Sine Die: The Winners and Losers
By Josh Kurtz
It’s all over but the Monday morning quarterbacking — or perhaps more precisely, the Tuesday morning quarterbacking.
The 90-day General Assembly session ended at midnight Monday, and lawmakers – and everyone who tried to influence them – can go home and lick their wounds. Make no mistake: Legislating is a contact sport. Even the winners have wounds to lick.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called this his most successful session yet. And yet, this session also produced some of the most liberal legislation to emerge from Annapolis since he took office in 2015. Go figure. (OK, it probably has something to do with Democrats eager to serve as a counterpoint to President Trump’s agenda in Washington, D.C.)
Without further ado, here’s our take on the winners and losers of the 2017 General Assembly session – and the folks who find themselves somewhere in between:
Attorney General Brian Frosh (D): Lawmakers gave him unprecedented powers and he’s now poised to join fellow Democratic attorneys general around the country as a major oppositional force to Trump. He may well be the de facto leader of the Maryland Democratic Party at this point as well.
Democrats With Nuanced Trump/Hogan Messaging: Democrats who once thought Hogan was unbeatable in 2018 have renewed hope, thanks in part to the chaotic debut of the Trump administration and his miserable poll numbers in Maryland. But Hogan has moved carefully to try to distance himself from the president. Democrats seem to be taking two approaches to Hogan and Trump: pointing out when Hogan has refused to take positions on Trump policies and actions and challenging him to do so has been an effective tactic. Others have been less effective (see below).
Maryland State Education Association: It continues to be one of the big dogs in Annapolis. Don’t believe it? Consider how often Hogan attacks the teachers’ union. MSEA passed major legislation over the governor’s objections and also helped torpedo Hogan’s push on charter schools. Hogan has been able to scapegoat the union in prior years, but he’s unlikely to be able to get away with doing so this time.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D): His poignant and courageous personal testimony about being a victim of sexual abuse as a child convinced his colleagues to pass legislation extending the statute of limitations for such offenses.
Del. Luke Clippinger (D): He was chief House sponsor and advocate for the paid family sick leave bill. Steadfast and strategic.
Liz Richards: As director of Working Matters, the sometimes messy 160-member coalition that fought for the paid family legislation, she deserves plenty of credit for its passage. But the advocates can’t rest on their laurels: They’ve got to pressure Hogan to sign it, or work to ensure that there are sufficient votes to override a veto at the outset of the 2018 session.
U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein: He continued to roil the “business as usual” complacency of the State House with his indictments of three legislators and a man who was about to be appointed to the House. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he’ll soon be the No. 2 at the Justice Department – and an unusually important one at that. Rosenstein is also expected to have plenty of sway over who Trump nominates to be his successor.
Public Policy Partners: The “white hat” lobbying firm, co-owned by Ann Ciekot, Robyn Elliott and Michele Douglas, racked up impressive victories as it celebrated its 10th anniversary. Among them: Pushing for paid sick leave, the financial protection legislation for Planned Parenthood, the bill to prepare the state for changes in the federal health care law, and the omnibus package to address the heroin and opioid epidemic.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh (D): She didn’t have as high a profile as some of her fellow leaders this session, but she used her legislative muscle and know-how to broker a deal to get $130 million in extra aid for ailing Baltimore city schools – without making other jurisdictions feel bitter or like they were steamrolled. Some of her vaunted predecessors could not have pulled that off. She’s got to be considered the odds-on favorite to replace Speaker Mike Busch (D), if he moves on in the next year or two.
Sen. Rich Madaleno (D): With Jamie Raskin, the Senate’s previous progressive leader, now in Congress, Madaleno upped his profile and took on several liberal causes. He’s always been a budget whiz and now he’s expanded his portfolio, to the cheers of progressive groups. This comes as he contemplates running for governor – and he is sporting a new trim figure that is adding to his vitality. Honorable mention goes to other progressive stalwarts, especially Sens. Paul Pinsky (D) and Jim Rosapepe (D).
