Winners and Losers of the 2018 General Assembly Session
By Josh Kurtz
So here we are, with the final legislative session of the four-year term now in the books.
Historically, election-year sessions aren’t particularly busy, but 2018’s was surprisingly productive. Democrats were eager to press their agenda, and Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) was eager to appear centrist and preach bipartisanship. Nothing was as harmonious as it seemed, and yet plenty was accomplished – on everything from health care to education to crime and punishment.
Who were the session’s winners and losers? Many lawmakers, lobbyists, advocates and activists have stuff to boast about – far too numerous to mention. What follows is a very quick-and-dirty – and obviously subjective – list, finalized at 3 a.m. Tuesday. We welcome your comments. And if you’d like them published, so much the better.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R): He won some on the legislative front, and he lost some too – including a couple of high-profile overrides of his vetoes. Democrats and their allies groused about his “copy-cat” bills, including on earned sick leave and creating an education “lockbox” for casino funding, that then went nowhere. His complaint about Democrats not acting on his school safety legislation on the day of the Great Mills High School shooting was a rare unforced error. And yet, he emerges from the session as strong as ever. He can credibly claim some significant bipartisan victories. Democrats didn’t lay a glove on him or do much to change the campaign narrative. Hogan could still lose – it’s that kind of election cycle. But it won’t be because of what happened over the past 90 days.
Amazon: The richest guy in the world (Jeff Bezos, according to Forbes magazine) could get the richest incentive package in state history. What a country.
Obamacare: Gets some essential stabilizing at the state level – at least for a year – in a rare and impressive display of bipartisan rolling up of sleeves.
#MeToo Movement: The issue is on the front pages and, at long last, on the minds of everyone who works in and around the State House. Legislation to police sexual harassment and abuse in state government and on the legislative campus is about to become law. And men are slowly getting the message that long-accepted behavior in the halls of Annapolis is no longer OK. Kudos to Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), the president of the women’s caucus, for guiding the process; to state Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), for accusing a lobbyist of inappropriate behavior by name; and to Dels. Marice I. Morales (D-Montgomery) and Angela M. Angel (D-Prince George’s), among others, for offering dramatic testimony about their own experiences. The process was hardly flawless – remember the head-scratching letter that women lawmakers wrote reminding people that they were in Annapolis to do substantive work, not to play? Several women were hesitant to name names. But we expect more shoes to drop – and more names to surface – now that session is over.
Del. Meagan C. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel): Gives the most memorable floor speech of the session with her dramatic account of her parents’ attempt to get her into conversion therapy after she came out as bisexual. The bill banning the practice was destined to pass anyway, but Simonaire gave it an extra push. And intentionally or not, her speech didn’t reflect too well on her dad, state Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel).
Washington’s Metro System and its Long-Suffering Commuters: Legislature passes historic funding, giving WMATA its first-ever dedicated funding stream ($167 million from Maryland, on pace for Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to approve $500 million a year in new capital funding. Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) and Dels. Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George’s) and Marc A. Korman (D-Montgomery) led the fight and Hogan bought in early.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel): Not to put too fine a point on it, but a year ago, people were worried that Busch wouldn’t live long. Now, following a liver transplant, he is well on the road to recovery and used his own health challenges to pass legislation that encourages organ donations. He got stronger as the session progressed, is presiding over a fairly harmonious chamber, and most of his leadership team will remain intact – assuming he and they are reelected. In contrast, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), had a more up-and-down session. Legislatively, he did fine. But a diverse collection of critics – from Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) to Hogan to the Service Employees International Union Local 500 – fingered him as the reason why Annapolis is broken. A lot of his favorite colleagues are leaving or are threatened in the primary or general election.
Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s): Her tenacity wins her status as the go-to person in the House on health care.
Public Schools, Educators and School Funding: A lockbox for casino revenues, totaling in the neighborhood of $500 million? Check. A downpayment for the forthcoming Kirwan Commission recommendations on closing funding disparity gaps throughout the state? Check. More school construction funding? Check. More flexibility for school districts on the academic calendar? Check. Mandatory slots for public school teachers and parents on the state Board of Education? Check – assuming Hogan signs the legislation. In all, a very good session for the public schools and the teachers’ unions.
Del. Carl L. Anderton Jr. (R-Lower Shore): He was a pariah in many corners when he arrived four years ago after taking out the well-respected veteran Del. Norman Conway (D). But he was a major force behind the Highway User Revenue bill, which restored a considerable amount of local funding. He’s respected by leadership on both sides, and walks back into a second term with zero opposition.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City): A year ago, it wasn’t clear whether the chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee would return to the legislature. This year, in her quirky and pugnacious fashion, she compiled an almost flawless win-loss record on the bills she sponsored, which covered a broad range of issues. She is primed for her primary match with Del. Mary L. Washington (D). Victory isn’t a foregone conclusion in a most unpredictable election cycle, with many progressives demanding change. But does anybody want to bet against her?
