Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, swore in Delegate Brenda Thiam, a Republican from Washington County, on Tuesday as Maryland’s first Black female Republican legislator.
House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, a Republican from Anne Arundel County, said Thiam’s possible committees include Ways and Means and Appropriations due to her background in education and budget interests.
“Another history maker,” Jones said of Thiam, pronounced “cham,” during the livestreamed ceremony, which featured a masked speaker, Thiam, and her husband, Malick, and sister, Jackie Hutton, as well as other unseen legislators scattered off-camera throughout the nearly empty chamber.
Jones assumed the role of House speaker on May 1, 2019, after a unanimous vote following the death of previous Speaker Michael Busch. Jones became the first female and African American speaker in Maryland history.
Similarly, Thiam, a 51-year-old native of Raeford, North Carolina, according to her recently posted legislative biography, made history when she became the state’s first Black female Republican legislator. She was selected by the Washington County Republican Central Committee on Sept. 21 and appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, on Sept. 23 to fill the House of Delegates seat vacated by now-Sen. Paul Corderman, a Republican from Washington County.
Thiam represents Washington County’s District 2B, which encompasses Hagerstown and its immediately surrounding areas. Republican Delegates William J. Wivell and Neil Parrott represent District 2A and the remainder of the county.
Kipke spoke with Capital News Service on Sept. 23 about Thiam’s background as an educator and her interest in working with the state’s budget.
“She would be well-suited for the Ways and Means Committee,” Kipke said, after stating that no appointment decisions had been made as of yet. “She has expressed an interest in being involved with the budget process ... so the Appropriations Committee would be a good fit for her.”
The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Delegate Anne R. Kaiser, a Democrat from Montgomery County, addresses education financing and taxes among other issues, while the Appropriations Committee, chaired by Delegate Maggie McIntosh, a Democrat from Baltimore City, handles the state budget, social services and related areas.
“From our central committee’s point of view, we look for fiscal conservatives. We are against raising taxes,” said Washington County Republican Central Committee Chair Jerry DeWolf. “Americans are hurting, especially those in western Maryland, and the last thing we want to consider is raising taxes.”
DeWolf said both he and the committee have known Thiam and knew she would be their voice in Annapolis to help the state “stay within our means.”
Thiam holds a Master of Education focusing on special education from the University of Maryland, College Park, a Ph.D. in special education leadership from Capella University and a postgraduate certificate in applied behavior analysis from Penn State University, according to her legislative biography.
She has also worked in special education for over 20 years in both public and private Maryland schools as first a teacher and later an administrator managing teaching staff and budgets as well as students with special needs.
Additionally, DeWolf said he felt confident Thiam would be a good representative for their interests at the State House because she had been very active with the county’s Republican party over the years.
“She’s not a new face to the central committee,” he said. “We know her well, we respect her, and she has been a foot soldier for many years.”
Thiam “converted,” according to DeWolf, from being a Democrat to a Republican, in 2012. Since then, she has run for public office as a Republican, including for the Hagerstown City Council. DeWolf said she was selected from that current race to be their county’s delegate.
From 2016 until 2018, she was the president of the Washington County Commission for Women, according to the House of Delegates website. DeWolf said she is also the vice president of the Washington County Republican Club, a position she has held since 2019.
“I believe in the mindset of what being fiscally responsible means, even if I don’t always practice it on a personal level,” Thiam told Capital News Service in a Sept. 24 interview. “It means looking at the budget and line items and where the money is allocated.”
Thiam explained although she is not a certified public accountant, she does have experience managing budgets and budget shortfalls as the former director of education for the Community School of Maryland, which is managed by Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children, Inc.
Thiam currently works as a Behavioral Health Technician for Achieving True Self, which, according to the organization’s website, uses applied data to work collaboratively with families of children with autism. Thiam plans to apply this analytical approach to the state’s budget process as well.
“When you look at the budget, and at when you can afford it and when you can’t afford it, the numbers tell you,” she said. “The numbers tell us what direction we need to go. If you can’t attain those resources, sometimes you have to say, ‘Not at this time, maybe next year.’”
Thiam said this perspective is important, particularly with an economy significantly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
“I feel Gov. Hogan has done a great job considering the concerns presented to us with COVID-19,” she said. “It’s a big job to make those decisions and I’m sure he leans heavily on his cabinet to help make those decisions. Not everyone is going to agree or think those decisions are right. I feel he has done as good a job as anyone could have done.”
In the meantime, the newly appointed delegate stated in the Tuesday House Minority Caucus news release that she is looking forward to working with other legislators on the challenges currently facing Maryland.
“I’m looking forward to working in Annapolis on behalf of District 2B in Hagerstown and for the citizens of Maryland,” Thiam said in the release. “I optimistically embrace the great work we’ll get done in the General Assembly as we work together collaboratively. I will always be guided by the fact that I’m a public servant who represents the constituents.”
Another issue of concern to both parties, and to the nation as a whole as highlighted by ongoing protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, has been police reform. Kipke addressed this issue when discussing Thiam’s historic appointment but pointed out every legislator wants to make communities safer for all Marylanders.
“Every Republican is supportive of meaningful and helpful police reform that improves public safety,” he said. “We believe that the defunding police programs will make communities less safe for all people, especially in communities with high poverty. While Baltimore is experiencing daily chaos and violence, many of us feel that we should be focusing on solutions to that problem and not discussing efforts to defund the police.”
While Thiam is being considered for education and budget committees based on her background and interests, her historic appointment during this time of national racial discourse has not escaped her notice.
“We put a lot of emphasis on the race part, although I’m humbled by being the first,” she said, expressing a heartfelt appreciation for the role she’s been given. “That’s wonderful, but I do come with a strong knowledge and educational background and I’m rooted in my community.”
DeWolf also stated Thiam sang in her church choir and participated in community events. Both Thiam and Delegate Neil Parrot, a Republican from Washington County, joined constituents at a “Trump Bus” event on Sept. 26 in support of their presidential nominee.
“We nominated Dr. Thiam to be a delegate,” said Seth Wilson, Washington County Republican Central Committee first vice chair. “That said, I’m sure all of the other Republican Caucus members are as eager as Delegate Kipke to have her join them and can’t wait to meet her. Hopefully, voters will be adding even more (Republican) members to their ranks in 2022.”