Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, who was elected to the Maryland Senate in 2002 as its youngest member and appeared destined for higher office, said Thursday that he is leaving the General Assembly to return to private life.
Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat, said his resignation will take effect Sept. 1. Under Maryland's Constitution, he will be replaced by a candidate chosen by his party's local central committee.
Now 40, Garagiola was 30 when he defeated the last Republican senator to represent increasingly Democratic Montgomery County. He was quickly identified as an up-and-comer and was frequently mentioned as a potential future successor to long-serving Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Garagiola was named majority leader in 2011.
But as the 2012 election approached, Garagiola set his sights on the U.S. Congress. Maryland Democratic leaders attempted to accommodate his ambitions in the redistricting process by tailoring the new Sixth District to his specifications.
Despite that advantage and the support of Gov. Martin O'Malley and most Democratic leaders, Garagiola ran a lackluster campaign and was upset in the primary by businessman John K. Delaney. Delaney went on to defeat Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett and take a seat in Congress.
Garagiola returned to Annapolis, where he was a leading proponent of increased funding of transportation. In his announcement of his resignation, he pointed to this year's passage of a sweeping transportation revenue bill, including an increase in the gas tax, as one of his important achievements.
A member of the powerful Finance Committee, Garagiola was one of the Senate's leading proponents of renewable energy such as solar and wind. The former Army reservist was a founder and co-chair of the Assembly's veterans' caucus.
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After a divorce that became final in April, Garagiola said he was resigning to spend "quality time" with his children aged 15, 13 and 12. "It's time for me to be a father first to them," he said. A Senate source said Garagiola had also recently established a solo law practice that required his attention.
Miller released a statement expressing regret at Garagiola's departure.
"Rob Garagiola is a talented and energetic Senator who has represented his district for over a decade with incredible skill and dedication," Miller said. "I am saddened by his decision to leave the Senate but I respect and admire his tough, yet understandable decision to spend more time with his three children and I wish him nothing but the best in the future."
In most matters, Garagiola was a staunch ally of O'Malley, though he broke with him on repeal of the death penalty -- becoming the only Montgomery Democrat to oppose that measure.
O'Malley said Garagiola would be missed.
"His work on renewable energy, health care, and biotech jobs have been meaningful. His efforts to improve the quality of life for all Marylanders will have a lasting impact," the governor's statement said.
Garagiola said he would remain active in Democratic politics.