Sen. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), the chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, will resign at the end of the month to become president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association.
Griffith told Maryland Matters Friday that she accepted the job in the morning and will begin her new position on Dec. 18.
“This has been a tremendously difficult decision,” she said.
Griffith, who is in her fifth year in the Senate and previously served for 16 years in the House of Delegates, has worked as a health care policy expert and advocate for her entire professional career. In an interview, she said she initially resisted the opportunity to apply for the hospital association position, but finally came around to the idea that she could advance many of her top priorities in the new job.
“Someone pointed out, those are things you care about in life that you have a chance to impact,” Griffith said.
Griffith will replace Bob Atlas, who departed in February after five years on the job, following a contentious conversation with a House committee chair on a group phone call, The Daily Record reported at the time. Atlas was paid $838,000 in 2021, according to the most recently available public figures, published on the website ProPublica.
By selecting Griffith, the hospital association, one of the most muscular trade groups in the state, is getting a seasoned policy expert who is also intimately familiar with the politics, players and traditions of Annapolis.
“This position is an extension of Melony’s life work as a problem-solver, organizer, and community health advocate,” Thomas Kleinhanzl, MHA’s Board of Trustees chair, said in a statement. “As a state lawmaker for over 24 years [sic], Senator Griffith has built a stellar reputation, relationships, and policy knowledge that will advance our Association and our hospitals through the coming years. She is a collaborator who brings together competing ideas and needs, finds consensus, and builds the best solutions for our communities and our state.”
Griffith’s resignation will create a series of political dominoes in Annapolis and in Prince George’s County. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) will have to find a replacement for Griffith atop the Finance Committee, whose broad portfolio includes health care policy, business regulation and labor issues. She took over the committee just before this year’s General Assembly session.
The Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee will eventually have to recommend a successor for Griffith in the Senate to Gov. Wes Moore (D), who will officially name the replacement. Griffith said she is timing her resignation with the hope that there is more than sufficient time to have a successor in the 25th District Senate seat before the General Assembly session begins on Jan. 10.
Griffith was the only woman to run one of the Senate’s four standing committees, so it’s very likely that the Finance gavel will go to a woman, barring a major reshuffling of the panels.
Early speculation has focused on Sen. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), who has served on the Finance Committee since joining the Senate in 2019, as the next chair. The vice chair is Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), who is the senior member of the Senate.
Beidle until recently was traveling in Iceland when she began receiving text messages this week.
“I’ve had about 20 congratulations since Wednesday and I’m like, congratulations for what?” Beidle said in an interview. She expressed interest in succeeding Griffith.
“I’ve been in the Senate five years and before that I was in the House for 12,” said Beidle, the current chair of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, who also spent two terms on the Anne Arundel County Council. “I’ve chaired subcommittees. I’ve chaired executive noms. I think if it were offered I would certainly be honored.
“That’s all being worked through on who’s going to be chair and now the dominoes start falling. There’s going to be committee changes, there will be other leadership changes. We’ll need an 11th person on Finance so someone’s going to come from another committee and then somebody has to replace Melony and that person is going to have to be assigned a committee. Literally, the dominoes start falling.”
Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, spoke warmly of the prospect of working with Beidle if she becomes Finance chair.
“I love her because I’ve known her for 16 years and we started [in the legislature] together,” she said. “We have a mutual respect — honest, mutual respect and admiration. She’s just a beautiful human being and I would be honored to work with her.”
One possible choice to fill the 11th slot on the Finance Committee is Sen. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), who was Peña-Melnyk’s vice chair on the House health panel until being appointed to fill a Senate vacancy earlier this year. When Kelly joined the Senate, she was assigned to the Judicial Proceedings Committee, but said at the time she expected that to be a temporary posting.
Ferguson on Friday did not say anything publicly about his plans for the Finance panel, but he did release a statement lamenting Griffith’s loss in the Senate and saying he views her hiring at the hospital association “with a mix of pride and gratitude.”
