Members of the Maryland House of Delegates said they could pick a permanent replacement soon for the late Speaker Michael Busch, but it was unclear Monday when a vote would take place.
Busch, the longest-serving speaker in Maryland history, died Sunday at 72 from pneumonia. The Anne Arundel delegate was a Democrat.
The speaker’s death left lawmakers caucusing, consulting their rule books and conferring with the state’s attorney general on how and when to pick a new, permanent leader — all as they prepared to end their regular, annual 90-day session on Monday night.
Delegates chose not to elect a new speaker on Monday, instead focusing their floor session on completing the passage of hundreds of bills.
Speaker pro tem Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, has kept the House’s business flowing through the chamber during Busch’s illness.
On the final, marathon day of the 90-day General Assembly session, state lawmakers hope to resolve several thorny issues. Up in the air are bills on reforming the University of Maryland Medical System board, the future of Pimlico Race Course and promoting renewable energy.
Jones said in an interview that delegates could wait until the start of the next regular session on Jan. 8 to pick a replacement speaker, but “it’s probably going to be sooner.”
Del. Eric Luedtke, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said delegates likely would make a decision soon.
He said it was possible that lawmakers could convene a special session to pick a new speaker.
“I think today we’re going to be focused on honoring the speaker and getting our work done,” said Luedtke, of Montgomery County.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller told his chamber Monday evening to be prepared for the possibility of a special session within weeks of the adjournment of the regular session. General Assembly leaders were seeking legal advice on the logistics of such a session, including whether the Senate would have to convene in order for the House to do so.
Earlier to reporters, Miller acknowledged that it felt “quick” to be discussing new leadership so soon after Busch’s death, but said politics are “a tough business.”
“I'm sure as we're standing here right now there are people in the House counting votes,” he said. “People are going to be moving forward and I would imagine it's up to the House leadership, but they're going to have to make a decision in terms of when to move forward."
There were multiple closed-door meetings Monday of the Democratic Caucus, the Republican Caucus and the Legislative Black Caucus. Delegates generally don’t discuss caucus matters publicly.
Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said his members were planning to “look at all of our options to see who is the best qualified candidate to be the next speaker of the House.”
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Attorney General Brian Frosh and Assistant Attorney General Sandra Benson Brantley, who advise the General Assembly, attended the morning Democratic Caucus meeting. And after the morning floor session, Frosh huddled for several minutes with Jones and staffers from Busch’s office.
Frosh said in an interview that he told delegates it’s up to them when to choose a new speaker. The House, he said, “is directed to elect a new speaker. It can do that at any time. So, it could do it today. It could call a special session and do it in the interim, or it could elect a new speaker at the beginning of next session.”
The last time the House of Delegates faced a similar decision was in 1973, when Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe was appointed in July to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Delegates selected a new speaker that November, Frosh said.
Whenever the position of speaker is vacant, “the speaker pro tem steps in and performs all of the functions of the speaker,” Frosh said.
That’s what Jones did Monday, calling the House to order at 11:25 a.m., her voice cracking with emotion. She continued to lead the House throughout the day, shepherding numerous pieces of legislation toward final passage.
Jones is believed to be a potential candidate to take over the job as speaker on a permanent basis. Other possible replacements include Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, and Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat.