Commencement of the 441st legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday marked the first time in more than three decades since the Senate has had a new president.
Sen. Mike Miller, who has led the upper chamber since 1987, is considered an institution in Maryland politics and is well-known on the national stage. Miller, who is 77, is battling prostate cancer and handed over his office to 36-year-old Sen. William Ferguson, D-Baltimore City.
Ferguson, a teacher and an attorney, has served in the Senate since 2011. His rise to the upper echelon of Maryland politics comes less than a year after the death of four-term House Speaker Michael Busch culminated in the election of Del. Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, to that position. Jones, 65, is the first African-American and the first woman to lead the state’s lower chamber.
Ferguson stressed the need for bipartisan leadership in a speech on the Senate floor shortly after being sworn-in.
“I have never had more confidence in this chamber because of you all. Because of the senators of this body who share so much more alike than is different. That is our fundamental strength. It is what has built this chamber. It is what has built this institution for the last two-hundred-and-forty years,” he said.
Ferguson added: “Over the next 90 days we will continue that tradition. We will solve our state’s biggest problems. And we will work together to prove that in this place, in this state, government works for the people.”
Ferguson said one of the major challenges lawmakers will address this session is implementing the educational recommendations of the Kirwan Commission.
Miller spoke in favor of Ferguson in a speech on the Senate floor. Miller described his successor as an “able son” and a man of “talent and virtue.”
Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford, seconded the nomination.
“Bill is somebody that I am honored to call a friend. He has reached out to this side of the aisle. He has visited pretty much all of our districts.”
Jennings said Ferguson has an acute understanding of the needs of people throughout the state.
“He understands, as he stands up there at that rostrum, what it’s like.”
MarylandReporter.com spoke with Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery, about the change of leadership in the Senate. Smith is the incoming chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. The position became vacant in December after then-Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, unexpectedly announced his resignation.
“It’s going to be an interesting dynamic because for the first time in 33 years Senator Miller will be sitting on the Senate floor as a senator, not as a presiding officer. So that will be an interesting dynamic,” he said.
Smith said he expects “a lot of new energy” during the session. He said the ascension of Ferguson and Jones means there has been an “ideological and a generational shift in the bodies.”
Smith was asked about prospective legislative changes.
“We’ll see some more progressive legislation this year ” than in previous years, he said, “but generally speaking I think things will be… not as radically different as some may have initially thought.”
Issues the legislature is expected to address this session besides education include proposals by the Hogan administration for ethics reform and crime control, reduction of toll penalties and stricter gun control.
The House and Senate also are expected to take up a series of bills passed last session that Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed.