Josh Kurtz: Auld Lang Syne

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By: Josh Kurtz 

Monday night wasn’t just Sine Die for the Maryland General Assembly. It was also Auld Lang Syne for more than one-quarter of the legislature’s members.

Even before voters have their say in the June primary and the November general election, seven senators and 43 delegates are leaving their chambers voluntarily – some to run for different offices, others to retire from politics altogether. Some may are hoping to return to Annapolis next year as governor or lieutenant governor. And 11 House members are looking to move up to the Senate.

When his political life ended, the late New York Mayor Ed Koch (D) began writing movie reviews for a chain of weekly newspapers. Rather than rate a movie with stars, he put either a plus or minus sign at the top of every review, depending on how he liked the movie.

So in that spirit, we offer brief reviews of some of the departing members of the General Assembly. We’re not going to evaluate everybody here – and we’re not going to say much about members who are running for other offices – though it’s probably fair to say that the departure of Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Brian Frosh (D) may be the most significant of the year, even if he winds up as attorney general next year.

It’s probably also worth saying a few words about Del. LeRoy Myers (R), who is now running for a seat on the Washington County Commission. Myers’ upset victory in 2002 over a sitting House speaker was the second biggest thing to happen to state Republicans in the past dozen years. It was a great symbolic victory for gun rights advocates and guerilla Republican strategists.

But what did Western Maryland gain in the long run? How many voters wound up regretting the lost pork when Casper Taylor was forced into retirement? Even though Taylor’s seat flipped from Democrat to Republican, the House got a more liberal speaker, and the chamber in general moved to the left. Something to contemplate in a dissertation on unintended consequences.

Anyway, without further ado, some pluses and minuses:


Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery)   +

She hung on longer than she should have, but Forehand, who spent 20 years in the Senate and another 16 in the House, was a pioneer and a crusader for women’s rights, public health and the Intercounty Connector highway, among many other things. She oozed Southern charm, but was tough and steely when she had to be. She made it easier for women of all ideologies and personality types to make their way in Annapolis.

Jim Robey (D-Howard)   +

Robey’s record of public service dates back 48 years, when he started as a Howard County police officer. He spent seven years as police chief after a quarter century moving through the ranks, eight as county executive, and ousted a sitting Republican senator in 2006. He’s so well respected by his peers that they named the county’s police and fire training center after him, and this year he became Senate majority leader to cap off his career.

Norman Stone (D-Angelos)   -

He entered the House of Delegates when JFK was president and joined the Senate four years later. One of his first Senate votes was to oppose a bill to lift the state’s ban on interracial marriages. One of his last was to vote against gay marriage. In between, he often did the bidding of his boss, Peter Angelos – augmenting the work of Angelos’ well-paid lobbyists. His likely successor, Del. John Olszewski Jr. (D), will help bring the East Baltimore County district’s representation out of the 1950’s – and into the 21st century.


Sam Arora (D-Montgomery)   -

Rarely has a career with so much promise evaporated so quickly. Blessed with movie star good lucks and a rare political pedigree, he was elected in 2010, at the age of 29, after working for Hillary Clinton and for other bold-faced Democrats. But he flip-flopped on gay marriage, without adequate explanation to this day, after campaigning as a supporter and signing on as a co-sponsor. Likely principled opposition from the outset would have been the preferable course. Instead, he was a dead man walking from the time he made that vote – he saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to step aside this year. Whether he can rehabilitate his political career down the line remains to be seen. His one term is not without accomplishment – but everything he has done has been overshadowed by the gay marriage vote. That may not be fair, but it’s political reality.

Liz Bobo (D-Howard)   +

Bobo suffered a devastating defeat when she was ousted seeking a second term as Howard County executive in 1990. But she came back four years later and won a seat in the House. Once a conventional politician dependent on moneyed interests, Bobo reinvented herself and became a liberal reformer with a New Age bent. She didn’t always work and play well with others, but she told uncomfortable truths about government ethics, and about how special interests dominate the debate in Maryland over the health care system and the environment.

Rudy Cane (D-Wicomico)   -

His election in 1998 was historic – he became the first African-American lawmaker from the Eastern Shore. But it rarely seemed that he got past celebrating the history, hardly causing a ripple in Annapolis. For the past several months he has been racked by health problems. This happens, of course, but his attitude toward his absences has bordered on the cavalier, and indeed, he left the session for good 10 days before Sine Die so he could schedule surgery. His attitude toward succession has also been dismaying – he announced his decision to retire only after ensuring that his handpicked replacement, Wicomico County Commissioner Sheree Sample-Hughes (D), would run without opposition. Not exactly an exercise in democracy for a civil rights crusader.

Jim Hubbard (D-Prince George’s)   +

We paid tribute to Hubbard in a column a few weeks ago. But he’s earned a second “atta-boy!” here.

Jimmy Malone/Steve DeBoy (D-Baltimore County)   +

DeBoy is a retired cop. Malone is a retired firefighter. Together, they’ve represented the politically moderate blue-collar communities of southern Baltimore County well. They might not be the reliable votes some liberal interest groups wish they’d be, but there’s no doubting that they are genuine and dedicated public servants who have never let their legislative positions go to their heads.

Brian McHale (D-Baltimore City)   +

They don’t make ’em like this anymore – a longshoreman who would sometimes work all night at the Port of Baltimore and then drive to Annapolis for his legislative duties. Constituents tell stories of receiving phone calls from McHale about legislative or neighborhood business while he was on a break from his day job. McHale, who previously served as chairman of the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners, pondered running for a seventh full term, but may have detected the changes his South Baltimore district is undergoing. First George Della is ousted from his Senate seat in 2010, now McHale is leaving voluntarily. We will leave it to others to say whether or not this change is a good thing – but it’s undeniable, and it’s likely to continue.

Sonny Minnick (D-Baltimore County)   -

Someone should have moved the previous question on this guy ages ago.

Johnny Wood (D-St. Mary's County)   -

A hardworking fixture in Southern Maryland politics for decades, he was one of the strongest foes of good government during his tenure in Annapolis -- particularly when he was vice chairman and then chairman of the old Commerce and Government Reform Committee. His habit of bellowing "bad bill!" during committee markups bordered on intimidation. Small wonder Mike Busch, upon becoming House speaker, stripped Wood of his chairmanship, and disbanded the committee shortly thereafter. 

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.