Annapolis Alderwoman Shaneka Henson is the party pick to take over the late House of Delegates Speaker Mike Busch’s seat.
The Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee chose Henson for the seat over 13 other candidates, who each gave interviews during a marathon meeting Thursday night.
If confirmed, she would be the first black woman to represent Annapolis in the General Assembly. The vote was 11-1.
The committee chose Henson at the end of 3½ hours of interviews and six hours of overall consideration. Each candidate answered five questions about their top issues, their willingness to run for reelection, their support of women and minorities, their preferred House committee and why they should be selected.
Henson’s name now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan, who will approve Busch’s replacement.
Committee chairman Patrick Armstrong said he had assurances the governor will approve the pick. Hogan has called the General Assembly back to Annapolis for a special session set to begin Wednesday so the House of Delegates can select a new speaker.
Henson was elected in 2017 to represent Ward 6 on the Annapolis City Council. She is an assistant attorney general, a lifelong Annapolitan and a mother. In her time on the council, she has sponsored 17 bills, including one to protect Section 8 housing recipients under the city’s fair housing laws and another to refine the definition of a city-sponsored event.
In her interview with the committee, Henson identified pay equity, fair sentencing laws and fair housing as three of the biggest issues affecting District 30A and the state. She would like to eliminate any hiring practices that base an employee’s pay on their previous salary, because doing so keeps women “stuck to the bottom of the wage gap,” she said.
But before any legislative pursuits, she wants to get to know her constituents, she said following her victory. The district extends beyond the borders of the City of Annapolis.
“I am feeling like this is an incredible honor,” she said, “like this is an incredible legacy, and all I can guarantee is that I’ll work really hard.”
Henson’s mother, Terry, attended the meeting and spoke on her daughter’s behalf.
“Service for her is indeed a calling,” she told the committee. “It is the scarlet thread that runs through our family. It’s her purpose, it’s what she’s called to do, called to fulfill.”
Terry and her husband were both pastors at New Life church in Annapolis for 15 years. Shaneka was raised in the spirit of service, Terry said, so public office is a natural fit.
Other candidates included Alderwomen Sheila Finlayson, former District 30A candidate Aron Axe and former Ward 5 Alderman Jared Littmann. Former Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis board member Mike Miller received several votes in the first round, but ultimately lost the nomination.
Busch died April 7, leaving a vacancy in the House but also the Democratic grip on the house. Several candidates noted the “target” on the seat, which Republicans are likely to challenge in 2022. Henson said she would run again in the next election.
State Sen. Sarah Elfreth and Del. Alice Cain both, who were both elected in 2018, said they see Henson as a natural partner.
“I think people will think we’re vulnerable, but again we came up under Mike Busch and we were taught teamwork and working as a unit and support one another and we’re going to continue to do that,” Elfreth said.
The interviews began at 6 p.m. and ran until about 9:20 p.m., with public comments immediately following. Residents made the trip out to Gambrills to speak and did so at the end of the meeting.
Armstrong told The Capital the hour of public comment was added to the meeting in honor of Busch. The committee does not typically accept comment but wanted the public to be a part of the process, given the emotional circumstances.
Carle Brown read a letter on behalf of Mike Busch's widow, Cindy Busch. She endorsed Henry Green, the former pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Annapolis.
Some criticized the process, by which committee members, not voters, chose the next delegate.
Sandra Elwood asked if the committee would disenfranchise voters.
‘The voters spoke and not that long ago in 30A,” she said. “I hope you weigh that very heavily when you consider your decision tonight.”
Elwood, wearing an Aron Axe shirt, was one of many who spoke in favor of the retired Marine and former District 30A candidate. He finished third in the 2018 primary, with about 20 percent of the vote.
Axe walked out before the final vote. When asked why, he declined to comment.
Henson’s appointment will leave a vacancy on the Annapolis City Council, to be filled by special election.
Under city code, Mayor Gavin Buckley will issue a proclamation within five days of Henson’s vacancy announcing special primary and general election dates. The primary must be between 23 and 30 days from the proclamation date, and the general must be between 21 and 30 days from the date of the primary.
Candidates must file with the board of supervisors of elections by 9 p.m. on the Monday three weeks prior to the primary.
The City Council will then swear in the winner.
The primary will likely be in late May, depending on when Hogan approves Henson’s nomination. The general will likely be in mid- to late-June, just before the budget deadline of June 31.
Henson’s departure and the imminent election complicates further the ongoing Annapolis budget process. The council will likely vote to approve the final budget June 17 — potentially leaving little time for the new member to process the dense document.