January 13, 2011

Assembly celebrates opening with fanfare, pledges of unity and doses of reality

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By Abby Rogers and Megan Poinski
Abby@MarylandReporter.com and Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Maryland’s General Assembly opened its 2011 session Wednesday to much fanfare, a combination of first day of school, high school pep rally, and college graduation.  But there were many reminders of the difficult road ahead.

Comments in the House Chamber referred to the new group of delegates as a “rowdy bunch,” as delegates rose to their feet and cheered on numerous occasions. There are 30 new delegates out of 141 members: 16 new Republicans and 14 new Democrats.

There are 10 new state senators out of 47 members, all but one three are Democrats. But 8 of the 10 had been members of the House of Delegates.

The day quickly segued into one of celebration, unity and optimism as the delegate-elects rose to take their oaths of office. With unanimous votes, Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat , was nominated to return as speaker pro tem.

“We have a challenging session ahead,” Jones reminded her fellow delegates. “I know we’re up to it.”

Michael Busch on opening day of the House of Delegates

Speaker of the House Michael Busch addresses his fellow delegates on the first day of the 2011 General Assembly session

Del. Michael Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, was unanimously elected to a ninth term as House Speaker — matching the state record set by his predecessor, Casper Taylor Jr.

Busch enumerated some of those challenges — including being part of a nation embroiled in two wars and a long recession, which has added up to harsh financial realities for the state.

Busch cited the state’s AAA bond rating, recent rankings as the nation’s wealthiest state with the best public schools, and its growing high tech industry. He called Maryland a “blessed state.”

“I know that there are 141 different philosophies out there, and I expect vibrant debate from each person,” Busch said. “I will ask and demand respect from each and every person for the institution we represent and the office we hold.” And the chamber once again erupted in cheers.

In the Senate, Sen. Mike Miller — or Thomas Vincent Michael Miller as he was called in a nominating speech — was elected for the 25th time as president of a body that traces its roots to the Governor’s Council in colonial times. Miller, a Democrat representing Calvert and Prince George’s counties, got all 46 votes of his colleagues, with none of the Republican dissent from past years. Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman, a Howard County Repbulican, pledge cooperation, and Miller said they would really need it this year.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown both told the delegates that their office is open to them, and they addressed the Senate briefly as well.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who just became the longest serving woman in the U.S. Senate after her reelection to a fifth term, brought greetings from Maryland’s congressional delegation, and got a standing ovation in the Senate.

“We extend a hand for the tough times ahead, which we know will require tough love,” Mikulski said. She ended her speech in both House and Senate with a quote from “Star Wars,” saying “May the force be with us.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin also spoke to the newly elected delegates — especially his nephew Del. Jon Cardin. The Baltimore County Democrat took his third oath of office on his birthday, the senator said.

In the Senate, Miller introduced Sen. Cardin by his former title as speaker of the House of Delegates, a post Cardin filled from 1979 to 1987.

While all the legislators were celebrating the beginning of a new session, Wednesday meant something extra to the new delegates.

“It’s very much an honor for me to be here in this historic chamber,” Del. Jay Jacobs, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, said after taking the oath of office for the first time.

Jacobs will serve on the Environmental Matters Committee. He has worked on the Critical Area Commission for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays, and, like many in his district, he takes a special interest in the health of the bay.

“The condition of the bay has a lot to do with the health and welfare of Maryland,” Jacobs said.

As far as the recent intense partisanship that has rocked United States politics goes, Jacobs said it will be a new experience for him since he’s coming from the position of being the nonpartisan mayor of Rock Hall.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he said.

Len Lazarick contributed to this story from the Senate.