Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D) & incoming Senate President William C. “Bill” Ferguson (D)
Close your eyes. Imagine it Dec. 23, 2018. A group of five or six political insiders is gathered around the second-floor bar of Harry Browne’s, sipping cocktails and prognosticating about the upcoming legislative session, wondering aloud what – if any – pivotal changes would transpire in the approaching new year.
Open your eyes. Today is December 23, 2019.
The longest-serving speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, Michael E. Busch, dies Sunday, April 7, one day before the 90-day legislative session would be gaveled to a close.
On May 1, the House of Delegates makes history twofold, electing Adrienne Jones (D) of Baltimore County, the first African-American female speaker in Maryland history.
Fast forward to October 24, 2019.
The longest-serving Maryland Senate president, an Annapolis legend, Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D) steps to a podium – in a building named after him, no less – announcing that he will step aside from his three-decades-long post as Senate president. The 77-year-old father of five and longtime Calvert County-based attorney has passed on the Senate gavel to 36-year-old Baltimore City state Sen. Bill Ferguson (D) of District 46.
A new House speaker and a new Senate president in one year’s time. Close your eyes again and imagine making such a prediction on Dec. 23, 2018.
The young, intrepid Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater is without question the man of the year.
Broadwater turned in nothing less than heroic journalism that exposed the internal corruption of former Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) and the University of Maryland Medical System.
The “Healthy Holly” scandal revealed a systematic sickness in Baltimore City politics. We all knew it existed – but only some understood how just how profound the culture of corruption was that permeates City Hall.
The ensuing sequence of actions stemming from Broadwater’s enterprise reporting changes the face of both Baltimore City politics and forces widespread change at one of Maryland’s most powerful and impregnable economic engines.
Without Luke Broadwater, Catherine Pugh could very well still be operating as a relic of the Annapolis Machine, falling beneath the watchful eye of the media’s pen, going about her business, without even an ounce of moral compunction.
Ah, the turn of events. Broadwater’s series of articles no doubt forced Catherine Pugh into early retirement. There is only one story left this year for Broadwater to pen: What fashionable prison uniform will be assigned to former Mayor Pugh?
State Sen. Cory V. McCray (D)
Having demolished the Annapolis Machine’s incumbent protection racket in 2018, the newly sworn-in McCray quickly got off to a promising start in the state Senate.
After being hoisted into the interim chair position at the Maryland Democratic Party later this year, McCray took it upon himself to clean up the mess made by Rockeymoore Cummings. He wrote a letter to Democratic officials detailing the Party’s tenuous financial position – and he took acute steps to address Rockeymoore Cummings’ drunken-sailor spending spree.
Can you think of any elected official in Maryland with bigger you-know-whats than Cory McCray?
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D)
A star is born on the national scene. Jamie Raskin demonstrated his brilliance to the nation during the impeachment hearings of President Donald J. Trump (R). What else can be written about Rep. Raskin? He’s a star.
Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz (R)
The telegenic young Frederick Countian moves from her former perch at the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to the higher wattage environs of Commerce, from which she is afforded the unique opportunity of touring Maryland’s finest factories, research labs, and main street stores, touting the Hogan economy and looking every bit like a prospective 2022 gubernatorial aspirant.
Comptroller Peter V. R. Franchot (D)
The pugnacious four-term Maryland comptroller – and the presumptive 2022 Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner – turned in a methodical, strategically-impeccable 2019.
While the Annapolis Machine was readying Franchot’s political obituary, the comptroller and his staff nonetheless grew their political base – which is, by and large, the most diverse coalition of voters in Maryland politics today.
Mr. Franchot positions himself at the forefront of the progressive public health community with his emerging crusade against harmful vaping products (you can’t help but think that failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous – still waiting to be governor in a few years, cashing in on those fat Juul checks – would want to tussle Franchot and Company on their vaping public safety awareness campaign.)
By establishing a respectful distance from his friend and fellow constitutional officer Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, Franchot, a fiscal moderate and social progressive, has reinforced a bond with Montgomery County’s all-powerful environmental and civic activists in taking on Hogan’s runaway beltway enlargement proposal. Franchot has asked Hogan to slam the brakes on what could become the largest-ever public-private partnership in history. We’ll see what happens at the next Board of Public Works meeting.
