On a frigid and rainy Tuesday, lawmakers, county officials and Democratic advocates gathered at the Westin Annapolis Hotel near the State House to outline party priorities ahead of their second session in 10 years with full control of the House, Senate, and the governor’s office.
It was a lively gathering, as elected officials paid tribute to long-time Democratic party members and outlined priorities for what lies ahead in the 2024 General Assembly session, which starts Wednesday.
In between discussions of legislative priorities and optimism about the state Democratic party, there were sobering reminders of the importance of the upcoming general election for the Maryland and nationwide Democratic party.
“I know every cycle, it seems that somebody says ‘this is the most important election of our lifetime,'” said Ken Ulman, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. “This one is.”
Ulman spoke about the upcoming presidential election, which is likely to be another face-off between current President Joe Biden (D) and former President Donald Trump (R).
Despite a multitude of legal woes, Trump is the leading candidate to be the Republican nominee on the November presidential ballot.
“We just celebrated, a couple of days ago, January 6th,” Ulman said, referring to the unsuccessful insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol in 2021, when hundreds of Trump supporters attempted to undo his loss in the 2020 presidential election.
“The thought that that guy (Trump) might walk back into the White House…Not on our watch. Not here in Maryland,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-5th), who announced his re-election campaign late Monday, stressed the need for the Democrats to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, keep control in the Senate, and support Biden.
“Quitting was not an option,” Hoyer said. “Our democracy, our Constitution, our laws, our values are at risk.”
Hoyer said that the current Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives was “dysfunctional” and slowed progress on Democratic initiatives.
“You see an institution that is deeply divided. You see a Republican leadership, very divisive. In addition, the House of Representatives is a dysfunctional body,” he said.
“America cannot afford that. The American people cannot afford it,” he said.
Hoyer recapped various Democratic successes under the Biden administration, such as passing the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Absent from the event were Maryland’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.
Maryland’s highest ranking state officials provided a preview of what Democratic lawmakers, who have supermajorities in both the House of Delegates and Senate, plan to work on in the upcoming session.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) expanded on previous statements of the House’s legislative priorities in what she calls the “decency agenda.”
“We can’t spend the entire session talking about the budget, taxes, and crime,” she said. “Especially as we see a rollback in LGBTQ workplace protections, attacks on equity, and inclusion, and increasing prejudice in our communities.
“These bills will provide safeguards and best practices to prevent intolerance and hate from taking further root in our institutions and schools. We can’t count on the [U.S.] Supreme Court anymore. You are now on the front line of protecting our democracy, our schools, our diversity, and those most in need,” Jones said.
The House intends to fund Maryland’s shock trauma system and expand mental health services, Jones said. She also emphasized the importance of protecting the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the state’s education reform law.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) wants to build on Democratic successes from the 2023 session, which included growing the supermajority in the legislative chambers and getting Democrats elected in local races.
“This year…it is more important than ever to define who we will be for the next 10 years. This is a year where we have to focus on growth. We have to listen to our voters and listen to our residents and focus on working families,” he said.
Gov. Wes Moore (D) alluded to a housing policy that would increase the “housing inventory” in the state and create a “better housing pathway for everybody,” though he did not provide further details.
He did acknowledge Jones’ request to support the Blueprint and reiterated the ability to push Democratic initiatives forward if the House, Senate and governor’s office collaborate on issues.
“As it turns out, when we work together, it works,” he said.
Moore ended the speech by saying that the party cannot lose focus on their “larger obligation,” referring to getting Democrats elected in November.
“We are weeks away from having an official nominee of a major party, who is going to be spending the next 10 months fighting for his own freedom,” Moore said, referring to Trump. “Not for ours. He will spend the next 10 months fighting for his own future, not for ours.”