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Maryland Senate minority leader, minority whip won’t seek reelection to caucus positions

Republicans J.B. Jennings, left, and Stephen Hershey Jr. are pictured in the Maryland Senate in 2016.
Republicans J.B. Jennings, left, and Stephen Hershey Jr. are pictured in the Maryland Senate in 2016. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Maryland Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings and Senate Minority Whip Steve Hershey Jr. will not seek reelection to their caucus seats in the General Assembly.

Jennings, who represents District 7 in parts of Baltimore and Harford counties, said in a statement Tuesday night that after serving for six years, it’s “time for a new team to build on this success.”

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“I am incredibly proud of the work we have done to support our party, our members, our constituents and the people of Maryland,” he said.

Jennings and Hershey, who serves District 36 in Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties, are the longest-serving leaders in caucus history. Jennings has led Senate Republicans since 2014, while Hershey has held the second-highest position in the caucus since 2015.

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The Republican caucus will elect new leaders to one-year terms Saturday when members meet in Annapolis. Sen. Bryan Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican, confirmed Wednesday that he is running for minority leader. Sen. Michael Hough of Frederick County said he has put his candidacy forward for minority whip.

Simonaire declined to comment further until after the meeting.

Hough said he would help Republicans become better positioned for the 2022 elections and for the redrawing of political districts that will come after this year’s census.

He also has ideas on how Republicans can influence legislation in the Democrat-dominated chamber, noting that he’s helped Republicans win amendments to bills, such as a provision in a recent education funding bill that allows for spending to be put on hold during an economic downturn.

Simonaire and Hough are considered more conservative than Jennings and Hershey, and could represent a rightward shift in the caucus in the Senate. Republicans hold 15 seats in the 47-member chamber.

But Hough said it’s more that the Democrats have shifted leftward. He said Republicans previously could find allies among Democrats on issues such as gun rights and abortion. That’s not the case anymore, he said.

“The Republican caucus hasn’t moved very much in my time ... The movement has been all on the Democratic side,” he said.

J.B. Jennings talks to reporters in the Maryland Senate chamber in March. Stephen Hershey Jr. is at right.
J.B. Jennings talks to reporters in the Maryland Senate chamber in March. Stephen Hershey Jr. is at right. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun)

Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat, called Jennings and Hershey “steadfast advocates” for the Republicans and said he respected their decision to step down.

“They have been able to disagree without being disagreeable, and their leadership has helped the Senate produce better legislation for all Marylanders,” Ferguson said. “At a time when partisanship has reached extremes, senators Jennings and Hershey always focus on what’s most important: solving problems for our constituents.”

Ferguson said he hopes the minority caucus will elect new leaders with similar values.

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