Josh Kurtz: Maryland’s Political Logjam, By the Numbers

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We still seem to be waiting for that transformative election in Maryland.

Last year brought more than 60 new members of the House of Delegates, a dozen new members of the state Senate, a new state attorney general, and political realignment in a few key jurisdictions – not to mention a rare Republican governor. But at the top of the political food chain, hardly anything changed.

In 2006, Marylanders elected a new governor, comptroller and attorney general. But even with the retirement of 30-year U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D), the expected shakeup of the state’s congressional delegation never materialized. Although many House members that year talked openly of running for Senate, only one – Rep. Ben Cardin (D) – actually did. So only his House seat was up for grabs – and it was filled by a Sarbanes.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D) looming retirement in 2016 will also not bring about any major transformation. Two House members so far – Reps. Donna Edwards (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) are seeking her seat. And a handful of state legislators are now running for Congress in those two districts.

But because 2016 is an off year for legislators and most county elected officials, these candidates do not have to give up their seats to run for Congress. Two of the six committee chairmen in the House of Delegates are running for Congress now – Del. Dereck Davis (D) in Dist. 4 and Del. Kumar Barve (D) in Dist. 8. If they lose, they will be able to retain their coveted gavels as a consolation prize.

Ambitious young politicians in every state will look up the political ladder and complain about the congestion at the top. But by and large, the political logjam in Maryland is worse than it is most everyplace else. That’s been the anecdotal, accepted wisdom for a long time. Now we have some numbers to prove it:

Maryland does not have the most senior delegation in the U.S. Senate, when it comes to years of service. That list is headed by Vermont, where together Sens. Patrick Leahy (D) and Bernie Sanders (I) have served in the upper chamber for a total of 50 years. They are followed by Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby (R) and Jeff Sessions (R), who have 48 years of Senate service between them; California Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D) and Barbara Boxer (D), who have 47 years of Senate service between them; Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran (R) and Roger Wicker (R), who together have 45 years of Senate service (Cochran was first elected in 1978); and Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch (R) and Mike Lee (R), who have 44 years of collective Senate service (Hatch was first elected in 1976).

Maryland is next. Mikulski, who is finishing up her fifth term, and Cardin, who is midway through his second, have 37 years of Senate service between them.

But when you factor in Cardin’s 20 prior years of service in the House of Representatives, and Mikulski’s 10-year House career, Maryland leapfrogs ahead of the other states and has the most senior Senate delegation when it comes to overall congressional service. Together, Mikulski and Cardin have served in Congress for 68 years.

They are followed on that list by Vermont’s duo, who have 66 years of congressional service between them (Leahy was elected to the Senate in 1974, and Sanders spent 16 years in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2006). Mississippi, California and Alabama are next when it comes to senators and their overall congressional service.

Mikulski and Cardin also have overall electoral longevity on their side. Cardin was first elected to a seat in the House of Delegates in 1966, when he was just 23. Mikulski won a seat on the Baltimore City Council in 1971, when she was 35. Both have been in elective office ever since.

Of other sitting senators, only Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) has been in office longer than Cardin. He was elected to the Iowa House in 1958, at the age of 25. That was 11 ½ years before the state’s junior senator, Joni Ernst (R), was born.

Vermont’s Leahy has been in elective office as long as Cardin. He was elected Chittenden County state’s attorney in 1966, at the age of 26. The only other sitting senator to have won his first political office in the 1960’s is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who was elected to the state Assembly in 1968, when he was 28. Unlike Cardin, Leahy and Grassley, Reid has not been in elective office that entire time. He had an eight-year gap in his political career.

Maryland is tied for second when it comes to average age of its senators. California is first, where the average age of Feinstein (82) and Boxer (74) is 78. Maryland’s Mikulski (78) and Cardin (71) average 74.5 years, as do Alabama’s Shelby (81) and Sessions (68). In Vermont, Leahy is 75 and Sanders is 73, so they average out to 74.

The most senior delegation in the House of Representatives is Alaska’s, but the state has just one House member, Rep. Don Young (R), who won a special election in 1973. His political career began in 1960, when he was elected to the Fort Yukon City Council at age 27, and he’s been in elective office ever since.

Maryland’s eight-member House delegation has an average of 12.6 years of congressional service, led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D), who has served on Capitol Hill since winning a special election in 1981. Hoyer’s political career, like Cardin’s, also began in 1966, when he won a state delegate race, but he has not been in office the whole time since. He had a brief hiatus, between losing a run for lieutenant governor in 1978 and the special House election.

Only three states, besides Alaska, have more senior House delegations than we do: New Jersey’s, with an average of 13.4 years of service, Kentucky’s, with an average of 13.3 years, and New York’s, with an average of 13.2 years.

Three small states lead the way when it comes to average length of the delegation’s overall congressional service, meaning the length of time senators and House members have served in one or both chambers of Congress. In Vermont, where Rep. Peter Welch (D) is in his ninth year as the state’s lone House representative, the three members of Congress average 25 years of service.

Next is Alaska, where between Congressman Young’s long tenure and the two U.S. senators, the members of Congress average 19.3 years of Capitol Hill service. Utah is next, where the state’s two senators and four House members average 18.3 years of Hill service, thanks largely to Hatch’s long Senate career. And Maryland is next, where the average for the senators and eight House members is 16.9 years of service.

The Next Logjam: Legislative Leadership

It’s no secret that state Senate President Mike Miller (D) is currently the longest continually serving presiding officer of any legislative chamber in the country. He took over in 1987.