Del. Christian Miele (R): He sponsored a popular bill to offer tax breaks to employers who hire military veterans, and a bill requiring the Maryland Board of Physicians to list whether licensed doctors are carrying malpractice insurance. He seems on track to challenge Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D) in 2018.
Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks (D): She was one of the only prosecutors in the state to oppose the bail bond bill sponsored by her likely opponent for county executive in 2018, state Sen. Anthony Muse (D) — who was propping up the bail bond industry against the wishes of his fellow Legislative Black Caucus members. Alsobrooks already has a reputation for being tough on crime; now she’s associated with a liberal criminal justice reform measure as well.
Vinny DeMarco and the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative: It continues to be the model for mobilizing grass-roots support for progressive legislation in Annapolis. This year it helped enact a one-of-a-kind curb on prescription drug prices that should become a model for other states.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh (R): He finally got a bill through to create an elected school board in his county – an issue that has been simmering for decades. And as the election cycle ramps up, can anyone identify a credible Democrat who is even thinking about challenging him in 2018?
Sen. Bill Ferguson (D): He made his job as chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee relevant with several high-profile battles over Hogan administration nominees. He has also become a go-to in the Senate for Baltimore city advocates by virtue of his spot on the Budget & Taxation Committee and the recent turnover in the city’s Senate delegation.
New Legislative Blood: Some of the Old Guard is fading or slipping (see below). Del. Anne Kaiser (D), the new House Ways & Means chairwoman, and Del. Bill Frick (D), the new House majority leader, are bringing energy and vitality to their positions and changing the dynamic in legislative leadership.
House Environment & Transportation Chairman Kumar Barve (D): After a dreary finish in last year’s 8th District congressional primary, he dove into his legislative work this year and helped produce the fracking ban, the Clean Cars Act (increased tax credits for electric cars and charging stations), new oyster protections, and more. On the civil rights front, he passed the HOME Act, which would eliminate discrimination against tenants based on their source of income.
Senate Finance Chairman Mac Middleton (D): Most of the major issues seemed to land on his desk, and his calm, inclusive demeanor helped bring closure on such perennial fights as paid sick leave, prescription drugs, and more.
Del. Shelly Hettleman (D): She had a major role in the passage important bills on the distribution of contraceptives, rape kits as tools in sexual assault cases, and student loans, among other legislation. And whether she wants it or not, she will be pressured to challenge Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D) in the Democratic primary next year (see below).
Dru Schmidt-Perkins: The executive director of the environmental group 1000 Friends of Maryland keeps pals amused with her Facebook updates on the trials and tribulations of trying to avoid paying for garage parking in Annapolis during the 90-day legislative session. By her estimate, the $215 she incurred in parking tickets still saved her between $530 and $795 in daily parking fees. Winning!
Ashlie Bagwell: The lobbyist with Harris Jones & Malone was part of the feel-good story of the session, doing pro bono work for the 10-year-old kid who wanted to make chromite the official state mineral. The bill didn’t make it, but it was a nice gesture. It was a good year for Bagwell outside of Annapolis as well: Her alma mater, the University of South Carolina, won the women’s NCAA basketball championship this month, and the men’s team went to the Final Four.
Liz Murphy: The creative force behind the Naptown Pint beer blog did better reporting on the convoluted brewery bill that passed after much hand-wringing than anyone in the “legacy” media. She got lawmakers to speak candidly and helped inspire a push by Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) to reform the state’s outdated regulations regarding the beer industry. We’ll drink to that!
Bryan Sears: The veteran Daily Record State House reporter continues to be a step ahead of his competitors on breaking news. He appears frequently on radio and TV to explain the mysterious ways of Annapolis, and does a major public service by live-streaming news conferences, bill signings and other important events during session.
Maryland Matters: We’re here! It’s a start.
