Montgomery Lawmakers Preparing for a Changing of the Guard in the House

Montgomery Lawmakers Preparing for a Changing of the Guard in the House

Delegates say the next speaker must be a champion of the progressive left

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Montgomery County’s legislators in Annapolis are preparing to mourn the passing of former House Speaker Michael Busch at Tuesday services. But some are also looking ahead to a few weeks, when the state legislature will hold a special session to elects its next speaker.

Montgomery’s legislators have remained tight-lipped on preferences for a successor to Busch, citing the politically-charged nature of the selection process.

The favorite appears to be Del. Maggie McIntosh, of Baltimore City, who had secured enough votes among House of Delegate Democrats to win the seat, according to published reports. Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat, and Baltimore County Democratic Del. Adrienne Jones have also been named as contender for the position.

Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, died April 7 at the age 72. He had been speaker for 16 years – the longest in history — and was known as a consensus builder among the 141 House members.

“He operated under a ‘One Maryland’ approach where we all had to remember that whatever our parochial needs, there were also needs elsewhere in the state and if we wanted them to support us, we had to support them,” said Del. Marc Korman, a Bethesda Democrat. “His approach to the job was that of a coach to a team, finding the right place for our skills, bucking us up when needed, and keeping us unified.”

Korman, chairman of Montgomery’s 24-member House delegation, said he hopes the next House speaker is someone who can “represent the Democratic caucus” and balance the duties of working with the governor, while also “asserting ourselves when necessary.”

Del. Ariana Kelly, a Bethesda Democrat and the chairwoman of Montgomery’s Democratic caucus, praised Busch for his “benevolence” and said he was highly effective in leading a progressive class of Democrats despite his centrist approach to politics.

Kelly praised him for helping push through initiatives such as Maryland’s marriage equality law in 2012.

“The caucus was much to his left, but he was such a kind person and ethical, and those qualities are hard to find. That being said, it has to be said that the Democratic caucus in Maryland is center-left at best,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the next speaker must be committed to reforming the structure of leadership in the House.

“[The next speaker] needs to share compassion and loyalty but is also willing to reform the structure of the institution so the structure is less hierarchical,” she said. “Mike Busch was probably the last of the old school, closed-door decision-making-type speakers in Annapolis.”

Del. Eric Luedtke, a Burtonsville Democrat, said he is “trying to maintain neutrality” in approaching the selection process for the next speaker. Busch, he said, “made a tremendous difference” in the House and took on the role of a mentor.

“Mike was a teacher and a coach, and he saw himself as speaker through that lens. He wasn’t a heavy-handed leader or anything like that. He inspired people to do their best. Just look at this legislative session and how much we were able to get done,” he said.

Luedtke, who chairs the House Democratic caucus, said the speaker position is a “very influential” one because they have power to choose committee leaders.

Busch’s passing takes place as another prominent state leader, Senate President Mike Miller, battles advanced prostate cancer that has spread in his body.

Former Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen said Sunday on Montgomery Community Media’s “21 This Week” that the legislature could soon go through a similar leadership change in the Senate.

Floreen praised Busch for his service, but suggested that ailing politicians have a responsibility to their colleagues in preparing for a potential transition.

“With all due respect to Mike Busch, he had a liver transplant the year before he was re-elected. Yet he ran again. Change in leadership, change in positions is not a bad thing. And I raise the question of how do we get leadership to understand that sometimes it’s Ok to step down so that the people can decide, and not the party system who’s going to take your place,” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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