Only Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) comes close to that astounding record: He has led his chamber for a total of 31 years. But Madigan had a two-year gap – when House Democrats there were in the minority in 1995 and 1996. He has held the gavel ever since.

The next longest-serving speaker of a state House chamber is Rep. Frank Chopp (D) of Washington state. He became co-speaker in 1999, when the chamber was politically divided, and took over as the sole speaker in 2002. He has been there ever since.

But tied for third when it comes to longevity for a House speaker is Maryland’s own Del. Mike Busch (D). He took over the chamber in 2003 – at the same time Del. William Howell (R) became speaker in neighboring Virginia.

So there you have it: the longest-serving Senate president in America, and the third longest-serving House speaker. That says something about Maryland’s political logjam right there.

Mike Madigan was elected to the Illinois House in 1970, at the age of 28. Mike Miller was elected to the Maryland House the same year, when he was 27. He was elected to the Senate four years later.

Busch’s legislative career is longer than Chopp’s or Howell’s. He became a delegate in 1987. Howell was elected to the Virginia House later that year. Chopp was elected in Washington in 1994.

Until earlier this year, the longest-serving presiding officer in a lower legislative chamber, other than Madigan, had been former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D), who had held that job since 1994. But he had to resign his leadership post after being indicted on multiple corruption charges. While he’s still in the Assembly, where he has served since 1977, his priority these days is staying out of federal prison (for symmetry, New York’s former top state senator, ex-Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, was also indicted this year).

To show just how durable Miller has been, the second-longest serving Senate president in the country is Oregon Sen. Peter Courtney (D). He has held that position since 2003 and was elected to the Senate in 1998 – 11 years after Miller took over as Maryland’s Senate leader.

Maryland also has very senior committee chairmen in Annapolis, led by House Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario (D), who has held the gavel since 1993 and served in the chamber since 1975, and House Ways and Means Chairwoman Sheila Hixson (D), who has held the gavel since 1993 and served since 1976.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh (D) just took over that committee this year, but she spent 12 years as chairwoman of the Environmental Matters Committee, and spent two years before that as majority leader. She has served in the House since 1992.

Barve, the House Environment & Transportation chairman, took the gavel this year, but spent the previous dozen as majority leader. He has served in the House since 1991.

Davis has been Economic Matters chairman for 13 years, and has served in the chamber since 1995. House Health and Government Operations Chairman Peter Hammen (D) has run the committee since 2005, and joined the House a decade earlier.

In the Senate, Finance Chairman Mac Middleton (D) is the longest-serving chairman, having held the gavel since 2002. He entered the Senate in 1995 after a stint on the Charles County Commission.

Health and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway (D) has run that panel since 2007, and joined the Senate a decade earlier after two years on the Baltimore City Council.

Senate Budget and Taxation Chairman Ed Kasemeyer (D) has held the gavel since 2011. His most recent Senate tenure began in 1995, but he had four previous years there, and also spent four years in the House.

The Senate’s newest chairman, Bobby Zirkin (D), took over the Judicial Proceedings Committee this year. He has been in the Senate since 2007, and joined the legislature eight years earlier.

Fifteen states have term limits for state legislators.

Statewide Offices

With new Gov. Larry Hogan (R), new Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R), new Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) and third-term Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), statewide office is the one area where the Maryland logjam isn’t as bad it as it is in other places.

Several states have random constitutional officers who have been around forever. Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug LaFollette (D), for example, has held the job from 1983 to present, and also served from 1975 to 1979. In Delaware, state Auditor Tom Wagner (R) has served since 1989.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is in his fourth term, though they are nonconsecutive terms. His first go-round was from 1975-1983. He has also served a term as state attorney general, and, back before he was governor, served a term as secretary of State.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is in his 21st year in that job, though there was a 12-year gap between his first tenure and his current one. He also spent four years as lieutenant governor. 

For states with the most seasoned constitutional officers overall, it’s probably a battle between North Carolina and North Dakota.

In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and his LG, Dan Forest, are only in their third years. But the secretary of State has served for 19 years, the attorney general has been in office for 15, the state labor commissioner has 14 years under her belt, the superintendent of public instruction has been in office for 11 years, the state agriculture commissioner is in his 10th year, the insurance commissioner is in his seventh, and the state auditor and state treasurer have each served for six years.

In North Dakota, Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) is in his fifth year, but he previously served a decade as lieutenant governor. The secretary of state has been in office for 22 years, the state auditor has served for 15 years, the attorney general is in his 14th year, the state treasurer has served for a decade, the state insurance commissioner is in his ninth year, the agriculture commissioner is in his sixth year, the LG is in his fifth, and the superintendent of public instruction and tax commissioner are in their third years.

By comparison, it’s a fresh crop of statewide elected officials in Maryland.

But it wasn’t that long ago that statewide offices in Maryland like comptroller and attorney general, rather than being stepping stones for higher office, were sinecures for veteran politicians. Comptroller Louis Goldstein (D), after all, served for 40 years until his death in 1998 – and he was replaced by that political newcomer, William Donald Schaefer (D). Attorney General Joe Curran (D) served for 20 years until his retirement in 2006.

Now we may have that same situation occurring. Franchot turns 68 later this year, and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll seek higher office, though a bid for a fourth term as comptroller in 2018 is hardly out of the question. Frosh turns 69 this fall, and he’s said he has no interest in being anything but attorney general.

Franchot served in the legislature for two decades before he won statewide office in 2006. Frosh spent 28 years there – 20 in the Senate, eight in the House – before winning statewide office last year.

So if you look over the body of evidence in Maryland – and this is something that ambitious politicians do not want to hear – good things come to those who wait.

Research assistance: Zoe Kurtz

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.