Maryland lawmakers to start 90-day session with conflicting messages on bipartisanship

As Maryland’s 188 lawmakers prepare to head into their 90-day session Wednesday, political party leaders gave them conflicting messages about bipartisanship.

Standing outside a closed-door lunch Tuesday at the State House complex, Republican leaders said they would avoid the partisan bickering of the nation’s capital and find common ground with Democrats — though they’d be on the lookout for Democratic ideas that might go too far.

“Everybody says the same thing: We’re not like D.C.,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings, the Senate’s minority leader, who represents parts of Baltimore and Harford counties. “Most of us really do get along. Republican, Democrat, we don’t care about the party. We shake hands and work together.”

Del. Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County was re-elected Tuesday as minority leader in the House of Delegates.

“I’ll continue to work with the speaker to seek bipartisan solutions,” Kipke said. “We’ve done a good job over the past few years doing that, and I want to keep that going.”

Inside the Republican gathering, GOP Gov. Larry Hogan rallied the troops and could be heard telling them: “We’re going to keep Maryland heading in the same direction.” The governor is beginning a second, four-year term after winning re-election.

Across town in a hotel ballroom, Democrats got fired up by a California congressman who urged them to use their positions to advocate for issues abandoned by President Donald Trump.

“This is an enormously important time to serve in the state legislature, to serve in local government,” said U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “To be the voices for those all around the world, and here at home, for the values we do not see reflected in this president, until we are no longer required to suffer his presence in the Oval Office.”

Before Schiff’s speech, a series of Democratic leaders took to the microphone to rally members of the party, including Maryland’s Democratic congressmen and senators and the state party’s new chairwoman, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings.

Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, but Hogan still holds significant power over the state budget and can, on some issues, pick off a few Democrats from the majority.

Over the next three months, lawmakers will consider a host of issues, including funding for public education, increasing the minimum wage, legalizing sports betting and the recreational use of marijuana, and helping Baltimore’s ongoing efforts to reduce crime.

All told, lawmakers will review more than 2,500 bills and will scrutinize a state budget that’s expected to be at least $44 billion.

The political wrangling won’t start in earnest on the opening day of the session. The first day is reserved for largely ceremonial matters, such as swearing in new members.

House Speaker Michael Busch, who has been in his position since 2003, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who has been in his role since 1987, are expected to be re-elected to their leadership posts.

Visitors will swarm the State House, including lawmakers’ families, lobbyists and local elected officials from around the state.

The complex will see its first rally of the session Wednesday, as members of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network plan to bring out surfboards to represent a “wave” of support for bills to combat climate change. The group is pushing for legislation that would require more of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources.

Rallies and news conferences typically are held on Lawyers Mall, a brick plaza between the State House and other government buildings, where participants can catch the attention of lawmakers passing by. But utility repairs have left Lawyers Mall fenced off, so small rallies — such as the climate rally — are being moved a short distance away to a spot near the House of Delegates office building.

Larger rallies with 200 participants or more are being moved to a courtyard about two blocks away, between the state’s Revenue and Treasury buildings, a much less visible location.

pwood@baltsun.com

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