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Senate President nominee Bill Ferguson addresses Maryland Democrats at a presession lunch at which outgoing Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller was honored with a Lifetime of Democratic Service award.
Senate President nominee Bill Ferguson addresses Maryland Democrats at a presession lunch at which outgoing Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller was honored with a Lifetime of Democratic Service award. (Amy Davis)

Maryland’s political world has shifted over the past year, including in Annapolis, where there are new leaders and rising stars in the State House.

Meet some of the players who could figure prominently in Maryland government and politics this year.

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Adrienne A. Jones and Bill Ferguson

Adrienne A. Jones took over leadership of the House of Delegates in May, and Bill Ferguson is expected to do the same in the Senate on the opening day of the 2020 General Assembly session.

Both succeed boisterous and beloved presiding officers: House Speaker Michael Busch, who died in April, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is stepping down from the presidency as he battles cancer.

How will these new presiding officers lead? Will they depart from the style of their predecessors? And will they partner to pass Democratic priorities — or will they battle, as Busch and Miller sometimes did?

Thomas V. Mike Miller

It’s been said the powerful longtime Senate president could get the votes on a bill to burn down the State House.

Now, for the first time in 33 years, Thomas V. Mike Miller will not lead the Senate. Instead, the Calvert County Democrat will be just one of 47 votes. Nevertheless, expect the Senate president emeritus to wield influence far beyond that of a typical legislator.

Nic Kipke and J.B. Jennings

While Maryland’s Democrats have had a dramatic change in leadership, the GOP side remains constant.

Anne Arundel County Del. Nic Kipke, House minority leader since 2013, and Harford County Sen. J.B. Jennings, Senate minority leader since 2014, will play defense against a legislature that is likely to move further to the left under new leadership that’s younger, more progressive and more diverse.

While both say they respect Jones and Ferguson, the Republicans say they plan to battle any possible tax increases to pay for the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations to improve the state’s public schools.

Sheree Sample-Hughes and Melony Griffith

You’ve heard about Jones and Ferguson, the two new top legislative leaders in Annapolis. Now, meet their seconds-in-command.

Jones selected Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, the only Democrat and the only person of color from the Eastern Shore in the House, as speaker pro tem, with the responsibility of leading the chamber during floor sessions when Jones is absent.

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Griffith, a Prince George’s senator who was early supporter of Ferguson for Senate president, was rewarded as his No. 2.

The ascension of Sample-Hughes and Griffith means three of the top four Democratic legislators in Annapolis this year are black women.

Wanika Fisher

When Jones took over as House speaker, she created a new role in the leadership.

She set aside a position of deputy majority leader, to be chosen by first-term Democrats. That way, the new lawmakers would have a voice in leadership.

The freshmen delegates selected Del. Wanika Fisher, a lawyer from Prince George’s County.

William C. Smith Jr.

Fresh off of a tour of duty with the Navy Reserves in Afghanistan, Sen. William C. Smith Jr. was named chairman of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee — one of the busiest and most high-profile committees in Annapolis.

Smith takes over Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who has been a lightning rod for criticism. Zirkin plans to step down this month from his seat.

Smith is more liberal than Zirkin, and progressive groups and gun control advocates hope that the Judicial Proceedings Committee will be more receptive to their ideas.

Keiffer Mitchell

One of the most affable players in Annapolis, Keiffer Mitchell has been promoted to be Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief lobbyist.

Mitchell, a former Democratic lawmaker from Baltimore, counts many friends among both parties in the General Assembly. Can that translate to better legislative success for the Republican governor?

The candidates

The seats in the General Assembly are not up for election this year.

But plenty of delegates and senators are running for other offices in 2020, including: Sen. Jill P. Carter of Baltimore, Del. Talmadge Branch of Baltimore, Del. Terri Hill of Howard County and Del. Jay Jalisi of Baltimore County. They’re running in a special election for the 7th Congressional District.

Sen. Mary Washington of Baltimore is running for mayor, and Del. Nick Mosby of Baltimore is running for City Council president.

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