By John O’Connor
ANNAPOLIS – Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. moved quickly to replace vacant Senate leadership positions Thursday, naming three men and a woman to lead the body’s four standing committees.
Election losses and retirements cost the Senate six of eight committee leaders and Miller, D-Calvert, cited urgent state issues – such as a projected $1.7 billion budget deficit – and the need to move into new office space for pressing forward.
Miller chose Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, to lead the Budget and Taxation Committee; Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, to head Education, Health and Environmental Affairs; Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, D- Charles, to guide Finance; and Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, to lead the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
The Senate must still vote Miller its president for the appointments to take effect.
The Senate was sapped of its leadership earlier this year after Finance Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, and Education Chairman Clarence Blount, D-Baltimore, announced their retirements. Elections eliminated two more committee heads: Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, who lost her primary, and Sen. Walter Baker, D-Cecil, who lost his general election.
Hoffman was chairwoman of Budget and Taxation and Baker led Judicial Proceedings.
Miller also named vice chairmen for the standing committees. Only Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George’s, is returning – as Judicial Proceedings No. 2. The other vice chairmen named were Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, D-Montgomery, to Budget; Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, to EHEA; and John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel, to Finance.
None of the four new committee chairmen are from the same county, and most of Maryland’s major jurisdictions are represented by a chairman or vice chairman.
The new Senate leadership will still have the same problem that has been facing the state since September – the budget deficit. Solving the shortfall will be the responsibility of Currie and his committee.
Maryland’s governor has near-total control of the budget, but Currie and his yet-to-be-determined committee will handle any new legislation regarding gambling or a gas tax increase – two possible ways the state will increase revenue.
Currie has been a Senate and budget committee member since 1995 and served in the House of Delegates from 1987-1994.
Once members are selected, Currie said, the budget committee will hold a retreat and meet with Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich before January. The committee, Currie said, would have to consider Ehrlich’s recommendations as well as those made by a special commission studying the state’s revenue problems.
While his leadership role is new, Currie said his committee would erase the deficit with the help of state budget staff.
“I have no doubt,” he said. “We have strong, strong fiscal services staff. Some of them were here in ’91 and ’92,” when the state also had a budget deficit.
With Ehrlich ready to bring the first Republican agenda to the State House in more than 30 years, Miller said the Senate is ready to work closely with him on the budget and key issues: education, public safety and the environment.
“There was a mandate from the public . . . people want change,” Miller said. “We’re going to embrace that change. At the same time, we want to make sure the gains we made the last eight years do not come to a halt.
The Senate’s “bench” is strong, Miller said drawing on a sports analogy, and the new chairmen combine leadership, a good work ethic and commitment to a progressive agenda.
Hollinger, one of only two committee leaders to win re-election, was confident the Senate could hit the ground running in January. When she was elected 16 years ago, she said, the Senate underwent a similar shift in leadership, including choosing Miller the new president and several committee heads.
“The one thing I learned is that people rise to the occasion,” she said. “These are all experienced legislators. This looks like one of the best leadership teams I’ve seen.”