One cautionary word of advice for the typically savvy Hogan operation: Peter Franchot and Len Foxwell are better at the public relations game than you are. There aren’t enough insufferable, self-aggrandizing Red Maryland columnists available to execute whatever half-baked pressure cooker campaign you want to run on Franchot to get him to support your road widening plan – without further review.
It’s worth mentioning that Mr. Franchot has seen substantial progress toward loosening the state’s antiquated laws aimed at craft beer.
One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Ben Kramer Incorporated!
Ah, Peter Franchot is going to do it. Give him a chance and he’ll take it. He’s doin’ it his way.
State Sen. Jill P. Carter (D)
On the heels of a convincing thumping of Martin O’Malley’s dying political machine, the Annapolis Machine-busting state senator solidifies her standing as one of Baltimore City’s biggest impact players in the state Senate; unquestionably, Carter has become the public face of accountability in the UMMS self-dealing scandal.
Now running for Congress in Maryland’s 7th District, Carter’s lane to an upset victory is crystalizing her standing in a crowded field, one that includes the late Elijah Cummings’ widow, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, whose extraordinary shortcomings and questionable business ethics are being spotlighted over and over again by an unforgiving press.
Richard DeShay Elliott, PhD student
Coming off a stellar 2018, the young Democratic socialist progressive-Bernie-Sanders superfan firebrand rolls another strike by picking Tim Adams over establishment mainstays like Len Lucchi and Dennis Brady in the race to elect Bowie’s next mayor. His star political talent also was a distinct guiding force in the improbable ascension of Colin Byrd to the mayor’s seat in Greenbelt.
Look for this modern-day Bobby Seale to make an impact in the 7th District congressional race as well as in several Baltimore City Council races in 2020. And look for DeShay Elliott to be a consistent columnist for A Miner Detail.
The best news outlet in Maryland, behind A Miner Detail, of course.
Josh Kurtz and his team of reporters are kicking up stories at a rapid-fire pace. Read them. You’ll learn a lot.
State Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R)
What a year it has been for the Maryland Senate Minority Whip.
Hershey’s blue-checkmark Twitter account was abuzz this year when he put away partisanship and took a swing at gun violence, knowing full well the political consequences that he would inevitably endure. Sure enough, the pro-Trump wig-wearing Pat McDonough faction of the Republican Party gave Hershey some sustained short-term grief – none, however, that will impact his standing as a true-blue conservative state lawmaker.
Hershey’s political courage has taken some time to come full circle. This year, the District 36 state senator has shown that Republicans cannot and should never tolerate gun violence, or make excuses for it.
Wouldn’t a matchup between Hershey and Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bone-fetching understudy, Rep. Andy Harris (R), be a primary worthy of print?
The Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club
There is no other club by comparison in Montgomery County that wields as much political power as the Women’s Democratic Club. This all-star political activist machine is arguably the most influential and most powerful political club within the state of Maryland.
Led by the indefatigable Diana E. Conway, this club is the creme de la creme amid the activists’ political clubs. Under Conway’s direction, the club dominates County public policy discussions, and it has made a noticeable dent in pushing a progressive political agenda and, too, welcoming all Democrats into the tent – whether they be moderates or staunchly progressive Democratic Socialists.
Conway is backed up by 1st Vice President Leslie Milano, a former District 18 candidate whose political career is only just beginning.
With Milano’s political talent and formidable intellect, she should seriously consider challenging the do-nothing Annapolis Machine poster child, state Sen. Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher, in a Democratic primary – or she should strongly consider a run for County Council in a few years.
The Three Wise Women
Kathleen Causey, Lily Rowe and Julie Henn – the reform bloc of the Baltimore County Board of Education – had a stellar 2019.
Wouldn’t you agree?
Clayton Mitchell Sr.
From the pain and heartbreak of losing his father, the beloved former Maryland House speaker, Mr. Mitchell emerges as the family patriarch, the keeper of his father’s powerful political brand.
Mitchell blends natural bipartisan instincts with fierce advocacy for the interests and priorities of his beloved Eastern Shore. His political firepower has been rising for some time now. Any future governor would take a hard look at Mitchell for a cabinet-level position (DLLR, perhaps).
From the millennial voting bloc on the Baltimore City Council to the rise of Montgomery County Councilman Andrew Friedson (D), the economic and fiscal center of the Montgomery County Council, and the stellar freshman session turned in by State Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D), this was a year of defining generational change.