The Old Guard: The session started with Busch, who has been speaker for 15 years and is 70, and Senate President Mike Miller (D), who is 74 and has held that job for 31 years, ailing. It ended with Busch missing some time on the rostrum onSine Die because he wasn’t feeling well. In between, the House engineered an awkwardly-timed reshuffling that resulted in Del. Sheila Hixon (D), 84, becoming chairman emeritus of the Ways and Means Committee after holding the gavel for two dozen years. There was also: House Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario (D), 80, losing some of his political might after a quarter century as chairman; and Senate Education, Health & Environment Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway (D), 66, acting flaky and openly musing about moving on after 11 years leading the panel. Some other senior Democrats were literally and figuratively asleep, begging the question of how long they intend to hang on — while younger members in both chambers were increasingly asserting themselves. The Old Guard is starting to lose its grip.
Legislative Ethics: The session began and ended with legislators being indicted — and so was a guy connected to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) who was on the verge of being appointed to a House seat. Meanwhile, Del. Dan Morhaim (D) had his wrist slapped by colleagues for his connection to a company that attempted to get a medical marijuana license from the state. And this was just the stuff that was out in the open. We expect there’s worse taking place that isn’t being paid attention to – the medical cannabis process seems like one particularly target-rich environment. Between all this and the Democratic legislature’s resistance to Hogan’s desire to reform the state’s redistricting process, real and perceived corruption in Annapolis is the gift that keeps on giving for Hogan and the GOP.
Ex-Del. Will Campos (D), Ex-Del. Michael Vaughn (D), Sen. Nat Oaks (D), Del. Dan Morhaim (D) and Gary Brown: The first three are lawmakers who were indicted on bribery charges – Oaks just 72 hours before adjournment. Brown was the Pugh legislative aide whose appointment to the House was withdrawn in January, as soon as he was indicted for campaign finance irregularities. The quartet may be guests of the federal government before long. Morhaim, a physician and respected health care policy expert, has seen his stature in Annapolis diminish considerably.
Republican Legislators: During a pep talk on Sine Die, Hogan told the House GOP Caucus that this was the best session he could remember for Republicans. But there are those members of the legislature’s Republican minority who may not agree. They saw their governor very publicly sell them down the river when he embraced the fracking ban, and then quietly do so when he allowed the Planned Parenthood funding bill to become law. What can they do? They may not get much consultation or consideration from Hogan, who clearly has different imperatives this election season than they do. But they will grudgingly concede that they are better off with him than without him, so will suffer in silence.
PhRMA: The pharmaceutical industry tried hard to defeat the prescription drug bills, but fell flat.
Extractive Industries: Maryland ain’t Pennsylvania – or Western states with huge tracts of exploitable land. But we’ve become the first state with proven natural gas reserves to enact legislation banning hydraulic fracturing. Vermont, which has no known gas reserves, voted in 2012 to ban fracking as a preemptive measure, and New York followed suit that year via executive fiat.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Bobby Zirkin (D): Any time a session ends with insiders wondering whether he’ll keep his gavel, it’s not good. Any time fellow Democrats openly discuss the possibility of finding someone to challenge him in a primary next year, it’s also not good. Zirkin deserves credit for persevering on the fracking ban. But the way Hogan’s support for the measure was announced, at a hastily-arranged State House news conference, was positively surreal. And it appeared at that moment that Zirkin was doing more to aid the Republican governor than the cause itself. At the same time, Zirkin made enemies with progressives for actively fighting the paid sick leave legislation, and for putting a damper on the pro-immigration Trust Act after it passed in the House. Even a session highlight – his throwing out the first pitch at the Orioles’ opener – begged the question of what he’s been doing to endear himself to the Angelos family.
Internet Users: A late-filed bill to protect the privacy of Maryland’s Internet users — drafted in response to Trump’s signing of legislation repealing a Federal Communications Commission directive that restricted what Internet service providers can do with consumer data — was killed by the House Economic Matters Committee on Sine Die.
Sen. Anthony Muse (D): See Angela Alsobrooks, above. Muse lost a ton of street cred by siding with the bail bond industry over the wishes of his fellow Legislative Black Caucus members.
