ANNAPOLIS – House Speaker Michael Busch chose Wicomico County Delegate Norman H. Conway as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee Friday, a day after the funeral of the previous chairman, Delegate Howard “Pete” Rawlings.
Conway, a lawmaker since 1987, has gained his fellow committee members’ respect in the last 13 years and his eight years as vice chairman, Busch said.
“He was best-suited to step into that role,” Busch said.
Rawling’s death from cancer Nov. 14 prompted Busch to reorganize the committee’s leadership positions. Busch had pledged not to announce his choices until after Rawling’s funeral Thursday in Baltimore, and the speaker spent much of Friday consulting fellow legislators about his decision.
In addition to Conway’s appointment, Busch tapped Delegate Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore, as Appropriations vice chairman. Also, House Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County, will move from the Ways and Means Committee to Appropriations, where she will lead the House Capital Budget Subcommittee.
Conway vowed to continue his predecessor’s tradition of producing budgets that are, as Rawlings liked to say, “fiscally prudent and socially responsible.”
“I’m overwhelmed. It’s a great vote of confidence, and I deeply appreciate the opportunity,” Conway said.
Appropriations will play a key role in shaping the budget during the General Assembly session that begins Jan. 14. The state faces a $700 million deficit and Gov. Robert Ehrlich has promised to close the gap with across-the-board cuts.
Baltimore’s mayor and legislators probably won’t be happy to see Rawlings, a black legislator from the city, replaced by the white, rural Conway, Busch said. But letting rural legislators know they have a seat at the table is equally important, he said.
“They’re the ones who are going to have the greatest challenge from the Republican Party in the upcoming election and the next couple years,” Busch said, “and I think it’s important for them to feel invested in the leadership of the House.”
“Just having a representative from the rural area as a major committee chairman is significant” in practice and in appearance, Conway agreed.
The two other appointees — Branch and Jones, both blacks from the Baltimore area — are intended to keep Baltimore in the loop.
“We are going to continue to follow in the role of Pete Rawlings and continue to be very supportive of the Baltimore metropolitan area,” Busch said.
“Baltimore’s going to be disappointed that they don’t retain two chairmanships,” said Jones, who sat beside Busch during a hastily arranged news conference in his office to announce the speaker’s choices. But Busch’s appointments address the “total picture of what’s needed,” she said.
Busch said he first offered the vice chairmanship to Clarence Davis, a black Democrat who has seniority over Branch in their shared district. But Davis bowed out in favor of Branch, who already sits on Appropriations.
Delegate Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, was another strong candidate for the Appropriations chairmanship, Busch said, adding he considered a move that would have put Conway in charge of McIntosh’s panel.
But Busch said he decided McIntosh was needed on Environmental Matters to retain the committee’s “progressive, Democratic agenda.”
“She is, in my mind, kind of the perfect individual for that role,” Busch said.
Conway agreed his experience makes him better suited for Appropriations than for Environmental Matters, saying, “I can probably be much more effective in this position.”