When Maryland Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. took the opportunity to announce that state Sen. Jim Robey would be the next Senate Majority Leader during a speech at an Oct. 23 fundraiser for Del. Guy Guzzone, everyone in the room was the first to know.
"Let's just say it was officially announced that night," Robey said Monday, Oct. 28 of the appointment. "There had been some discussion beforehand, but that's the first time I knew for sure."
Robey, 72, will spend his last year in the General Assembly in one of the state Democratic Party's top roles. The two-term state senator from District 13 and former Howard County executive and police chief has said he will retire from the Maryland Senate at the end of his term, in 2014.
District 13 Del. Guzzone is running to take over his seat.
Robey inherits the position from former Sen. Rob Garagiola, of Montgomery County, who resigned in September to spend more time with his children.
"It's a real honor for me and my history of public service to serve in that role," Robey said.
With Robey's appointment, the past two out of three Senate majority leaders will have been from Howard County. Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, of District 12, held the title from 2007 to 2010.
"I'll let the people interpret what that means," Robey said. "But I think it speaks very well of Howard County."
Looking ahead to the 2014 session, which started in January, Robey said he thought the focus would remain on the budget.
"There's still concern about the budget," he said. "We had a big surplus planned in, but with the economy shrinking a bit, sequestration and the federal government shutting down, it's caused some concerns.
"A lot of people are saying we're going to raise taxes," he added. "I personally don't see that happening."
Robey said he foresaw a lot of legislative action as a host of retiring senators and delegates try to cement their legacy.
"There'll be a lot going on, a lot of things that a lot of legislators in their last session want to get done," he said.
In the Howard County delegation, District 12B Del. Liz Bobo, a Democrat, is retiring at the end of her term. Republican Dist 9 State Sen. Allan Kittleman will give up his seat in the Assembly after the 2014 session to run for county executive.
Robey's appointment to majority leader wasn't the only surprise to come out of Guzzone's fundraiser last week at the Savage Mill.
As helicopters searching for the man who shot a police officer on Washington Boulevard in nearby North Laurel circled overhead, Miller also announced that Guzzone would take Robey's seat on the Senate's powerful Budget and Taxation committee in 2015 — assuming, of course, that he and Guzzone are elected.
Things seem to be going well for Guzzone, who saw several hundred people turn out for his fall campaign kickoff. He already announced his run at a pizza party fundraiser in June.
A sponsor list displayed behind the podium counted 88 sponsors for the evening, including four "platinum" sponsors, among them the SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the Howard County Police Officers Association and the Howard County Professional Firefighters.
Though the price to be a sponsor wasn't publicized, the highest donation marked on the event's invitation was for $200 to be a "host," the lowest category of donors listed on the poster.
Some high-ranking supporters showed up to the event for the man many thought would run for county executive: in addition to Miller and Robey, Guzzone was introduced by House of Delegates Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones and District 1 County Council member Courtney Watson, the Democrats' candidate for county executive.
Guzzone, a delegate since 2007 and a former County Council member, said voters could look to his record to know "what [he's] about." He highlighted work on environmental, educational, civil equality and, currently, prison system issues.
"I know that it is important for all of us to be able to come together and work together, to look at things analytically, throw in a little heart and make some good decisions," he said. "If you want to know what I'm going to do, that's what I'm going to do."
Ulman says public safely No. 1
Watson held a fundraiser of her own Oct. 24 where — with injured Howard County police officer Steven Houk recovering in the hospital and the suspected Washington Boulevard shooter in custody – safety was a talking point.
County Executive Ken Ulman, who introduced Watson at her event at the Maple Lawn Club House, said that, "despite everything else, the number one priority of the county executive is public safety."
In his speech, Ulman said Howard's quality of life meant nothing "if we're not safe." He said it was important for county government to spend the necessary resources on public safety.
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And he took a jab at Watson's opponent, Kittleman, for proposing to cut the county's police aviation unit and funding for the Robey Public Safety Training Center in Marriottsville while on the County Council. As part of the same plan, however, Kittleman and his Republican colleague on the council Chris Merdon proposed a 4 percent increase for first responders.
"I wanted to make the point that elections matter, budgets and priorities matter," he said after the speech. "Courtney has shown her willingness to invest in public safety priorities."
Supporters rally for Bates
District 9A Republican Del. Gail Bates, who is running to fill Kittleman's seat in the Senate in 2015, held a fundraiser at the Howard County Conservancy on Oct. 22.
Bates said about 70 people attended.
In a speech, she said she talked about some of her accomplishments, including the "move over" law requiring motorists to make way for passing emergency vehicles whenever possible, as well as a homeowners' tax credit fix and keeping pressure on government agencies to fix problems identified in audits.
Bates said she has raised about $15,000 to date for her campaign.