Democrats who say “Hogan=Trump”: That oversimplistic and overused argument stands in contrast to the Democrats who are trying to draw out Hogan on controversial and potentially damaging Trump administration policies. But despite their business backgrounds and brutally effective use of social media, the residents of the White House and Government House are not the same. Trump is unpopular in Maryland; Hogan remains quite popular. These personal attacks could backfire.
The Chief Of Staff Title: Now every lawmaker, it seems, has a chief of staff. When did that trend take off? By and large these are 23-year-old kids we’re talking about, people!
Gov. Larry Hogan (R): It was Hogan’s most productive legislative session, but that’s only relatively speaking. He had a modest agenda, and some of the things he’s touting – like the bill repealing the transportation scoring law and his legislation combating heroin abuse – were changed significantly by the legislature. It was telling that all the drama on Sine Die did not involve the governor but rather tensions between the House and Senate. Some of Hogan’s vetoes were quickly and decisively overridden, and he faces a true dilemma over what to do about the sick leave legislation. What’s more, the Democrats now have a regular foil in Trump – and those drumbeats could accrue to Hogan.
He is in a more precarious place electorally than his high approval ratings suggest. And Republicans cannot be happy with his decision to lurch left on fracking. Hogan continues to show two sides – touting his bipartisanship frequently, except when he’s needling Democrats and their allies on Facebook. His decision to use the rape of a student at Rockville High School to go on an anti-immigrant rant seems ill-advised. But when all is said and done, Hogan is brilliant strategist who is especially talented about declaring victory in any situation, and with the legislature leaving town he will once again have the megaphone to himself. That’s when he’s best able to score points.
Chris Shank: The former state lawmaker, who now is the director of Hogan’s legislative shop, remains personally popular with his ex-colleagues, and can certainly take some credit for the governor’s successes during the session. But he is much more of a partisan warrior than his predecessor, Joe Getty (now a Court of Appeals judge). Democrats in the legislature have taken notice, and as a result, Shank wasn’t always included in high-stakes negotiations.
House Speaker Mike Busch (D) and Senate President Mike Miller (D): These veteran lawmakers remain masterful legislative tacticians and still retain a great deal of control and loyalty in their chambers. They also have top-notch staffers who read the temperature of their caucuses as well as the leaders do. Both have tried to impose message discipline in their caucuses, with various degrees of success. And both can claim some individual achievements: Busch helped secure a Certificate of Need to bring a cardiac surgery program to Anne Arundel Medical Center, at the same time Miller helped guarantee an annual $10 million in operating budget funding for the new Prince George’s County Hospital.
Miller drew the ire of progressives for essentially killing the Trust Act – but he may have helped protect some of his most vulnerable Democratic members by putting off a vote. Yet for all their skills, both leaders seemed off their games at times, and both had periodic physical problems. These inevitably lead to discussions about their future plans – if even they know what they are.
House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck Davis (D): Like Middleton, Davis was in thick of many key debates, as his committee always is. And he deserves credit for seeing the sick leave legislation through. But some people forget about his futile effort early in the session to ease the blow for business on sick leave by trying to push through a local pre-emption bill, which would have prevented local governments from enacting wage and benefit laws that exceeded state levels.
His committee killed the Internet privacy bill at the 11th hour. And he took a lot of flak, fairly or not, for his role in the controversial brew pub bill that eventually passed (“no good deed goes unpunished,” Davis lamented). If you had to handicap a hypothetical race for House speaker between Davis and McIntosh, you’d have to conclude that Davis lost a little ground this session.
Immigrants And Their Advocates: The Trust Act and a separate bill to ban the creation of a Muslim registry failed. But there is a lot of energy in Democratic circles around the idea of protecting immigrants’ rights, and some of the lawmakers who resisted these bills could find themselves with primary challenges.
Legislative Black Caucus: Del. Cheryl Glenn (D) won kudos from her colleagues for her work as caucus chairwoman. She was a lot more visible, forceful and strategic than many of her predecessors. But in the end, the caucus members didn’t get the changes to the system of issuing medical marijuana licenses that they were seeking.
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