Josh Kurtz: Talkin’ ‘Bout Their Generation

Yesterday was Independence Day. And the Maryland State House, in Annapolis, is the place where George Washington resigned his commission.

But not even Washington’s army could dislodge the two veteran presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly. Senate President Mike Miller (D) is already the longest-serving Senate leader in the state’s history, and House Speaker Mike Busch (D) is close to becoming the state’s longest-serving Speaker.

Neither Mike seems to be in a hurry to go anyplace anytime soon.

Which is perfectly OK on the one hand. Both are powerful, skillful leaders who bring different strengths to the job, and both have earned their places at the highest echelons of state government.

On the other hand, the logjam of ambitious legislators who would like to eventually replace Miller and Busch – or move up the legislative food chain even a little – gets bigger and more desperate with every passing year.

On the surface, the General Assembly looks like a more stable – some would say stale – legislative body than the Politburo in the 1970’s. But look a little closer and there’s a certain – and surprising – level of instability, born of all the restlessness.

In the relatively short term, the apparent desire of Miller and Busch to stay has implications for the legislative redistricting process, which is likely to happen during next year’s Assembly session. Miller will certainly insist on keeping a piece of Prince George’s County in his district, even though he hasn’t lived there in more than a decade. And there is increasing talk that Busch is going to draw a small subdistrict for himself in downtown Annapolis, where the electorate remains fairly liberal even as the rest of Anne Arundel County moves farther to the right.

Just as any decision by a top political office-holder to retire inevitably creates a domino effect, so too does a decision by a political powerbroker to stay. It involves a different kind of calculation for the people below them, but a calculation just the same. Ambitious politicians have an internal body clock, and for many in Annapolis, it’s ticking very loudly.

Let’s roll the numbers.

Miller, who turns 69 in December, has been Senate president since the beginning of 1987. Of the 46 senators other than Miller, only Baltimore County Sen. Norman Stone (D), who was elected in 1962, served in the Senate with someone other than Miller as president.

Among Annapolis gossips, for the past several years it has been widely assumed that whenever Miller decides to move on, the top competitors for his job will be Finance Committee Chairman Mac Middleton (D) and Judicial Proceedings Chairman Brian Frosh (D). Insiders like to speculate about who would have the upper hand in a Middleton-Frosh contest (Frosh has the bigger base, but he may be too liberal; African-American senators may hold the key, blah blah blah).

But it is looking more and more like a moot point. Middleton turns 66 later this year and Frosh hits retirement age in the fall. If Miller is re-elected in 2014 and decides to serve a full term, Middleton will be 73 at the dawn of the 2019 legislative session and Frosh will be 72. That’s hardly old in this day and age, but it may well be that if Miller stays that long, the time for Middleton and Frosh will have passed.

For the record, the Senate’s two other committee chairmen, Budget and Taxation chief Ed Kasemeyer (D) and Education, Health and Environmental Affairs leader Joan Carter Conway (D), are 65 and 60, respectively. They’re the same generation as Middleton and Frosh.

As Annapolis insiders play the succession game, many tout Majority Leader Rob Garagiola (D), who’s only 38, as the next Senate president. And that’s certainly within the realm of possibility. But Garagiola is a young man in a hurry, and mentioned for a variety of other potential openings, from Congress to attorney general to Montgomery County executive. Odds are pretty decent that he won’t be around in 2019.

Back in 2000, then-Sen. Tommy Bromwell (D), stitching together an odd coalition of his colleagues and, cheered on by Bob Ehrlich, attempted to overthrow Miller. He fell short, but it was a fascinating time.

It’s hard to imagine that there’s anyone around with Bromwell’s stature or chutzpah to attempt such an audacious move now. Miller may not be well liked, but he’s well respected – and better yet, feared (and it says something that the man with the guts to attempt a coup on Miller is now in prison).

In the House, there’s a similar numbers game, where Busch is 64.

For a while now, the conventional wisdom has been that Environmental Matters Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh (D) is the frontrunner to succeed him (there are, of course, dissenters to this theory). But McIntosh is just a few months younger than Busch. Assuming he serves as Speaker until the end of 2018, McIntosh won’t get her shot at the big time until she’s 71.

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D) is dying to be Speaker, and he’s 53. But he’s so restless that he’s talking about running for state comptroller in 2014.

There are two generations of House members in leadership positions – committee chairmen like Sheila Hixson (78), Joe Vallario (74) and Norm Conway (69) and a younger class, ranging in age from 44 (Environmental Matters Chairman Dereck Davis) to 56 (Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones). To one degree or another, they’re all affected by Busch’s plans. Del. John Bohanan (D), who turns 54 later this year, is also seen as a potential future Speaker.

Nothing is for certain in politics. 2002 is seen as a watershed year in Maryland politics because Ehrlich became the first Republican to be elected governor in 36 years.

But equally significant, 2002 also saw the defeat of then-House Speaker Casper Taylor (D) and, because of retirements or defeats, ushered in new chairmen for all four Senate committees.

So change can happen in Annapolis. It just looks, for now, to be a very long way off.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

A Triple Play of Political Shame – An Indictment of the Ehrlich Campaign, Maryland’s Fumble on Gay Marriage, and the Prince George’s Ethical Saga

White Prince George’s

A DREAM Denied?

Frack This!

The Undercard

Talking Union Blues

The Peter Principle

Mapmaker, Mapmaker Make Me a Map

Two More Giants Exit the Maryland Scene

Six Degrees of William Donald Schaefer

The Lion in Winter

O’Malley’s (Coast to Coast) March

This Time It’s Personal

Seinfeld in Maryland

The First 107 Days

Team of Rivals?

Rob Garagiola’s Political Highway

Blame the Teachers!