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(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Who will succeed Busch?

The speaker’s health problems have spurred discussions about who will replace him when the time comes.
Two names have risen to the top.

By Bryan P. Sears

The health issues resulting in a liver transplant for Speaker Michael E. Busch have opened up conversations about who might lead the Maryland House of Delegates.

Interviews with more than a dozen members of the House, lobbyists and longtime State House observers — the vast majority of which were conducted before Thursday’s announcement of Busch’s transplant — brought into the open previously behind-the-scenes discussions regarding who might succeed the state’s longest serving leader of the 141-member House.

A senior aide to Busch Friday said the speaker “is absolutely going to bounce back (from transplant surgery) and is absolutely intent on running again in 2018.”

Del. Dereck Davis (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Del. Dereck Davis. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Still, discussions among legislators continue with an eye on the future and a chamber not led by Busch. Two leading candidates have emerged: Dels. Maggie McIntosh and Dereck Davis.

Both acknowledge interest in the job should it become vacant.

Davis said he has had discussions about his future with other legislators while stressing that he has not approached members for support or used surrogates.

“I have had some come to me asking me if it’s something I’d be interested in,” said Davis, who turns 50 this week and has been chair of the House Economic Matters Committee since Busch left that committee and became speaker in 2003. “Yeah, it’s something I would take a look at, but no one in the House would be better in the job than Mike Busch.”

McIntosh had similar thoughts.

“When and if Mike Busch decides to step down, then at that time if a majority of the Democratic Caucus wants me to be the leader of the caucus, it would be an honor,” said McIntosh, 70.

The decision potentially could be historic for the state. McIntosh, the first woman majority leader and openly gay member of the House, could become the first woman and openly gay speaker.

If Davis succeeded Busch, he would become the state’s first black presiding officer.

Davis and McIntosh are hardly the only lawmakers seen as a potential successor to Busch.

Other names that are mentioned include Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones, Baltimore County, House Majority Leader C. William Frick, Environment and Transportation Chairman Kumar Barve, and Ways and Means Chairwoman Del. Anne Kaiser. The latter three are all from Montgomery County.

But Davis, chair of the Economic Matters Committee from Prince George’s County, and McIntosh, of Baltimore and chair of the Appropriations Committee, clearly are out in front of the field of potential contenders.

Del. Maggie McIntosh (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Del. Maggie McIntosh. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Behind the scenes

The maneuverings over a Busch successor highlight both a growing change in the political leanings of the majority party in the chamber and continued concerns over Busch’s frail health and appearance in advance of the 2018 campaign.

There is a great delicacy to the affair; after all, Busch, 70, insists he’s not going anywhere, has filed for re-election and is sitting on a nearly $800,000 campaign war chest.

Those who may wish to succeed the speaker, especially if they are Busch’s trusted and loyal lieutenants, do not want to be perceived as making a move on the presiding officer as they attempt to build their own coalitions of support.

“None of them are doing any of this stuff directly,” said one long-time State House observer. “And you don’t take a shot unless you can kill the king.”

Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Both McIntosh and Davis appear to be working to secure the votes needed to become the next leader of the House, according to sources interviewed by The Daily Record.

Another urban delegate called the positioning a “type of cold war” where most of the moves are not so overt and many delegates are careful to not openly take a side.

“No one wants to bet on the wrong pony,” the delegate said.

House Majority Leader C. William Frick. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

House Majority Leader C. William Frick. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

The Daily Record spoke to about a dozen current and former lawmakers, lobbyists and State House insiders. Because of the sensitive nature of the discussions regarding the positioning to replace Busch, all were granted anonymity.

“This is a bad story to have my name in,” said one House Democrat from an urban area of the state who agreed to speak on the issue.

That delegate had not yet pledged support for either Davis or McIntosh despite the fact that one of the committee chairs had committed to helping him by attending an upcoming campaign fundraiser, which the delegate said was a likely attempt to curry support for a run for speaker.

Changes in the party

Since Busch’s most recent term began in 2015, there have been rumors and hushed conversations about his plans, including possibly seeking an appointment as state treasurer in a shuffle that included the retirement of current Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

Busch allies repeatedly downplayed or rejected those rumors.

Environment and Transportation Chairman Kumar Barve. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Environment and Transportation Chairman Kumar Barve. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

At the same time, Busch has been besieged from within. The 2014 legislative elections brought a tremendous amount of change with several moderate Democrats replaced by Republicans and older Democrats supplanted by younger, more progressive party members.

The newer Democrats are seen by more established lawmakers as upstarts, intolerant of moderate members of their own party and unappreciative of recent progressive victories, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, the DREAM Act, gun-control legislation and increases in the sales, tobacco and gas taxes.

Conversely, many of the younger guard believe the House is not moving far enough to the left.

Ways and Means Chairwoman Del. Anne Kaiser. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Ways and Means Chairwoman Del. Anne Kaiser. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Busch’s health during the 2017 session appeared to deteriorate as the 90-day session progressed. A lack of clear explanation for the illness fueled rumors of a departure.

Busch missed a House Democratic caucus meeting for the first time that anyone could remember. At the time, staff attributed his absence to an adverse reaction to a flu shot. Later it was attributed to an adverse reaction to an unspecified medication to treat an unspecified illness.