Jen Pauliukonis and Liz Banach: Just when you thought there were no more gun control laws to pass in Maryland, these leaders of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence got three major reforms enacted. They had help from lobbyist Alice Wilkerson of the firm Public Policy Partners and several legislators in both chambers.
Sen. Andrew A. Serafini (R-Washington): Colleagues may occasionally groan when he rises to speak on the Senate floor, because he is sometimes the master of the picayune argument. But he has made himself a powerhouse on tax issues, and passed a significant piece of tax legislation this year.
Sens. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) and William C. Ferguson IV (D-Baltimore City): Say hello, most likely, to the next chairwoman and vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. King passed a major child care subsidy bill this year, and Ferguson was masterful on the Senate floor defending the bill to strip school construction funding powers from the Board of Public Works.
Maryland Broadband Cooperative Inc.: With only a few days remaining in session, led by vice president for public affairs Tyler C. Patton, the group dedicated to expanding broadband access in the state got a major amendment extending and expanding access to state controlled assets and assistance attached to a stalled bill and that passed both chambers without any questions being asked or a single no vote.
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery): The lone candidate for governor serving in the legislature helped his cause in the June 26 primary with a wide array of legislative activity. Will it be enough to bump him into the top tier of Democratic candidates? Party activists like him a lot. But funding may still be a challenge.
Ex-state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D-Baltimore City): Resigns from the Senate, cops a plea in a federal corruption case. But he still gets a say over his successor. And is anyone prepared to bet against a political comeback?
Gilbert J. Genn: Lobbyist and ex-lawmaker accused of inappropriately touching state Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D). The grainy video of the incident may have raised as many questions as it provided answers. But his over-the-top protestations sure didn’t help matters. People rehabilitate and reinvent themselves in Annapolis all the time. Will Genn be able to overcome this? And does his lobbying partner, Lorenzo Bellamy, become collateral damage?
Del. Charles E. Barkley (D-Montgomery): Also accused of being “grabby,” by a male former colleague and a one-time lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union who is now running for a House seat – and his behavior has been an open secret in Annapolis for years. He was lucky inasmuch as the accusations got lost in the swirl of the Kagan-Genn controversy. But does anyone want to call him a frontrunner in the super-crowded Montgomery County Council at-large race anymore?
Del. Johnny Mautz (R-Lower Shore): Votes in favor of a couple of gun control measures that his constituents loathe, then issues a written apology in which he cops to not having read the bills. Also votes in committee against the “Reform on Tap” bill to help Maryland craft brewers, even though there are three such breweries in his district. He faces tough GOP primary opposition from Cambridge restaurateur Keith Graffius and Mimi Gedamu, a Salisbury coffee shop owner and vocal social conservative. He may want a drink – preferably a craft beer.
The Beg-a-thon: Forget about the personalities and the makeup of the current Board of Public Works for a minute, or the question of whether decisions on school construction funding require more sunshine. This annual ritual, in which local officials came before the BPW to make their case for school construction money was demeaning, embarrassing and cringe-inducing. Good riddance.
Del. Patrick McDonough (R-Baltimore County): Introduced legislation to try to get his opponent in the Republican primary for Baltimore County executive, State Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer, ineligible to run. Anytime you resort to that tactic, you’re losing. It’s also interesting to note that McDonough was the lone Republican to vote to override Hogan’s veto of the bill stripping the Board of Public Works of its ability to dole out school construction money – a reminder of what a thorn in Hogan’s side McDonough could be if he winds up as the GOP nominee in a jurisdiction that’s critical to the governor’s reelection campaign.
State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D): By conventional metrics, this was a terrible legislative session for Franchot. At one point or another, he infuriated just about every other elected official in the state – with the exception of Hogan. His signature legislative initiative, to reform the state’s liquor laws to aid craft brewers, went down in flames. Lawmakers successfully stripped Franchot of his ability to weigh in on school construction funding appeals. They may in the not too distant future take away his powers to regulate the liquor industry. He rails against the state’s Democratic establishment – carefully side-stepping the fact that he’s been an elected official for 32 consecutive years, the last dozen in a job that gives him the sweetest corner office in state government. He had the audacity to show up at a rally on Sine Die designed to embarrass Mike Miller. But it’s all a day at the office for Franchot and his overstocked team of PR pros. Throw bombs? Fun. Cozy up to the Republican governor? It feels good and it makes a point. Dominate the headlines and drive critics to distraction? Perfection. Franchot may have many enemies among establishment Democrats, but they couldn’t recruit anyone – let alone anyone substantive – to challenge him in the Democratic primary. And he’ll waltz in the general election as well – a free ride to four more years of taxpayer-funded adventure. As so often happens, Franchot gets the last laugh.
Bruce DePuyt contributed to this report.