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In the wake of an election that saw Senate Republicans lose two seats, members of the caucus voted to elect new leadership on Monday.
They chose Sen. Steve Hershey (Upper Shore) to replace Sen. Bryan Simonaire (Anne Arundel) to serve as minority leader, and they voted to retain Sen. Justin Ready (Carroll) as minority whip.
“We are honored and humbled by the trust our fellow Senate Republicans have placed in us as we lead our caucus into the upcoming term as we return to single-party control of both the Legislative and Executive branches,” the duo said in a joint statement.
“The next four years will look very different however, we are collectively committed to continuing our legacy of ‘punching above our weight’ and holding the majority party accountable to the citizens of Maryland.”
The contested vote, which took place at a caucus meeting in Annapolis, was not disclosed.
Although Simonaire “worked hard” to raise money and recruit candidates in this year’s races, a source said, the caucus was disappointed in the loss of seats held until this year by Sen. Ed Reilly (R-Anne Arundel), who retired, and Robert Cassilly (R-Harford), who was elected Harford County executive. The loss of those seats drops the GOP’s number in the 47-member Senate to just 13.
For Hershey, the election to lead the Republican caucus represents a return to power. For six years, from 2014 until 2020, he served as minority whip alongside then-Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (Harford). The two were replaced by Simonaire and Sen. Michael Hough (Frederick) two years ago. That switch appeared to represent a desire by Republican senators for more conservative leadership.
Rumblings that Hershey was interested in a return to the front row first surfaced in Maryland political circles about 10 days ago. In an interview, Hough, who gave up his Senate seat to run unsuccessfully for Frederick County executive, praised Hershey for his ability to argue against Democratic proposals on the Senate floor.
“Steve’s very good on the floor. He’s a very good tactician,” Hough said. “He’s got very good relationships within the caucus, with the Democrats. And he’s also got very good relationships with the lobbyists.”
Jennings said Hershey’s approach to the job “touches all the bases.”
“Annapolis is about relationships,” he added. “If you want to get stuff down here, you’ve got to be able to work with the other side of the aisle. Steve has an incredible ability to do that. He learned it from me.”
Hershey, 58, who first joined the Senate in 2013 after serving for 2 1/2 years in the House, is also a key member of the Senate Finance Committee, who has helped shape debates in the committee and on the Senate floor on energy policy, finance and insurance matters. He has cordial and in some cases close relationships with several powerful Senate Democrats.
Ready, 40, who replaced Hough as minority whip last year so Hough could focus more time on his run for county executive, has served in the Senate since 2015 and also spent a term in the House.
When the new General Assembly is sworn in next year, Republican legislators will find a very different environment than the one they’ve been accustomed to. Democrats will control the executive branch and they have built on their already-existing supermajorities in both the Senate and House.
Simonaire could not immediately be reached for comment.