He also missed two floor sessions during the last night of the 2017 meeting General Assembly.

Late last month, Busch filed for re-election, two weeks before announcing he had undergone a liver transplant.

Busch announced he had been diagnosed with a form of fatty liver disease that causes cirrhosis of the liver. The condition affects as much as 5 percent of the American population.

The speaker, in his statement last week, signaled a desire to remain in the House.

“I will face this challenge in the same way that I have fought for the people of my district: with determination and hard work. I will keep working through my recovery and I look forward to spending time with my family and getting back on the lacrosse field with my daughters; jogging with my dog; and working for the people of Annapolis.”

Gov. Robert Ehrlich stands between Senate President Mike Miller,D-Calvert Co.,left, as he greets Speaker of the House Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, at right, before a bill signing ceremony Tuesday, April 8, 2003 in Annapolis, Md.(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Gov. Robert Ehrlich stands between Senate President Mike Miller,D-Calvert Co.,left, as he greets Speaker of the House Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, at right, before a bill signing ceremony Tuesday, April 8, 2003 in Annapolis, Md.(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Past is prologue

While the jockeying to succeed Busch may seem premature, it is not unusual. Busch himself is no stranger to the machinations of establishing support to become the leader of the House.

Prior to the 1994 session, Busch was a key player in assisting Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr. rise from chairman of the Economic Matters Committee to become the leader of the House.

Busch, a member of Taylor’s committee and his staunch ally, became aware of a private meeting in which then-Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. disclosed his intention to retire in 1993, one year before the end of the term.

Gary Alexander, a Prince George’s County Democrat, was the presumed successor. He was said to be moving to consolidate his support when Busch alerted Taylor. Busch then assisted Taylor in lining up majority support of the Democratic Caucus and, in return, Taylor named Busch chair of the House Economic Matters Committee.

Busch remained chair of that committee until the 2002 election, when Taylor unexpectedly lost in his western Maryland District.

Busch and Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings, D-Baltimore City and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, were considered the presumed front-runners to succeed Taylor.

But Busch moved quickly, lining up support in a few hours, telling potential supporters that he would support Taylor as speaker should he be successful in a recount effort but asking for their backing should Taylor not return. On that basis, Busch rounded up support from a majority of House Democrats.

Rawlings, recognizing Busch had outflanked him, agreed to support the new speaker and was kept on as chair of the committee until his death in 2003.

Similarly, Davis and McIntosh would likely seek to consolidate their support in advance of a vacancy. The successor will need 71 votes to secure the position.

It is probable that any delegate who can secure a clear majority of the 91-member Democratic caucus would ultimately cut a deal with other Democratic contenders and avoid having to reach out to the 50-member Republican caucus.

One Republican said the GOP caucus may be more likely to side with Davis, who is seen as more open to collaborating with the right side of the aisle on business issues.

But it’s that moderate, collaborative style — in evidence when Davis sponsored a bill that would have preempted local jurisdictions from passing their own paid sick leave and minimum wage laws — that irritates progressive Democrats.

That wing of the party is thought to be more likely to support McIntosh, who is seen as more liberal.

House Speaker Mike Busch is sworn in at the start of the General Assembly session in January 2004. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

House Speaker Mike Busch is sworn in at the start of the General Assembly session in January 2004. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Biding their time

Delegates interviewed for this story pointed to a number of signs that suggest both Davis and McIntosh are preparing for the future.

McIntosh last year hinted at a run for governor or comptroller but has since announced her intent to return to the House. Additionally, she acknowledges meeting with freshmen legislators to help them understand the budget process and with larger delegations to listen to their priorities.

She’s also making a bigger effort to travel the state to help other Democrats, including those not on her committee, raise money. One central Maryland Democrat who had pledged support to Davis said McIntosh hinted at providing campaign support and funding “when the time was right.”

McIntosh acknowledged making more of an effort to help raise money but said it was about supporting members of her party.

“I have always been a very strong defender and supporter of the Democratic caucus and all of it members,” said McIntosh.

Similarly, Davis has been meeting with new members and also engaging in fundraising.

“It’s called leadership,” Davis said. “It’s called being a mentor. Mike Busch was a mentor to me. I wouldn’t read anything into it.”

Those familiar with the inner workings of the House suggest that there are motivations beyond simple mentoring.

“This is what member services looks like,” said one long-time observer describing the process of building support

In the end, both Davis and McIntosh said, they remain completely loyal to Busch, echoing Busch’s message in 2002 when he sought to succeed Taylor.

“I am relieved,” McIntosh said. “I will tell you we are all somewhat relieved that now we know what was blocking our speaker from fully recovering from a health issue last fall that he should have recovered from. I have a lot of hope. I have never seen anyone like (Busch) in regards to stamina.”

Davis expressed similar sentiments.

“As long as Mike Busch wants to be speaker of the House, Dereck Davis wants him to be speaker of the House and will support him 100 percent,” Davis said. When he’s ready and on his own time, if he decides he’s moving on, I would be interested but I won’t be the only one. I imagine it will be a competitive field.”

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