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Government & Politics

Session wrap-up: No losers here

Sine Die in the Maryland Senate. Photo by William F. Zorzi.

What the hell happened?

The House of Delegates devolved into chaos in the final moments of this year’s General Assembly session. A normally staid and thoughtful Republican House member, Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke, lost his cool, disrupting the proceedings and leaving a few bills stuck in the pipeline, in the final six minutes before Sine Die. But thanks to a House speaker who is even-keeled to a fault, and to the goodwill that Kipke has built up with leading Annapolis Democrats, the Anne Arundel lawmaker did not suffer any serious consequences. You could imagine it going down differently if other personalities had been involved.

And that’s kind of the approach we’ve decided to take with our annual post-session “Winners and Losers” list. Sure, we could label Kipke a loser of this session. Or former Gov. Larry Hogan (R), whose attitude, priorities and legacy seemed to be repudiated at every turn, despite his enormous personal popularity with the electorate. Or certain other Republicans and interest groups who suffered policy defeats. Or freshman Del. Christopher Eric Bouchat (R-Carroll), who publicly lectured all of his GOP colleagues. Or Del. Shaneka Henson (D-Anne Arundel), who was removed from the House Appropriations Committee over a possible conflict of interest. Or the lawmakers who struggled to defend bills on the House or Senate floors. Or the few appointees of Gov. Wes Moore (D) whose nominations crashed and burned.

But we’re not going to go there.

In general, the 90-day session was a productive and harmonious gathering. And a momentous one too, from the depth and breadth of policy that is being enacted.

We’re not going to be glib and shout, “EVERYONE A WINNER!” But in the first year of a first term, and with a rookie governor, we’re going to start by accentuating the positive and offering a streamlined look at what happened. We’ll spare you the 3,500-word pontificating that mentions every last interest group and lobbying firm, as we’ve sometimes done in the past. There will be time for deeper political analysis deeper into the election cycle.

And honestly, if we keep it short, there’s less room for grievance for those who feel they’ve been left off. So with that:

Top five winners of the 2023 General Assembly session:

Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles)

After years of struggle and emotional anguish, the chair of the House Economic Matters Committee finally gets his bill extending the statute of limitations for sexual assault victims to file civil lawsuits across the finish line — and is the object of a moving Petula Dvorak column in The Washington Post as a result. And he gets to see his bill go through just as the attorney general’s office issues a stunning and sickening report about sexual abuses by Catholic clergy over decades.

Wilson was also the House point person on recreational cannabis legislation, muscling the new regulatory scheme through the chamber, and in his role as chair, shepherded through minimum wage and family leave bill compromises. A very consequential session for a guy in just his second year with the gavel.

Gov. Wes Moore (D)

It was a very good session for the tyro governor, but it was not — despite early high-fiving and some rapturous coverage in certain media outlets — a great session. Yes, he got through some version of all of his legislative priorities. Yes, he embraced many of the high-profile and consequential measures the General Assembly passed. Yes, he and legislative leaders were largely moving in sync, and overall there’s a new spirit of glasnost in Annapolis after eight years of Hogan. Yes, Maryland is close to being on the cutting edge for certain progressive policy prescriptions.

But he and his team still made some rookie mistakes. The appointments process for a new administration is always chaotic, and Moore’s was no better — and possibly worse. Some of the policies he wanted the most — like minimum wage increases indexed to inflation — essentially evaporated. Fairly or not, Moore and his team are already being accused of spending too much time thinking about national and international coverage and attention. Make no mistake: This is a formidable and skillful leader who is going to do consequential things and become a national figure, whatever his political future holds. But he’s still got plenty to learn.

Del. Ben Barnes (D-Prince George’s)

In his first session as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Barnes showed touches of his mentor, the late Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D). He ran the budget process efficiently and with a steely edge, elevated Prince George’s County’s role on the Maryland Stadium Authority board, and used his muscle to help his county’s biggest economic development projects. We should also mention that the legislature used its extra budgetary powers judiciously this session.

Sen. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s)

The Senate had two new committee chairs this year, presiding over panels with new portfolios and lineups. And both did well. But while Education, Energy and the Environment Chair Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) struggled a bit near the end balancing the imperative to combat climate change with the enduring political might of the utilities, Griffith, the Finance Committee chair, made an incredibly strong debut, charting her own path for the committee and refusing to bend to public pressure on certain issues, which at times was quite heated. Chances are, she will get where the advocates want to go on the most contentious debates by the end of the four-year cycle — but on her own terms.

Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery)

If anyone doubted that the Old Boys’ Club is alive and well in Annapolis, one merely has to spend a little time in the House Economic Matters Committee and see how some of the committee members treat Charkoudian, joking about her desire to ask multiple and complex questions of witnesses, rolling their eyes when she drags in several experts to testify on behalf of her bills, ribbing her about the left-wing crazies in her district, and basically becoming a roomful of Barts to her Lisa. Nevertheless, she persisted.

It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t a committee chair passing such a wide variety of bills or spotlighting so many important issues: From the marquee measure to expand offshore wind energy off the coast of Ocean City, to legislation streamlining the way vulnerable Marylanders can apply for government assistance, to bills providing pollinator protections, setting up a food resiliency system, and making medical reimbursements easier. On all the energy and utility matters that come through her committee, she’s far and away the most influential member, and it isn’t even close.

Honorable mention

House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County)

House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany)

Attorney General Anthony G. Brown (D)

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery)

Eric G. Luedtke, chief legislative affairs officer for Gov. Moore

Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery)

Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s)

Budget Secretary Helene Grady

Sen. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s), Sen. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), Del. Bernice Mireku-North (D-Montgomery), Del. Ashanti Martinez (D-Prince George’s), Del. Sarah Wolek (D-Montgomery): Washington and Kelly, long-serving delegates, moved up to the state Senate without having to campaign for the job, other than working their county Democratic central committees. Same for Mireku-North, Martinez and Wolek, who essentially got a free pass to serve for four years in the House of Delegates, winning appointments to fill vacancies in the House. At least three more new delegates will be appointed in the next several weeks. A victory also for Democratic and Republican central committees, and, notwithstanding the newcomers’ admirable qualities, a loss for democracy.

Rookies of the year

Sen. Dawn Gile (D-Anne Arundel): It’s easier to stand out in the Senate than it is in the House, and she’s the only true freshman in the chamber — every other new senator previously served in the House. The abortion issue helped propel her to victory last fall, and fittingly and symbolically, Senate leaders tasked Gile with defending abortion rights measures on the floor, a job she did well.

Del. Aaron M. Kaufman (D-Montgomery): Other freshman delegates passed more bills than Kaufman, but Kaufman, who has cerebral palsy, is the first legislator with permanent disabilities to serve in Annapolis in recent memory. Every rookie lawmaker struggles with how the place really works, finding the secret sauce to legislative success (not to mention the bathrooms). But Kaufman did it all with mobility issues in a historic legislative complex that is pretty unforgiving to people with disabilities, with its cobblestone streets, brick sidewalks and narrow spaces, especially in the House chamber. In addition to working his issues diligently, Kaufman became a good debater and validator with other people’s legislation, and also offered some poignant and thought-provoking prayers in the House chamber.

Del. Elizabeth Embry (D-Baltimore City): Embry had a fine legislative session, but even more extraordinary was her work as the main investigator and writer on the attorney general’s recently-released report on sexual abuses by Catholic clergy. That’s a legacy right there, no matter what else she does in public life.


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Session wrap-up: No losers here