When the marathon ended Thursday, when Maryland senators voted decisively to pass a sweeping gun control bill, Sen. Brian Frosh kissed his wife.
Then he hugged the governor's chief lobbyist. In the marbled gallery of the State House, a gun control advocate turned to Frosh and shouted, "Our hero!"
The soft-spoken Montgomery County Democrat shepherded Gov. Martin O'Malley's top legislative priority through the Senate, leading the more than 12 hours of floor debate on the plan to strengthen Maryland's gun laws in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting.
The tragedy created a new political climate of support for gun control. It allowed Frosh, a legislator for more than two decades, to push forward under the governor's banner proposals he has championed for years: authorizing the Maryland State Police to audit gun dealers, requiring a fingerprint and license to purchase a handgun, and banning assault-style weapons. The House takes up the bill Friday.
While Frosh credits a host of other lawmakers for Thursday's Senate vote, others praise the 66-year-old lawyer for calmly navigating an emotionally charged debate.
O'Malley's first comments on passage included praise for Frosh's "outstanding job" of "managing a very controversial issue and doing it in a way that let everyone express their opinions."
Of the 68 amendments offered to change the bill, 40 were adopted — and the administration objected to none of them. Senators who vehemently fought Frosh over what constitutes a reasonable limit on the Second Amendment found him to be both a good listener and "eminently fair."
"He's very open to considering the diversity of viewpoints from all over the state, even though we don't always succeed in convincing him," said Republican Christopher Shank of Western Maryland. "If he doesn't like the bill, he doesn't like the bill, but it's not because we're Republicans."
Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin took the leading attack role in the debate, and while he said he was "obviously unhappy with the outcome," he called it a fine exchange of ideas. "Thousands of people were listening in on the debates, a complex debate, an intense debate," said Pipkin, who spoke for more than hour and described the process as exhausting. "It's not unlike the Ravens' Super Bowl from a physical standpoint, except the lights never go out."
A previous big change to Maryland's gun laws — banning cheap handguns known as Saturday night specials — came when Frosh was a second-year delegate burnishing a reputation as a leader on environmental issues. Now, 24 years later, as chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Frosh chose to bargain and negotiate from the floor himself on the measure.
"I think some of the horrible mass shootings in the past year have made people focus again on the public health issue that we have with firearms," Frosh said. "It's a horrible spectacle to have to watch over and over again on television or read about in the newspaper. … People at this point are crying out for action. People are saying we've got to do something about it."
Frosh is widely assumed to be planning a run for Maryland attorney general, though he has said he will not make an announcement until the 90-day legislative session ends. Until then, lawmakers who find themselves on the opposite side of an issue still manage to find in him an ally.
"Brian's about giving everybody a voice and giving everybody's legislation a chance," said Sen. Jim Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat whose efforts to reshape the gun bill failed more often than they succeeded.
The behind-the-scenes efforts to secure votes for the bill included many more people besides Frosh, but none of Frosh's efforts involved arm-twisting. He doesn't have to do it, says Sen. Robert Zirkin, also a Baltimore County Democrat.
"He really cares about getting it done right," Zirkin said. "That comes across, and I think that's very persuasive."
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun