By: Natalie Jones, David Jahng, Charlie Youngmann, Daniel Oyefusi, Jared Beinart
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — On a day normally marked by last-minute legislative squabbles and compromises, balloons and confetti, Maryland lawmakers and the governor tempered their politics to mourn a beloved leader.
House Speaker Mike Busch died Sunday, a day before the end of the General Assembly, known as “sine die.”
Busch was hospitalized April 1 with pneumonia after a procedure for his 2017 liver transplant. The illness was expected to keep Busch away for the rest of the legislative session, but his office announced Sunday that his condition had worsened and he was using a ventilator.
Just hours later, Busch’s office announced that he had died at 3:22 p.m.
Busch is survived by his wife, Cindy, daughters Erin and Megan, and sisters Gail Burkhead, Laurie Bernhardt and Susan Evans, according to his chief of staff, Alexandra Hughes.
Gov. Larry Hogan, R, normally holds a late-afternoon news conference on the last legislative day to make a last-minute push for his legislative priorities. But not on this Monday.
“Today,” said Hogan, in a hoarse voice, “talking about legislation is inappropriate in the wake of the death of Speaker Busch — someone who dedicated his life to public service.”
Hogan, standing outside Government House, refused to take questions about policy issues.
“Republicans and Democrats are going to come together in the spirit of Mike Busch,” Hogan said, as rain started to gently fall on the gaggle of reporters and cameras around him. “He was a good man who cared about the people of this state.”
Video by Joe Illardi
Legislators of the House and Senate praised Busch for the service he provided Maryland.
“Mike has been a friend for years, and has led the state to new heights of environmentalism and education, while ensuring that a new generation of leaders move our state forward,” Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, said in a written statement.
“He was a true model of a State Delegate; he cared for every corner of the state, but never forgot about the people he was elected to represent,” Miller wrote.
“I’m glad that we were all really busy, we’re not dwelling on it,” House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, told Capital News Service Monday night. Regardless, “A lot of people are choking back tears, it’s tough.”
Kipke said he and Busch “passionately disagreed,” but still had a “great friendship,” and said he would remember Busch for the important bills the two collaborated on, not the legislation over which they clashed.
Busch began his professional career as a teacher and coach at St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis after graduating from Temple University, and went on to pursue a career in politics, according to the Maryland General Assembly website.
Busch also spent 40 years working for the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks before retiring in 2018, according to his website.
Video by Max Marcilla
In 1986, Busch was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, where he represented Anne Arundel County and served as chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, before being elected as speaker of the House in 2003, according to the Maryland General Assembly website.
During his long standing career in Maryland politics, Busch focused on issues pertaining to education, environment and health care.
Among others this session, Busch sponsored House bill 298, which aims to protect and restore oysters in the Chesapeake Bay by codifying the boundaries of sanctuaries in five different rivers and prohibiting removing oysters from them. The legislation was was vetoed by Hogan but overridden and will become law.
In 2016, Busch championed legislation in the House that established a college affordability program to help graduates pay off student debt, as well as allow families to afford college tuition, according to his website.
The Maryland House passed an emergency bill sponsored by Busch on Monday, in response to allegations that Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh sold children’s books to the University of Maryland Medical System.
The bill forces all members of the system’s board of directors to resign and mandates a conflict of interest policy for the board, that includes “disclosure of financial interests,” according to an analysis of the bill.
Baltimore delegates held a press conference Monday evening led by Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore that called for Pugh’s resignation.
The delegation expressed their support for Baltimore City Council President Jack Young — currently the ex-officio mayor of Baltimore — to assume full responsibility for the position.
Glenn said Monday evening that the leadership and legacy established by Busch was a means of motivation for members of the House to get through an “emotional day.”
“We must finish strong for him,” Glenn said. “As a testament to Speaker Busch’s leadership that he had put in place.”
Busch believed that healthcare was a right, not a privilege, and advocated for its expansion by fighting against legislation that would privatize healthcare in the state, according to his website.
In 2017, Busch was diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a form of liver disease, and received an organ donation from one of his sisters. He underwent heart-bypass surgery in 2018 after experiencing shortness of breath during a routine test at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore, who has been running House sessions since Busch was hospitalized, occasionally stumbled over legislative lingo during Monday’s late session.
“I still feel his presence here,” Jones said, as she opened a joint session of the House and Senate late Monday evening in a somber tribute to Busch’s legacy.
Hogan Miller, delegates and senators all shared anecdotes of how Busch treated every person in and out of the legislature with respect and dignity.
Busch was a “fierce, proud and passionate advocate for the people of Maryland,” who believed in sound policy and good government, Hogan said. He was an “institution within the institution of state government.”
House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore, reminisced on his time working with Busch, remembering him as an “unbelievable man with an unbelievable heart.”
Miller said he had good sessions with previous speakers, but the “really great years,” were the last 14 spent with Busch. It was during that time that the House and Senate accomplished more than they had in two decades, said Miller, who spoke briefly before calling on Senate Majority Leader Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, to say a few words.
“Mike was a regular guy, someone you wanted to hang out with and talk with and learn from,” Guzzone said. “That regular guy was an extraordinary man … he taught us all a great deal, opening our eyes, our hearts and our minds.”
Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said he had spoken to Busch on Wednesday and that “his spirit was strong but his voice was weak,” which Barve said had scared him.
“Mike Busch was a man for whom life and love and policy were all motivated by the same very simple focus for what is good and decent for individual people,” Barve said.
Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, reflected on the 25 years she had known Busch and how he will be remembered going forward.
“He’s leaving this state and this body better than he found it,” Pendergrass said. “I’ll always look at that lectern and be thinking about him.”
As the clock approached midnight, the end of the 2019 session, a hush fell over the chamber and legislators stood for a moment of silence to honor Busch. Balloons fell from the balcony onto the bowed heads of legislative leaders and Busch’s family.
After a round of applause for the closing of the session, legislators left their seats quietly, not scheduled to reconvene until Jan. 8.
No date has yet been set for Busch’s funeral, according to a representative from his office.