The General Assembly opened its 2017 session on a tumultuous note Wednesday, as two veteran lawmakers submitted eleventh-hour resignations.
Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the Democrats who lead the Senate and House of Delegates expressed hope for bipartisanship, though many expect the annual 90-day session will soon descend into partisan conflict.
"I agree with you 100 percent that there's more that unites us than divides us," Hogan told Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller as he greeted returning senators. "I think we can accomplish a heck of a lot together."
As the 47-seat Senate and 141-member House reconvened, much of the attention focused on two lawmakers who did not return.
Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a fourth-term Democrat who represents Northwest Baltimore, submitted her resignation after months of speculation that worsening symptoms of multiple sclerosis would force her to leave the legislature.
Across the hall, House members were learning that Del. Michael Vaughn, a Democrat who has represented Prince George's County since 2003, had also resigned. Vaughn said he was leaving because of "ongoing health challenges." His county is already reeling from a bribery scandal that has ensnared a former state lawmaker, two county liquor board officials and two local businessmen.
In the House, Michael E. Busch of Annapolis was re-elected speaker for a record 15th legislative session. He outlined broad goals for the legislature this year, including making community college more affordable, protecting the Chesapeake Bay and making it easier for nonviolent offenders to make the transition from prison to the work force.
The governor answered with a conciliatory message.
"I believe we can work together on every one of these issues," Hogan said.
The soothing opening-day words papered over gaping divides over issues such as transportation policy.
For weeks, Hogan has kept up a drumbeat of opposition to a transportation scoring law the legislature adopted last year over his veto.
Hogan has demanded that lawmakers repeal what he calls a "road kill bill" that will force the cancellation of dozens of highway projects. Miller and Busch have declared the repeal effort dead on arrival, contending that the bill preserves the governor's authority to decide which projects are funded.
But for one day, that dispute was on the back burner.
At an Annapolis event Wednesday morning, Hogan said he would avoid partisan conflict — even as he predicted the other side would not.
"I have no intention of coming out with any claws," Hogan said. "I believe there are claws coming out. They're not coming from me."
In the Senate, Miller opened his 31st session as president — not just a Maryland record, but a national mark.
As the Senate roll call was read, only Gladden's name went unanswered. Miller, of Calvert County, later announced her resignation.
Gladden's resignation letter said she was leaving for health reasons.
"It has been a great honor and privilege to serve the people of the 41st District for such a long period of time," the letter read. "I have always worked hard on their behalf and believe that I have made a difference in helping to move the City of Baltimore forward. Unfortunately, because of my health, I am unable to continue to serve as a senator."
A Senate aide said that the retirement letter was delivered just before session and that Miller's office had no advance notice it was coming.
Gladden's resignation will allow Democratic leaders to ensure that the vacant Baltimore seat will be filled sometime in February. In recent months, Gladden, 52, has had little communication with colleagues and has not returned calls or emails. She could not be reached Wednesday.
"She represented a very challenging district in Baltimore City," Miller told reporters after the session. "She brought people of multiple faiths together — it's a huge Jewish constituency in that district, a large African-American constituency. She brought them together for the betterment of Baltimore City."
Gladden was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1998 and won a hotly contested Democratic primary campaign in 2002 to move to the Senate. During her 14 sessions in the upper chamber, she was best known for her leading role in advocating for abolition of the death penalty. Her efforts paid off in 2013 when lawmakers voted to end capital punishment.
She told The Baltimore Sun in 2010 she had multiple sclerosis. She displayed few symptoms then, but over time they became more noticeable. She attended last year's session in a wheelchair until early March, when she could no longer work.
Vaughn's resignation was delivered just before the House session opened.
It comes as Prince George's is grappling with a scandal involving cash bribes that federal investigators say were given to a lawmaker, a former lawmaker and liquor board officials in exchange for favorable decisions.
A federal indictment released last week described the lawmaker as a sitting delegate who was a member of the House Economic Matters committee and voted for a bill designating who gets licenses to sell liquor on Sundays.
Vaughn, 59, is the only Prince George's County delegate on the Economic Matters panel who voted for the bill. He has not been accused of a crime. Vaughn did not respond to a request for comment.
The departures did not dampen the family feeling and camaraderie of opening day, when Republicans and Democrats typically put aside partisan bickering.
Before the delegates and senators headed into their chambers, Hogan worked the crowd in the corridor outside, his security detail opening a path through the crush of lawmakers and onlookers.
Lobbyists pressed the flesh and gently reminded legislators they would be stalking them until April, when the session adjourns.
Local elected officials showed the flag on behalf of their counties and cities.
Many lawmakers returned to work with spouses or children tagging along. Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings sat with his two young children. The Republican delegate wore a gold tie, blue blazer and white shirt that matched his son's outfit.
On the Senate floor, a group of senators posed for a snapshot. A clutch of their former colleagues bustled in — including Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh — and took seats in the front row.
Miller invited Pugh, a former senator, to the dais. She ascended the steps to applause.
"Somebody asked me when I walked in, 'Will you miss the Senate of Maryland?'" Pugh said. "I'll miss you individually."
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Keiffer J. Mitchell, a former Democratic delegate who now serves as an aide to Hogan, stood amid the throng greeting delegates before the session's start.
"Session's fun," Mitchell said. "We fight like cats and dogs, but it's fun. And it's only 90 days."
Mitchell said he still gets the opportunity to go out for beers with his former colleagues.
"Once they tell me I can't drink with them, that's it," he joked.
Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox, Ian Duncan and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.