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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

A new day in the Maryland Senate

Tuesday’s results and retirements will transform Democratic leadership ranks

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. being asked Monday about Comptroller Peter Franchot's vows to unseat him. Miller shrugged off Francht's plans to campaign against him. (Maximilian Franz)

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. ‘knows who people are and what they want sometimes better than people know themselves,’ one source familiar with his thinking says. Miller is faced with having to rebuild most of his leadership after retirements and primary losses. (File Photo/Maximilian Franz)

If someone were to hang a sign on the doors of the Maryland Senate, it might read “exciting opportunities available, inquire within.”

Going into the primary election, almost a dozen seats in the Senate already were open as some of the most experienced members, and in many cases trusted allies of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. declined to seek re-election.

And then came Tuesday.

“This was a tectonic shift,” Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, said afterwards. “It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen overnight — except that it happened overnight.”

That seismic shift included the loss of most of Miller’s remaining leadership team. Still in place are only one of four major committee chairs — Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee — and two vice chairs.

The results also raise questions about Baltimore’s strength as it leaves Sen. William “Bill” Ferguson as both the dean and youngest member of the city Senate delegation.

The changes will force Miller to build relationships with new members of his caucus, including those who unseated key allies and friends. The longest-serving Senate president in the country and in the history of the state has already started meeting with members, but some observers say those meetings are “the normal blocking and tackling” done by the Senate leader following an election.

And if there are a lot of opportunities for senators to move up, that means Miller also has the ability to reward loyalists, strengthen relationships with others and build new relationships with incoming Democrats.

“He still has a (lot) of cards in his hand,” said one longtime observer who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his position. “He knows who people are and what they want sometimes better than people know themselves.”

Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

‘This was a tectonic shift,’ Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, said after the Tuesday primary results. ‘It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen overnight — except that it happened over night.’ (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

In addition to leadership positions, there are seats on key committees, many of which are on Budget and Taxation — a highly sought-after assignment.

A source familiar with Miller’s thinking cautioned that it might be too early to start moving pieces, even if Miller is already starting to analyze how the board is setting up.

“Tuesday night was only one of two elections this year,” the source said. “The outcome of the general election will determine who will sit on what committees.”

Arguably one of the biggest surprises of the night was the defeat of Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Middleton, a six-term incumbent, was seen as a consensus builder on his committee and a lead supporter of paid sick leave legislation.

But Middleton, 72, was defeated by challenger Arthur Ellis, an outcome driven by changing voter demographics in Charles County and a growing African-American population.

Middleton was also seen as the heir apparent to lead the Senate if Miller were to leave. Some say that leaves Sen. Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, as a potential successor.

Still others believe the flood of new members could open up a path that leads all the way to unseating Miller as presiding officer — a desire some are said to be exploring but, given Miller’s imposing power, dare not acknowledge publicly.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore and Senate president pro-tem, lost to Del. Cory McCray, 35 and a first-term Democrat. McCray wore out the shoe leather in a retail campaign pitting the progressive upstart against the establishment McFadden, 71 and a six-term incumbent.

It also appears that Baltimore Democratic Sen. Joan Carter Conway, 67 and a five-term incumbent and chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, has lost her re-election bid to Del. Mary Washington, 56 and a two-term delegate.

Washington ran on a progressive platform. She continues to lead Conway as absentee ballots were counted. Provisional ballots will be counted after the July 4th holiday.

Clarence Mitchell IV, a Democratic former state senator and radio show host, said the loss of McFadden and Conway — two staunch advocates for the city and for its education needs — leaves a vacuum that won’t be easily replaced by those who beat them.

“They won’t be in the backroom,” said Mitchell. “When Miller closes the door, if you’re not in the room you’re on the outside and you get the scraps that are left. Senator McFadden and Senator Conway were in the room.”

Being in the room could be important as the next legislature will have to pass and fund a historic expansion in education funding projected to be $2 billion. The policy portions of that expansion would have gone through Conway’s committee.

The source familiar with Miller’s thinking said there could even be opportunities for choice committee spots for those who unseated top lieutenants.

“A lot of it is going to depend on how people come to the Senate,” said the source, adding that those opportunities will evaporate “if people are simply coming to throw stones.”

For less experienced but returning senators, there may be an opportunity to move up under a probationary period, giving individuals a chance to prove they can handle additional responsibilities.

Mitchell said one solution would be for Baltimore City to convince senators in Baltimore County to take a regional approach — a potentially difficult sell given the political makeup of the county from the east and west sides.

Kagan, who serves on Conway’s committee, said she believes incoming city senators like Antonio Hayes, Jill Carter, McCray and Washington will have no trouble making their presence known on important issues.

“They’re not shy or retiring folks,” said Kagan.


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