Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are among the big winners as incoming Senate President William “Bill” Ferguson announced his leadership team for the 2020 legislative session.
Overall, the two suburban Washington jurisdictions will hold two of the four standing committee chairs and all four of the vice chair positions.
The announcement Thursday also included moves that solidify Ferguson’s support in the two jurisdictions that make up nearly half of his caucus as well as demote at least one senator who supported an opponent of Ferguson.
“Committee compositions are determined by taking the input of the senators and balancing those against geographic, gender, racial, knowledge areas, and many other considerations,” Ferguson said in a memo sent to senators Thursday. “While we have much work to do to increase diversity in our chamber and in more public positions, I am proud that half our standing committee chairs are African American and that the Senate leadership team represents that diversity.”
The announcements come weeks before the opening of the 2020 General Assembly session. Ferguson was selected in October by the Democratic caucus to succeed Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who is stepping off the rostrum after more than three decades for health reasons but remaining in the Senate. Ferguson will not officially take over until the full Senate votes on the position when the session opens on Jan. 8. Given the Democrats’ overwhelming numerical superiority in the chamber, Ferguson’s ascension is all but assured.
Other criteria aside, the leadership team that leans strongly toward the Washington suburbs is seen as a necessary recognition of the power held by that region.
Ferguson’s rise to Senate president is seen as a boon for Baltimore at a time when the city’s political power had been waning. But some, including Miller, warned that the incoming leader would have to reward the D.C. suburbs since one-third of the chamber and about half of all Senate Democrats comes from those two counties.
Ferguson keeps in place Sens. Delores Kelly and Paul Pinsky, Democrats from Baltimore and Prince George’s Counties who chaired the Finance and Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committees respectively.
Both Kelly and Pinsky will have vice chairs who are from Montgomery County — Sens. Brian Feldman, who returns to the position, and Cheryl Kagan, respectively. Kagan replaces Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore County and City, who retired from the Senate for health reasons earlier this month.
Both were supporters of Ferguson. Kelly was seen as key to Ferguson’s efforts in October to lock up enough votes to succeed Miller.
Miller announced his decision to step down as leader of the Senate after more than three decades as he battles an aggressive form of prostate cancer that has metastasized to his bones. Miller, who will now have the title Senate president emeritus, will serve on the Budget and Taxation Committee. Previously, Miller served as chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Observers speculated that Miller’s move to the budget committee would allow him to have tremendous input on the debate over the Kirwan Commission education recommendations and give him time to attend to his health while not keeping up with the long hours required on the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Miller will sit on a committee chaired by Sen. Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, and a supporter of Ferguson’s run for Senate president. Guzzone replaces Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgmery, who was considered a candidate to lead the Senate and later supported Ferguson’s main rival, Prince George’s County Sen. Doug Peters. Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, will serve as the new vice chair. Ferguson held the same position last session.
Ferguson’s memo restated his announcement last week to elevate Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery, from vice chairman to chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, another Montgomery County legislator, will serve as vice chairman.
Smith was elevated last week by Ferguson after Sen. Robert “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, announced his intention to leave the Senate before the start of the 2020 session.
Peters, a Prince George’s County Democrat who also vied for Senate president, will remain as vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation’s important capital budget subcommittee. Guzzone will be replaced as Senate majority leader by King.
Sen. Melony Griffith, a Prince George’s County Democrat, will become Senate president pro tem, replacing Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, who now becomes Senate president pro tem emeritus.