Nancy Kopp to retire after nearly 20 years as Maryland state treasurer

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Nancy K. Kopp, a pioneering figure in Maryland politics whose fiscal expertise has undergirded the operations of state government for the past half-century, announced Monday that she will resign as state treasurer later this year, about a year before her term was due to end.

In a letter to lawmakers, Kopp, who turns 78 on Dec. 7, called the post “a great privilege, as well as a terrific challenge.”

“After these five decades of public service in Annapolis, it is time for me to invest more attention and energy in my wonderful family and community, who have made this all possible,” she added.

She has served as state treasurer, a top financial position in state government and the General Assembly’s representative on the powerful three-person Board of Public Works, since Valentine’s Day in 2002. But her career in Maryland politics dates back to 1971, when she started as a General Assembly staffer following five years of working on Capitol Hill.

Kopp was elected to the House of Delegates, representing a district centered in Bethesda, in 1974, and rose to the position of speaker pro tem. She quickly became recognized as one of the legislature’s leading figures on fiscal matters, and was tapped by her colleagues to become state treasurer following the resignation of Richard N. Dixon (D), for health reasons, after six years on the job.

“In the coming weeks, I expect many decisions will be made as to the timing of the election of your next State Treasurer and additional adjustments that may ensue,” Kopp wrote. “I look forward to doing all I can to assure a smooth transition to the next Maryland Treasurer and to move us all one more great step forward. Change is good!”

Kopp’s long tenure in Maryland politics was hailed by current and former colleagues.

“It is difficult to imagine chairing a Board of Public Works meeting without Nancy Kopp,” said Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in a statement.

“With the second-longest tenure of any treasurer in state history, Nancy will leave an incredible legacy of strong financial stewardship, which has helped assure our coveted AAA bond rating year after year. We have enjoyed a very cordial relationship, and I have always admired her commitment to the people of Maryland,” added the governor, who has served alongside Kopp since 2015.

“On behalf of all Marylanders, I want to express my profound gratitude to Nancy Kopp for her decades of distinguished service and wish her well in retirement.”

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), who represented District 16 with Kopp for 15 years, called her “one of the finest public servants I’ve ever met. She’s a Hall of Famer.”

“She’s smart. She works hard. She is totally honest. She doesn’t spin stuff. There is nobody I trust more for anything — her judgement, her analysis. She didn’t do it to get on television. She did it for all the right  reasons,” Frosh added. “Maryland couldn’t be in better hands than hers.” 

Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), said she relied on Kopp’s “great counsel” over the years, and said the treasurer “epitomized what it means to be a public servant.”

“From staffer, to delegate, to statewide treasurer for two decades, Nancy has kept the State’s fiscal house in order. She has been the driving force behind the triple-A bond ratings and the stability of the State’s pension system — and she did all of this without fanfare or celebration — even when others took credit for her great work over two decades,” Jones said in a statement.

It is now up to the General Assembly to select Kopp’s replacement, and lawmakers are expected to do so in the anticipated special legislative session tentatively set for early December. Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), longtime chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, is the overwhelming favorite to replace Kopp as treasurer.

The House traditionally dominates the treasurer selection process given its 3-1 size advantage over the state Senate, and if House leaders coalesce around one candidate, that person is almost certain to prevail. The last four state treasurers were either current or former House members at the time of their selection.

But it isn’t a done deal: the legislature must advertise the vacancy, set up a process to vet and interview candidates, and establish a committee that will recommend a selection to the House and Senate. If Davis is selected to replace Kopp, he will be the first state treasurer from Prince George’s County, and the second African-American to hold the position, after Dixon.

Kopp herself held several notable notable firsts. She was the first woman in any state legislature to give birth to a child while in office, and she was also the first woman to hold the position of House speaker pro tem, the second-ranking position in that body and the person who presides over the House chamber when the speaker is not present. She was the second woman to serve as state treasurer, and is the third longest-serving treasurer in Maryland history.

But despite her faculty with numbers, Kopp made one political misstep in her long career that belied her ability to count: In late 1992, as speaker pro tem, she led an attempt to overthrow then-speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D), arguing that he had become dictatorial and was ignoring the legislature’s growing suburban membership. Kopp thought she had the support to prevail, but ultimately concluded that the numbers weren’t there.

“I fought a good fight,” she told The Baltimore Sun after abandoning her bid.

But remarkably for the transactional world of the legislature, Kopp was able to retain a high level of respect among her colleagues, was empowered by then-House Appropriations Committee chair Howard P. “Pete” Rawlings (D) to craft the state’s education budget, and eventually rose to become treasurer.

In a recent interview, Kopp said Rawlings; Lucille Maurer, Maryland’s first female treasurer; and Helen L. Koss, a former state delegate from Montgomery County, were among her mentors. Kopp, Koss and Maurer are all members of the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

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