Other examples include State Del. Julian Ivey (D), Colin Byrd (D) and Leo Thuman, the young and highly influential conservative activist unafraid to challenge anybody to an intellectual battle.
State Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D)
Despite Kagan’s personality quirks – and there are a few not worth mentioning – can anyone claim a better 2019 legislative session than the state senator representing Gaithersburg and Rockville?
Kagan’s Next Generation 911 bill will go down as one of the single best pieces of legislation this year, one that will undoubtedly save lives.
Gaithersburg City Councilman Ryan Spiegel
A city councilman since 2007, Spiegel served as the 2019 president of the Maryland Municipal League, leading the organization into one of its most successful years to date.
Of course, Scott Hancock, MML’s executive director, deserves similar credit as the chief promoter of Maryland’s 157 municipalities.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D)
“Today was the day that Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich finally became county executive” is a tweet that is unlikely to escape your draft tweet box.
Mr. Elrich has failed to transition from the fire-throwing leftist at-large councilman to the role of the executive of Maryland’s largest county. Whether Elrich is up to the job or not is for the voters to decide.
Antagonizing the governor at a June Board of Public Works meeting over the governor’s proposed highway beltway widening plan was probably not going to earn him a spot on the Hogan Holiday card list. Speaking of the Board of Public Works, Elrich’s shoddy June appearance was nothing short of embarrassing.
At home, the county executive’s inability to connect with his Council is profoundly problematic. And nobody ever seems to know where the hell Elrich is.
His unnecessary, self-created controversy with Montgomery County Police over a gifted “thin-blue line” flag was another embarrassing episode, which the county executive just couldn’t stick to his job and stay out of the political weeds.
Perhaps the county executive should stop taking political advice from MoCo Millennial blogger Helen Elizabeth Burns, his friendly friend from Takoma Park, and start listening to people like Andrew Kleine, his chief administrative officer who actually has the raw political talent to support this fledgling executive.
The Annapolis Machine
The old order continues to crumble. Speaker Busch passes away in April and Senate President Miller – facing the realities of declining health – relinquishes his post in November.
State Sen. Douglas J. J. Peters, a longtime Miller lieutenant thought to be an ideal successor, falls far short in his bid for the Senate presidency; he even has to watch Tim Adams, his prime political antagonist, win a hotly-contested mayor’s race. That stung.
Longtime corporate and Machine co-conspirator Catherine Pugh resigns in a spectacular disgrace and is now wondering just how long she’ll be a guest of the government, and longtime Busch lieutenant Tawanna Gaines has resigned under a cloud of criminal prosecution.
Another Mike Miller confidant, state Sen. Nancy King of Montgomery County, finds zero traction in the Senate President’s race, goes on to back the wrong horse, and now finds herself marginalized in Bill Ferguson’s Annapolis.
One does need to question why, of all people, Jones and Ferguson decided to hang on to the Machine’s top enforcers, Alexandrea Hughes and Jake Weissman? Jones would have been wise to clean house, ridding herself of the heavy-handed Hughes, who isn’t feared, who isn’t respected and who isn’t even liked by a number of state delegates; she’s just there, and they have to deal with her.
How does Maryland’s largest jurisdiction – the economic engine of the state – manage to go through two Annapolis leadership succession fights without fielding a single, serious candidate in either one? And the county emerges without either budget committee chairmanship? Incompetence at its very worst.
Delegates Mary Ann Lisanti and Jay Jalisi
Need we say anymore? Both had a horrible year.
Johns Hopkins University
The world-renowned institution that found itself at the center of raucous student protests at the beginning of 2019, over the proposal to institute a private police force, ends the year as the principal target of SEIU-backed legislation that would extract more money from the school in exchange for its tax-exemption.
Bryan Sears and State House Reporters who Never Leave the State House
I walked into the State House basement in January – bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – ready to learn, eager to listen and willing to do whatever it takes to become a better writer, reporter and journalist.
I have much to learn, and I have quite a distance to go. I endeavor to reach my full potential in this thing; I’m desperately trying to turn this thing of mine I have built into a career. I’m going to fail more than I succeed; I am likely to make a ton of mistakes.
While most of the seasoned Annapolis reporters were welcoming to me when I showed up last January, Bryan Sears was not. And I don’t understand why. (And I understand that he doesn’t owe me a thing. Nothing. But basic respect is a give-and-take.)
