In every Maryland General Assembly session, all 188 lawmakers play a role. Some, obviously, are more powerful and influential than others, starting with the presiding officers, committee chairs, minority leaders and so on.
As we look ahead to the 90-day session, which begins on Wednesday, and ponder the lawmakers we’ll be watching closely, we don’t feel obligated to include House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) or the chairs of all 10 standing committees. Their importance is a given.
But we do list a few committee chairs here, for reasons we enumerate. And we list several other legislators who we think are poised to play an outsized role this year — or are worth watching for a variety of different reasons.
This list is by no means meant to be definitive. Legislative sessions are by their nature very unpredictable — and this one seems harder to game out than most. Which means any one of the 188 could conceivably make a big difference.
In other words, we’ll be watching everyone. Several sharp-tongued conservatives, for example, are exceedingly effective debaters, even in the service of lost causes when there are Democratic supermajorities in both houses, and they cannot be ignored.
For starters, here are some of the lawmakers we think are worth paying extra attention to in the weeks ahead:
Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Lower Shore): There could be drama from the jump this legislative session, and Sample-Hughes would be at the center of it. Does she go ahead with her threat to force a floor fight on the first day about whether she should remain as House speaker pro tem? Jones has said she wants to move Del. Dana Stein (D-Baltimore County) into that role, but the full House has the ultimate say. Would Sample-Hughes prevail? What happens if she succeeds? What happens if she fails? Or does she, at the 11th hour, fold her tent? We’ll know soon.
Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery): The new chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee has been “Mr. Transportation” throughout his legislative career and will be at the center of the fight to push back on the Moore administration’s proposed spending cuts — even though he’s no longer on the Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Guy Guzzone (D-Howard): The chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee runs a well-oiled machine and seems politically bullet-proof, at home and in the Senate chamber. Right now, Senate leaders seem divided on whether to consider tax increases this year; Guzzone has the stature and likely the inclination to push the caucus to act this session.
Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s): Not only will she have a full plate as chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, which will include guiding the ever-controversial medical aid-in-dying bill through the House. But she is going to have a very delicate balancing act if members of the legislature decide to punish CASA, the immigrants’ rights group that came under fire in the fall for perceived anti-semitic remarks. If this debate emerges, many of her colleagues will be looking to Peña-Melnyk, the senior Latino official in Annapolis, for signals.
Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel): After years of arguably being the Republican closest to Jones and the late Speaker Michael E. Busch — and their staffs — Kipke, a former House minority leader, seems to have taken a new approach, from his Sine Die performance, shouting at Jones in the session’s final minutes, and his decision to ally himself more regularly with the most aggressive House conservatives.
Sen. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel): The Senate’s newest chair — she took over the powerful Finance Committee in the fall — is a genial and seasoned political leader who has always kept close to her constituents. The new assignment represents a big challenge, and controversies await.
Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City): He would like to have become chair of the Finance Committee, where he still plays a prominent role, but had to settle for the consolation prize of replacing Beidle as chair of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. That’s still a big job, one year into Gov. Wes Moore’s administration.
Del. Jefferson L. Ghrist (R-Upper Shore): If the tax hike train gets rolling, Republicans will be predictably adamant in their opposition. Many will take to the House and Senate floors to blast any proposed tax increases, probably in vain. Ghrist, a senior appropriator, may be one of the few GOP lawmakers with the stature to do anything about it in committee.
Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery): Not your father’s Legislative Black Caucus chair. She’s both a progressive and an intimate of the speaker’s, a unique combination — and she’ll be in the thick of a host of legislative debates.
Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County): He’s the last of the Senate Republican moderates and can be a swing vote on any number of issues. But now that he’s signaled his intent to retire after 2026 he’s pulling fewer punches, and his ongoing evolution will be something to observe.
Sen. Nick Charles (D-Prince George’s): The newest senator — he’s been there for a month — is hardly a political neophyte, having spent five years in the House. But it will be interesting to see how he blends in. For that matter, we’ll also be watching the newest House members who weren’t around for the 2023 session: Del. Malcolm Ruff (D-Baltimore City), Del. Ryan Spiegel (D-Montgomery), and Denise Roberts (D-Prince George’s), who will be sworn in to replace Charles this week.
Sens. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) and Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) and Dels. Mark S. Chang (D-Anne Arundel), Terri L. Hill (D-Howard), Lesley J. Lopez (D-Montgomery), Mike Rogers (D-Anne Arundel) and Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery): These are the seven state lawmakers who are currently running for Congress in either the 3rd or 6th districts, with the primaries fast approaching on May 14. On the one hand, the session will keep them off the campaign trail to a considerable extent; on the other hand, they’ll have the ability to make a difference on state policy and spotlight their legislative work. We expect each of these lawmakers to largely stay in their legislative lanes — some are notably more seasoned, powerful and effective than others. But we have to confess, the one we may be watching the closest is Lam, who can be a bit of a maverick within the Senate Democratic Caucus. He regularly went after former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on a variety of fronts, particularly on personnel matters, and he seems unafraid to question some of Moore’s personnel practices as well. In the context of the crowded and highly competitive 3rd District primary, we’d call this a high-risk, high-reward approach.