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House Speaker Michael Busch projected to return home Monday after bypass surgery

Rick Hutzell
Contact Reporterrhutzell@capgaznews.com

House Speaker Michael Busch expects to return home Monday, 10 days after he had unscheduled bypass surgery.

In an interview Friday afternoon with The Capital, the Annapolis Democrat said he has been undergoing physical therapy at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore to rebuild his strength. He expects to make campaign and other public appearances again soon.

“I think by the middle of October you’ll see my friendly face downtown,” Busch said in a phone interview.

Busch, 71, was at the medical center for testing Sept. 19. Although his office said he had been experiencing shortness of breath, Busch said Friday he had chest pains as well.

Dr. Stephen Bartlett, the chief medical officer for the University of Maryland Medical System, said Busch was taken for surgery where the medical team removed blockages in the coronary artery at the front of his heart. The operation took 2½ hours.

“His prognosis is really good,” Bartlett said. “He should be out of the hospital on Monday. I expect him to be back in the office in about a week.”

Bartlett said bypass operations have become common, with hundreds performed at the University of Maryland Medical System each year. It is the top provider of heart surgery in the state.

Currently, neither hospital in Anne Arundel County can perform a bypass procedure, although state regulators have awarded approval to Anne Arundel Medical Center for a heart surgery center capable of offering it. The University of Maryland Medical System, through one of its affiliates, is appealing the ruling in court.

“We are proud of our program and its outstanding outcomes,” Bartlett said. “We are certain that the current alignment of programs in the state provides excellent access to all who need cardiac surgery care.

“Speaker Busch, an Anne Arundel County resident, is an example.”

Busch is in the midst of a re-election campaign in District 30. The surgery is the second major health issue for him in little more than a year.

The speaker announced in June 2017 he received a liver transplant after doctors diagnosed him with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a form of liver disease.

His recovery lasted several weeks, and he was back at work that September. Bartlett said he has known Busch for years; the speaker serves on the medical system’s board of directors.

He was involved in the diagnosis of Busch’s liver illness, assembled the team of health care providers and took part in his care after the transplant.

Bartlett said Busch’s extreme weight loss leading up to the liver surgery would not be repeated in the aftermath of his heart surgery.

“The lead up to this was extremely short, he didn’t lose weight. He was exercising up to a day or two ahead of the surgery,” he said.

Busch said he is taking his recovery one step at a time but hopes to be re-elected to the House of Delegates in November and as speaker when the Democratic caucus meets at the start of the next General Assembly session in January.

“I think you take one step at a time, No. 1. Take care of your health first, that’s the most important thing,” Busch said.

Busch was elected to the House from District 30 in 1987 and succeeded his mentor Cas Taylor as speaker in 2003 after the Western Maryland delegate lost his seat. He is the longest-serving speaker in Maryland history.

As speaker, he is one of the most powerful figures in Maryland government, along with Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican also from Annapolis, and state Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s. He is on the ballot in November with a fellow Democrat and two Republican challengers in what is now called District 30A.

Busch also is a highly partisan figure who is a frequent target for Republican campaign efforts. He controls spending of a powerful political action committee that targets legislative races around the state with the goal of increasing the Democratic majority in the House.

“My belief is that the Maryland House of Delegates is going to pick up five or six seats this year ... It looks like things are going the Democrats’ way,” he said.

That would push the party’s control to 96 or 97 votes out of 141, adding an additional Democrat to all six standing committees.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, applauded the speaker’s competitive spirit but said the Democrats’ candidate for governor would be a drag statewide.Hogan leads Democratic challenger Ben Jealous by 15 percentage points, according to a poll released Thursday.

“I think we’ll keep our record high of 50 seats and even grow,” Kipke said.

Busch expects to make a retirement party planned Oct. 12 in his honor at the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks, where he is a longtime deputy director. He has been instrumental securing state Open Space funding for artificial turf fields at all county high schools and a number of parks.

“Two things I wanted to advocate for are education and recreation parks programs. To be able to be in public office and get the funding for these projects, and lay out the plans for these projects …. has been, as far as I’m concerned, a real thrill for me to be involved in.”

In addition to physical therapy, Busch has spent time watching televised hearings before the U.S. Senate on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

After hearing allegations by California university professor Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted in high school, the committee voted along party lines to send the nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

But a key swing voter on the committee — Arizona Republican Jeff Flake — said he decided to vote “yes” only after calling for a one-week delay in the full Senate vote to allow for an FBI investigation.

Busch said the gentleman’s agreement will put the nomination on the Senate floor in the hands of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. It will be up to him to convince Flake and two other possible swing votes, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.

The vote is highly divisive and could have an impact on the national elections in November. Earlier this year, Busch announced he would seek a state constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights out of concern that Kavanaugh would tip the court toward a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Despite his interest in policy, Busch said he has been watching with the eye of an experienced legislative leader.

“I watch it for the process ...” Busch said. “He’s going to pigeonhole Murkowski, Flake and Collins and tell them what’s going to take place … I wouldn’t want to be him.”

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