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Victoria L. Gruber( Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun photo / June 26, 2013 )
43, Chief of staff to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller
House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller have held on to their respective jobs longer than anyone in Maryland history, but they haven't done it alone. Both are known for top-notch staffs led by politically savvy, resilient women with a gift for smoothing relations between their strong-willed bosses.
The importance of Kristin F. Jones and Victoria L. Gruber (pictured) to the workings of the General Assembly has long been well-known to Annapolis insiders. Gruber has held her job with Miller for seven years; Jones has been on Busch's team for 11-plus years.
While legislative staffers usually prefer to remain in the background, this year their pivotal role became impossible to overlook. Whether one agrees with the results or not, the Assembly had one of its most productive sessions in decades. When it came to the trickiest issues -- a landmark transportation revenue package and the $1 billion program to rebuild Baltimore's aging schools -- Jones and Gruber were in the thick of the negotiations, hammering out details over the course of weeks.
Both are lawyers who have worked their way through the Department of Legislative Services and as staff to legislative committees. Each is half of an Annapolis power couple. (Gruber is married to Jones' predecessor and current Johns Hopkins official Tom Lewis, Jones to Gov. Martin O'Malley's former legislative director and current lobbyist Joseph C. Bryce.)
Democrats Busch and Miller say they rely heavily on their chiefs of staff for advice on policy and strategy, but both women stress that once a decision is made, it's their job to carry out the will of their bosses.
"You always have to remember as a staff person that these are the elected officials; these are the people the voters have chosen to represent them," Jones said.
Gruber stressed that her role is to help achieve the goals Miller and his leadership team have set. A big part of that, she said, involves working with every senator regardless of party.
"It's important to be a good listener, and you have to have a personality where people feel comfortable talking to you," she said. "I think it's very important to keep goodwill among people and to do my job in a way that creates goodwill."
Both women say their job is made easier because they are usually in tune philosophically with their bosses, though Miller and Gruber agree that she is a bit to the liberal side of the centrist Senate president.
Even though the presiding officers -- and the institutions they represent -- frequently butt heads, Jones and Gruber said they work well together.
"It does help prevent misunderstandings," Jones said.
Miller said Gruber has a sense of "fundamental fairness" that leads her to make sure everybody's district is treated well in the state budget.
Busch said he has learned that his success depended on those around him.
"I couldn't ask for a better person than Kristin Jones," he said. Together with Gruber, "They're a very stabilizing force."
-- Mike Dresser