Sen. Guy J. Guzzone will replace Sen. Nancy J. King as head of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in January, when Sen. Bill Ferguson takes control of the chamber, Maryland Matters has learned.
Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat, backed Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) at a critical moment in his bid to become president following the announcement that Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) would relinquish the gavel after a record 33 sessions.
In the run-up to the Democratic Caucus election to recommend a replacement for Miller, King, a Montgomery County Democrat, supported Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s), whose bid for the top job fell short. She will be offered the largely ceremonial post of Senate Majority Leader, Guzzone’s current position, when the Senate convenes next year, a State House source said.
Guzzone and King were initially seen as potential contenders for the Senate president’s job when Miller first disclosed early this year that he had Stage 4 prostate cancer.
Guzzone campaigned energetically for Democratic Senate candidates across the state in the 2018 election cycle, and also was a generous donor to his colleagues. King enjoyed support from some of Miller’s political network, including former top aides who are now State House lobbyists or occupy key policy positions.
Ferguson, who was King’s vice chairman on the budget panel this year, was a late entry into the Miller succession sweepstakes, but move quickly to consolidate support among younger senators, progressives and his fellow Baltimore lawmakers.
The move to replace King with Guzzone is the first big step that Ferguson has taken to reorder the chamber since he emerged as the surprise pick to succeed the legendary Miller. Through a spokesman, Ferguson declined to comment Tuesday. King and Guzzone also refused to comment.
The promotion to head the influential panel through which the state’s $44.5 billion budget — and capital spending — passes represents a relatively rapid rise for Guzzone. The 55-year-old Baltimore native is only in his second term in the Senate. But he is a veteran of Annapolis and local politics having served eight years in the House of Delegates, having also served eight years on the Howard County Council and as a staffer and advocate in the State House.
The King-Guzzone job swap is a potentially significant blow to the state’s largest and wealthiest county. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Montgomery County is responsible for 25 percent of the state’s $92 billion economy, making it the economic engine of Maryland.
If nothing else, King’s imminent removal as chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee is symbolic for Montgomery County.
“Senator King has done an exemplary job looking out for the interests of the entire state of Maryland,” said Gigi Godwin, president of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.
“There will be an expectation by every county that whoever is in that position is going to look out for the best interests of the entire state, and it’s in the entire state’s best interest for us to do well,” Godwin added. “As Montgomery County goes, so goes the state of Maryland.”
With Montgomery poised to be on the outside looking in when key budget decisions are made, Godwin borrowed a line from the musical “Hamilton.”
“Whatever the deliberative body is that you’re watching, there’s always ‘the room where it happens,’” she said. “When people make decisions, you want to be in the room where it happens.”
Ferguson is said by people close to him to be keenly aware of the need to “compensate” Montgomery County for the committee change.
Ferguson grew up in Montgomery County and his parents still live there. In an interview, County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) expressed optimism about the Senate’s new leadership, in part because most of the revenues the county contributes to the state’s general fund flow to other jurisdictions.
“I’ve known both Bill and Guy for a long time, and I know the work Bill’s done,” he said. “And I’m optimistic that we’re going to continue to work together.”
“Both of them understand the importance of Montgomery County to the state — and understand that investments in the county are investments that pay off for all the jurisdictions in the state.”
King’s tenure as head of the influential budget panel was brief. Miller selected her for the post after the retirement of Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Howard) in 2018.
Another Ferguson backer expected to benefit from his ascension is Sen. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), who is poised to become president pro tem in January. She bucked her County Executive, Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), who supported Peters in the race to succeed Miller.
Griffith serves as deputy director of the Prince George’s County Arts and Humanities Council.
Ferguson is expected to announce other leadership changes in January. He is holding off out of deference to Miller, multiple lawmakers said.
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.