I don’t threaten his job. I don’t challenge his work. In fact, I have been overly obsequious to him through the years, inviting him on the podcast a couple of times and seeking out his expert opinion on a number of Annapolis topics. For whatever reason, Mr. Sears did his level best to make me feel unwelcome, making me feel at times that I am less than what I am.
Sorry, Bryan; I’ll be back next year. When you’re ready to treat me like an adult, I’ll be glad to buy you a beer and put your problem behind me.
The amiable New Mexican had arguably the worst year of any transportation secretary in the past 20 years. The Department’s botched handling of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge redecking leads to 14-mile backups in the early fall, and it exposes the Hogan Administration to a rare barrage of criticism from dependably Republican communities on the Eastern Shore.
Rahn’s unilateral, go-it-alone approach to the Beltway widening project earns him the scorn of elected officials throughout Greater Washington, setting the stage for an improbable delay at the hands of Peter Franchot. His year ends with the abrupt announcement that he will head home to New Mexico to spend more time with his wife and adult children.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings
Despite the positive press Dr. Cummings picked up during the funeral services of her late husband, Elijah Cummings, her year in Maryland politics was fraught with a number of strategic mistakes and political over-calculations (e.g., the letter she wrote during the time of the speaker’s election, threatening to punish veteran Democrats should they decide to elect a new speaker with the help of Republicans).
Moreover, while some improvements have been made to the Maryland Democratic Party under her chairwomanship, the Party’s finances are questionable at best. Cummings spent liberally and even nonsensically on contracts that were later canceled by her brief successor, Cory McCray.
Cummings’ congressional campaign should be firing on all cylinders. It’s not. She’s running a consultant-driven campaign with the help of Washington insiders, who know not a damn thing about Maryland’s 7th District, or its people. She’s getting bad advice, and her campaign is sending out its deputies on social media to attack any and all of her competition.
Should we even mention the cloud of suspicion hanging over her charity? It’s already well-documented.
The Maryland Republican and Democratic Parties
Both parties are a mess, although the Democratic Party is moving in a positive direction and operating with a full deck of cards.
The Maryland GOP is an absolute joke. Their leadership is non-existent. They have no message, other than Donald Trump is our King and Larry Hogan is…mehhh.
Hiring a dental assistant as their executive director probably wasn’t that smart; then again, Dirk Haire, the party’s chairman, is much too busy helping his spouse, Jessica Haire, run for a higher office, rather than taking time to put together a coherent apparatus.
The only promising outlook for the Maryland GOP is Nicolee Ambrose. The only.
Her longtime Senate gravy train remains at the risk of derailment as many of her longtime patrons are retired or defeated at the polls. Her lucrative, vague consulting contract at the Maryland Democratic Party is canceled after the former interim chairman, Cory McCray, sifted through the fiscal wreckage of the Rockeymoore era.
It’s likely that Ms. Mellinger will continue to skim off the top of the Annapolis Machine in some form or another.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R)
Coming off a historic re-election, the governor’s second inauguration in January struck a moderate tone, one that emphasized good government and bipartisanship. Even Jeb Bush agreed, who ventured to Annapolis to support his friend.
Larry Hogan and his team did many things well this year, namely his public relations battle against the out-of-control price tag that is Kirwan. Here’s the bottom line on Kirwan: We can’t afford it; it’s going to be an absolute nightmare for county budgets. Hogan is right to drop a wet blanket on a spending plan that has no end in sight.
The governor became the chairman of the National Governor’s Association. He’s big-time now. He even briefly looked at a White House bid, a Republican primary challenge to a now-impeached president of the United States. Sadly for Hogan, the Republican Party would much prefer Donald Trump over the moderate, law-abiding governor of Maryland.
But for Larry Hogan’s relatively solid year, he’s petty pressure campaign aimed at Peter Franchot is just silly. Pick up the phone and call Mr. Franchot, Governor Hogan. End this petty Facebook back-and-forth. And stop isolating yourself.
Overall, Gov. Larry Hogan broke even this year.
Rep. David J. Trone
The 6th District Democrat – a moderate businessman by trade – quickly found his role in Congress and has done some great work on fighting opioids and championing veterans’ issues. Rep. Trone has found his footing as a member of Congress, and the 6th District is lucky to have him.