“Senator Griffith has left an indelible impact on our State,” Ferguson said. “Her dedication, expertise and unparalleled work ethic have been instrumental in shaping Maryland’s landscape…The tenacity that Senator Griffith has brought to her work serving her constituents makes her the perfect choice to lead the Maryland Hospital Association at this critical juncture. “Healthcare is a vital issue that touches the lives of every Marylander, and I can think of no one better suited to improve the state of our hospitals, healthcare services, and ensure health equity than her.”
Ferguson installed Griffith as Senate president pro tem shortly after becoming Senate president at the beginning of 2020. She became chair of the Finance Committee late last year following an elaborate reshuffling of committee leadership and responsibilities.
With the Senate’s two senior-most members departing following the 2022 election — Senate Finance Chair Delores Kelley (D-Baltimore County) into retirement and Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chair Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) appointed director of the Maryland Energy Administration — Ferguson named Griffith the chair of Finance, while making Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery), who had been Kelley’s vice chair at Finance, the chair of the newly-renamed Committee on Education, Energy and the Environment (EEE). Feldman had expertise in both health care and energy policy.
But Ferguson also shifted some of those committee’s responsibilities, bringing the energy and utilities portfolio into EEE, which already considered most environmental legislation, and giving Finance sole responsibility for health care policy.
A public health advocate
Griffith ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates in 1994, then won a seat four years later, serving alongside then-Del. Dereck E. Davis (D), who would become chair of the House Economic Matters Committee before becoming state treasurer, and then-Del. Anthony Brown (D), who would become lieutenant governor, serve in Congress, and is now state attorney general.
In 2014, Griffith challenged the 25th District’s longtime senator, Ulysses S. Currie (D), in the Democratic primary, but lost by 21 points. She won the seat handily four years later, when Currie retired.
In a note to her constituents Friday, Griffith expressed gratitude for their support and outlined dozens of legislative measures and other initiatives she’s proud of, including bills that addressed health disparities, wealth equity and environmental justice; measures that protected retiree health care and expanded prescription drug benefits; funding for new schools, nonprofits and economic development programs; and many others.
“I remain committed to serving our community,” Griffith wrote. “I will now focus my efforts on improving health outcomes for all of us, and I will continue to partner with you to address other important challenges in our community.”
Griffith, 60, has worked in public health for all of her professional career, since emerging from Howard University with a masters degree in social work in 1987. Her credentials include working as vice president for external and government affairs of the Greater Baden Medical Services, with facilities in Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland; as program director at the Prince George’s County Health Department; as deputy director for the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council; as a licensed clinical social worker; and as a hospital discharge planner and project coordinator for the National Basketball Players Association Health Education Project at Johns Hopkins University.
Gene M. Ransom III, CEO of MedChi, the Maryland Medical Society, said his organization is “excited to hear that Senator Melony Griffith is going to take on the lead role at the Maryland Hospital Association. Senator Griffith is thoughtful, committed, hardworking and will be a great representative in Annapolis and nationwide for Maryland hospitals.”
Peña-Melnyk also hailed the appointment.
“I think it does make things easier for [the hospital association] because she knows the system,” she said. “She knows how we work and this is all about relationships.”
Meanwhile, in the 25th District, early speculation has focused on Dels. Nick Charles (D) and Karen Toles (D) as possible Senate appointees. Neither responded immediately to messages on Friday afternoon.
There has also been some speculation about former Del. Darryl Barnes (D), who resigned in April to join a lobbying firm. But he said Friday he’s not interested.
“I think the timing is not there,” Barnes said. “If this had happened six months ago, when I was in the House, it would have been a no-brainer. This is just not the right time for me.”
Barnes predicted that Charles, the senior member of the House delegation, has the advantage if he seeks the appointment — but said others are likely to seek the Senate seat as well.
The district has seen two members appointed to the House in recent years and each time the appointment process was fairly tidy. Toles, who had served eight years on the Prince George’s County Council, was the consensus pick to replace Davis in the House after he became state treasurer in late 2021. This spring, Del. Kent Roberson (D), who had been chair of the county Democratic central committee, was appointed to replace Barnes.
This breaking news story may be updated.