Legislature Looks Close to Home for New Staff Director

By Josh Kurtz

When Warren Deschenaux, the Maryland General Assembly’s veteran fiscal guru and top staffer, announced earlier this year that he planned to retire, legislative leaders said they would launch a nationwide search to replace him. But it seemed pretty clear that their leading candidate was right in front of them.

That was confirmed Thursday evening, when Senate President Mike Miller (D) and House Speaker Mike Busch (D) announced that Victoria Gruber, Miller’s longtime top aide, would become the new executive director of the Department of Legislative Services, the agency of central, professional legislative staffers. She will take over on Jan. 1.

Gruber

Victoria Gruber

Gruber has been Miller’s chief of staff since 2006, but she was a fixture in Annapolis well before that. She worked for DLS from 1996-2006, first as a policy analyst, then as senior legislative counsel to the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee. She also worked as a lobbyist for the old Evans & Siterhoff firm while attending the University of Baltimore Law School.

Gerard Evans and John Stierhoff, who are still high-earning State House lobbyists, are also former top aides to Miller.

“All members of the Legislature know that Vicki has a keen intellect and a tremendous grasp of public policy and the state budget,” Miller said in a statement. “In the modern era, we must do what we can to promote strong talented women, and I can think of nobody better suited for the job than Ms. Gruber.”

“Ms. Gruber knows the workings of the Maryland General Assembly and the Department of Legislative Services as well as almost anyone in the state of Maryland,” Busch added.

In the past few years, there were occasional rumors that Gruber would leave Miller’s office. She was considered a leading candidate for a top job had former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) been elected governor – and was even rumored to possibly be in line for a job with Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Gruber’s appointment was roundly criticized by the political website Red Maryland, which tweeted: “Remember this the next time that @MDDems pretend the Department of Legislative Services is nonpartisan.” When the Maryland Senate Democrats took to Twitter to protest, Red Maryland tweeted: “The fact is that the longtime chief of staff to the 30+ year Senate President is now head of a nonpartisan body because the Democratic culture of corruption knows no end.”

But in the legislature’s news release about Gruber’s appointment, Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R) called her “an excellent choice for this position.”

“During my time in the Senate working with Vicki, she has always provided tremendous assistance and insight to all Senators regardless of political affiliation,” Jennings said. “Having worked in DLS and within the legislative body, she has a great understanding of how the whole operation works.”

Gruber, who grew up in Silver Spring, graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor of Arts in Government and Politics, and a minor in English. She was first in her class at the University of Baltimore Law School.

Gruber lives in Annapolis with her husband Tom Lewis and their two sons. Lewis is a former chief of staff to Busch and his predecessor, former Speaker Casper Taylor (D), and is now vice president of government and community affairs at Johns Hopkins University.

No word yet on who will replace Gruber in Miller’s office.

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