In a legislature where its leaders hang on into their seventies and even their eighties, Sen. Ed DeGrange did what should not be remarkable last month. He announced he was retiring from the Senate, where he chairs two powerful budget subcommittees.
DeGrange will turn 68 this month, and is finishing his fifth four-year term in the Senate. (The inaccurate Wikipedia summary of his career needs updating.) One of the last of the remaining moderates among Senate Democrats, his Northern Anne Arundel County District 32 has long been targeted by Republicans as a possible pick-up.
After serving one term on the County Council, DeGrange won the seat in 1998 by defeating an incumbent Republican. The more conservative nature of the constituency, which includes BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and Arundel Mills, has long been recognized by Senate President Mike Miller; therefore, DeGrange is allowed to vote against tax increases, and yet hold onto his leadership positions.
Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG) has consistently rated DeGrange, who used to run the family lumber business, as the most business-friendly Democrat in the Senate, with a cumulative score of 69% for his career and an 83% score this year.
Democrats did not miss a beat protecting their veto-proof majority in the Senate, where they hold 33 of 47 seats. Del. Pam Beidle, completing her third term in the House, quickly filed for the Senate.
Beidle served two terms on the Anne Arundel County Council. Until recently, she had long headed her own insurance agency, making her one of the minority of legislators with experience running their own business.
Her MBRG lifetime score is only 47%, but among the liberal Democrats in the House of Delegates, that is still a respectable number. MBRG’s top House Democrat, Baltimore County’s Eric Bromwell, scores only 10 points higher. Beidle has also consistently been the top vote-getter among the delegate candidates in her district.
District 32 is one of five Senate districts Maryland Republicans have targeted, so State GOP Chair Dirk Haire quickly put out a statement attacking Beidle.
“It’s unfortunate that, once again, the Maryland Democratic Party is almost certain to anoint an extremist like Pam Beidle to replace a mainstream Democrat like Ed DeGrange,” Haire said. “Beidle was a co-sponsor of the Sanctuary State bill. She was the lead sponsor of the ‘Road Kill Bill.’ She voted in favor of 47 different tax and fee increases during the O’Malley administration.”
The number of tax and fee increases Beidle supported is certainly inflated, a higher number than Larry Hogan used when running for the job. Beidle also opposed some of the major tax increases proposed during the O’Malley years. In the 2007 Special Session during her first year in the House, Beidle voted against O’Malley’s major tax package that raised income and corporate taxes. She also opposed the 2013 gas tax hike.
If sponsoring the transportation scoring bill, which Gov. Larry Hogan dubbed the “Road Kill Bill,” makes Beidle an extremist, then DeGrange is one, too. He was the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the transportation legislation that Hogan vetoed, but the legislature overrode.
“Pam Beidle does not represent her constituents, and we look forward to contrasting her voting record that has been consistently against Gov. Hogan’s agenda,” Haire said.
Republicans will have to come up with a strong candidate — and some better opposition research — if they hope to regain the District 32 Senate seat.
While DeGrange is retiring, House Speaker Michael Busch, 70, has no such plans, despite his recent liver transplant. Busch has been in the legislature 31 years, and even before he got half a liver from one of his sisters on June 1, he had filed for reelection. He is already the longest serving speaker in Maryland history, with 15 years in the job. After a couple of months recuperating at home in Annapolis, Busch is easing back into the job, and has returned to his corner office in the State House.
He didn’t need to be back in August for the vote that removed the statue of U.S. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney from the front of the State House. The vote by the State House Trust that includes the speaker, the governor and the Senate president was taken by email, and the statue was yanked quickly, late at night, the following day.
The move was popular with Democrats, who criticized Senate President Mike Miller for his defense of Taney, author of the infamous Dred Scott decision that declared enslaved Negroes were property, with no rights as citizens. Miller found other decisions by Taney during his 28 years on the high court worthy of State House honors.
The vote to remove Taney’s statue after 145 years was a reversal for Hogan, spurred by the recent racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., and the removal of other Confederate statues. Taney had been a slaveholder, but he was not a Confederate. He swore in Abraham Lincoln, but had tried to constrain Lincoln’s use of war powers.
Some Republicans have harshly criticized Hogan for the decision to remove this symbol of Maryland’s southern “heritage,” saying they will not vote for his re-election next year.
Schuh on Schools
As the school year opens, Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh was highlighting the amount of money he’s been putting into school construction, made possible by lengthening the time the county has to repay bonds for school construction from 20 years to 30 years.
This is much like extending a car loan from three to five years, allowing someone to buy a bigger and better automobile. The bonding move expands the county’s debt capacity, but also raises interest costs over the life of the bond. Interest rates continue to be at historic lows, Schuh points out.
The county now has $431 million in school construction in the works. Some of its key components are the building of a $45 million replacement for Jessup Elementary School, a replacement elementary school in Arnold and a $125 million new Crofton High School.
The expansion of school construction was a key promise from Schuh’s 2014 election campaign, particularly the long-advocated construction of a Crofton high school.