, a Navy veteran and retired intelligence officer who unsuccessfully sought the seat in 2014 and 2018, has filed to run.

This story will be updated.

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Pendergrass, Chair of House Health Committee, Won’t Seek Re-election