ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Questions of who will run Maryland’s Senate have opened a rift in the Senate Democratic Caucus and spurred a rebuke from the longest-serving Senate president in state history.
Sixteen of the Senate’s 35 Democrats are seeking clear rules on how caucus leaders are chosen, when meetings are held and who would become one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller retires.
The group made its request in a letter sent Jan. 25 to caucus chairwoman Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
“A more active and formal Senate Democratic Caucus would promote cooperation and member engagement,” the group wrote.
But Miller said Friday that the request for formal rules is likely a function of it being early in the session with little for
lawmakers to do and freshman lawmakers looking to make their mark.
He added that he was a young senator himself, when he started the Democratic Caucus.
“I understand the frustration and I responded,” Miller said of the request.
Pugh said no caucus member raised the issue in December, when members met before the start of the General Assembly session to discuss who would lead them.
“I guess that may have something to do with the president feeling somewhat as I did, in some ways, sort of blind-sided,
because those things had been done and had already been discussed,” Pugh said.
Miller, 68, is a towering figure in Maryland politics. Along with running the Senate since 1987, he also runs the caucus.
He appointed Pugh to her position and Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, as majority leader.
However, the question of Miller’s eventual retirement prompted members of the caucus to seek clear guidelines on who would take his place, said Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s.
“People said, ‘What would happen?”‘ Pinsky said, referring to talks among lawmakers at the December meeting.
While the rules for the Senate selecting a president are outlined in the body’s rule book, no guidelines exist within the
caucus for how a candidate would be nominated, Pinsky said.
Miller responded Jan. 26 to the 16 lawmakers, writing in a two-page letter that he always has an “open door” for caucus
“A petition type of approach can cause immediate divisiveness in the caucus and often achieve the opposite result of the intended purpose,” Miller wrote in the letter, obtained by The Associated Press.
Lawmakers who signed the letter to Pugh include two of the chamber’s four committee chairs — Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery and Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore. All the freshman Democrats signed on except Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, Sen. James Mathias, D-Wicomico, and Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick.
Freshman Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, said the letter was about having a structure for voicing ideas.
“I just wanted to suggest my thoughts. I know several people have suggested more nefarious motives. It wasn’t from me,” he said.
Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County, said he wants a more clear-cut selection process for majority leader and head of the caucus.
The (Maryland Senate) Republicans vote for minority leader, the United States House of Representatives votes for majority leader, and I think that we should vote for majority leader,” he said.
A lack of clear rules underpins Miller’s broad control of the chamber, said Majority Whip Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, and one of the 16 lawmakers who signed the letter.
“I’m the whip here; we don’t have a whip system,” Gladden said, pointing out Miller’s direct in hand in counting support for measures in the chamber — a task typically designated to a party whip.
Pugh said the caucus has rules, but did not provide a copy of them when asked by a reporter.
Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, also sought more structure for the caucus.
“I’m a professor of constitutional law, so I will always prefer ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ to ‘The Lord of the Flies,”‘ Raskin said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)