A new era in Maryland politics began to take shape Tuesday in Annapolis as the state’s most prominent Democratic elected officials reveled in their party’s expanded powers, while outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan gave a farewell speech and unveiled his official portrait.
“It is morning in Maryland after eight long years,” Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis told a crowd of hundreds of local, state and federal officeholders on the eve of the General Assembly’s new legislative session.
“We’ve been tested, no doubt about it,” Lewis said at the first pre-session summit the state party has held in-person since 2020. “Eight years of a Republican governor. We had a pandemic. We had recessions. We had threats to our democracy. We had hate and division. And still, we rise.”
The 2022 election was a sweeping win for the state party. Not only did Maryland elect women or people of color to all of the state’s top offices, but Democrats managed to pick up seats in the House and Senate chambers, further cementing their supermajority. When the session begins at noon Wednesday, there will be 39 Republicans in the 131-member House and 13 in the 47-member Senate.
Democrats took ample opportunity Tuesday to shade the Republican Party as a whole, pointing to the dayslong struggle in Washington last week to elect GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy as U.S. House speaker.
“I don’t think it’s going to take 15 ballots tomorrow,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, contrasting the near-debacle in Congress with anticipated easy reelections Wednesday of Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and state Senate President Bill Ferguson as leaders of their respective chambers.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the former House majority leader, called the Republicans “a deeply divided party, an angry party, a party loyal for no principle,” while adding, “politics is a means of serving the people — not a means in and of itself.”
Hogan, who butted heads with the legislature’s Democratic leadership and members of his party in Maryland and nationally during his eight-year tenure, delivered a similar message of public service Tuesday evening in his farewell address in the Old Senate Chamber at the State House in Annapolis.
“We can’t let fringes and factions get in the way of getting things done and solving the serious problems. In Maryland, we have proven that this is still possible,” said Hogan, getting emotional at times as he stood near a bronze statue of Gen. George Washington, depicting the moment in 1783 that he resigned in that room as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
As in speeches and interviews in his final months in office, Hogan also discussed his accomplishments, like building up the state budget surplus.
Both reflective and forward-looking, Hogan, who has flirted with the idea of running for president in 2024, said the country “is at a critical turning point — one at which the very fate of our democracy could be at stake.”
“All of the performative politics and the angry, false rhetoric threatens not only to divide us politically, but tear our country apart,” he said. “Toxic politics will not restore America. Only real leadership will do that.”
After the speech, his official portrait was unveiled in a reception room on the second floor of the State House.
The businessman-turned-politician has vowed to finish his term before making any official decisions about a national campaign, though he has increased his fundraising efforts and routinely traveled in the last year to early Republican primary states.
“I hope I can paint Larry Hogan’s portrait again when he’s in the White House,” said artist Cedric Egeli, who painted the portrait.
Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, meanwhile, announced Tuesday he will join the Columbia-based law firm of Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny after he leaves office next week. Rutherford, who lives in Columbia, will be a partner tasked with developing the firm’s government relations and lobbying services.
In the transition leading up to the start of the session and Democratic Gov.-elect Wes Moore’s inauguration a week later, lawmakers have begun submitting bills they will debate throughout their 90-day policymaking sprint. In the Senate, at least 130 bills had been “pre-filed” while another 123 were awaiting delegates, according to the General Assembly’s website.
Maryland Policy & Politics
The legislation includes House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1, the numbers designating issues that Democratic leadership has said will be priorities in the months ahead. Sponsored by Democrat Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher of Montgomery County, vice chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, SB1 would reconfigure Maryland’s concealed carry firearms policy; a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June in a New York case rendered the Maryland law unconstitutional.
HB1, sponsored by Democratic Del. C.T. Wilson of Charles County, chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, would remove a statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to pursue lawsuits against their abusers. Under current law, survivors can sue until they turn 38 or within three years of an abuser’s criminal conviction.
Other major items on the agenda are creating a newly legalized recreational cannabis industry, addressing unresolved issues from a paid family and medical leave program passed into law last year, an effort to enshrine a right to an abortion in the state constitution and the development of a guaranteed “year of service” program for high school graduates.
Legislative leaders referenced those goals and more while gathered at Tuesday’s party lunch. Attendees included nearly all of Maryland’s Democrats in Congress, Moore and Lt. Gov.-elect Aruna Miller, new Attorney General Anthony Brown, Comptroller-elect Brooke Lierman, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and county executives.
Moore, concluding a string of celebratory speeches, said Election Day was a “resounding message” from voters who gave him and other Democrats landslide victories in what would typically be a midterm election year favoring Republicans.
After a campaign that featured broad and idealistic goals, Moore has yet to announce his specific priorities for his first legislative session. He’s expected to get into specifics after his inauguration Jan. 18 and with the announcement two days later of his first budget plan.
“We have got to be bold,” Moore told his fellow Democrats. “We’ve got to move different. We’ve got to move faster. And we’ve got to move united.”