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Josh Kurtz: Moon rise over Annapolis

Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery). File photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

By the back-slapping norms of modern-day politics, state Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) will always set off a weirdo meter or two — even in his home county, where nerdy politicians aren’t all that unusual.

Owlish, bookish, soft-spoken, a little socially awkward, and unapologetically progressive, with a list of lefty causes on his resume that’s so expansive that it would intimidate many of his fellow Democrats, never mind the Republicans in the legislature, Moon was never destined to become one of the boys in Annapolis. And who could forget his declaration shortly after he was elected that he didn’t want to wear a tie on the House floor?

My, how things change.

Now nine years into his legislative career, Moon has just become House majority leader — the quarterback of the Democratic caucus during all floor debates. And he did not have to sell out to get there.

If you thought it was improbable that the late Senate President Mike Miller (D) gave a committee gavel to Paul Pinsky (D), quite possibly the most unabashedly progressive member of the state Senate in history, after Pinsky had served in the chamber for two dozen years, then Moon’s rise is no less extraordinary.

Moon was destined to be one of the smartest members of the legislature as soon as he arrived in Annapolis. He was cerebral, nimble, strategic, and he had won the hearts and minds of many Maryland progressives by engineering Jamie Raskin’s upset victory over veteran state Sen. Ida Ruben in the 2006 Democratic primary. Through his professional career, Moon had worked on social justice, transit, immigrants’ rights, climate change and democracy issues, in addition to political campaigns. And don’t forget his popular political blog, “Maryland Juice.”

But did anyone figure Moon to enter the highest echelons of legislative leadership? How did it happen? The short answer: He worked diligently and kept his head down and proved himself valuable to senior members.

Moon did more than just bring his smarts and experience to the State House. Once he dispensed with the ill-advised tie protest, Moon set about to make friends and influence policymakers in Annapolis. To many people’s surprise, he would hang out with colleagues after hours — not to booze and smoke cigars necessarily, but to make connections, find common ground, talk policy, and still have fun.

Moon remains one of the legislature’s leading progressives and he can still eviscerate conservatives’ arguments on the House floor with some slashing, if low-key, rhetoric. Yet colleagues of all ideologies and from every corner of the state have come to like and admire him.

And he’s been more than willing to dive into policy on some of the harder and most emotional topics of the day, like offenders’ re-entry into society, police reform, repeal of antiquated sex laws, tax reform, and more. He even teamed with a vocal conservative, Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), to agitate for live-streaming of House floor sessions and other sunshine reforms. Throughout, Moon proved himself to be a team player, which earned him an assignment as vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee in advance of the 2022 session.

Moon, who is 44, now becomes the third straight young guy from Montgomery County to serve as majority leader under House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County). His immediate predecessors, Marc Korman (age 41) and Eric Luedtke (also 41), are, like Moon, brainy public servants who are quick on their feet, willing to mix it up with Republicans, but with a degree of equanimity essential for the job.

Moon‘s ascension also illustrates how quickly Jones’ leadership team has changed in the four short but consequential years since she became speaker. The latest leadership reshuffling puts young members atop the Environment and Transportation committee — Korman as chair and Del. Regina T. Boyce (D-Baltimore City), age 46, as vice chair. Jones also found significant slots for thirtysomething Dels. Melissa Wells (D-Baltimore City), Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery), and Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s).

We are now at the point where only one of the leaders of the six House standing committees, Judiciary Chair Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), is a holdover from the leadership team of Jones’ predecessor, the late Speaker Michael E. Busch. And there are young and relatively new members serving at every level of Jones’ leadership team. Jones, who arrived in 1997, is now the third most senior member of the House.

The pace of change in the House has been rapid and dynamic over the past couple of years. Busch, of course, was the longest-serving House speaker in Maryland history. And when he passed that milestone, he generously pointed out that some of his lieutenants, including Jones, and recently-retired Del. Kumar P. Barve (D), had set the record for tenures in their offices — speaker pro tem and majority leader, respectively.

It was a nice thing to point out, but it also demonstrated just how little turnover there had been in House leadership — a source of frustration for so many members. Add to that the two dozen-plus-year chairmanships of Joseph F. Vallario and the late Sheila Hixson, and it was easy to see why so many House Democrats got so restless.

These things are cyclical, and it’s possible that the level of turnover in House leadership will slow and stabilize — potentially frustrating a new generation of delegates a few years down the line. But for now, when considering the changes at the highest levels of state government, don’t forget about what’s happening in the House.

It’s every bit as significant as having a new governor, a new lieutenant governor, a new state comptroller and a new attorney general. And the impact may be even longer lasting, for the overall body politic of the state.

In the meantime, let’s see what David Moon, who still has a bit of the iconoclast in him, does with his new gig.


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Josh Kurtz: Moon rise over Annapolis