Josh Kurtz: Party Like It’s 1986

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By Josh Kurtz

There was understandable rejoicing in Maryland when Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) was tapped last week to become chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee following the death of Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye (D).

It’s good for Maryland -- though it would be better if congressional pork as we once knew it still existed -- and it’s a nice feather in the cap for Mikulski after 26 hardworking years in the Senate.

Mikulski has vowed to try to return regular order to the broken appropriations process, which for years has been a patchwork of continuing resolutions and delaying tough decisions. That’s no way to run a railroad, let alone the massive federal government. So bless her for trying -- here’s hoping she’s successful.

But for all the cheering about Mikulski in Maryland, there was also a perceptible, if mostly silent cry of pain last week among ambitious younger politicians looking to move up the food chain: My God, now she’ll never leave!

It’s already been widely suspected that the 76-year-old senator wasn’t planning to retire anytime soon, that she’d seek a record-breaking sixth term in 2016. Now there shouldn’t be any doubt. Mikulski, whose political career has been her life, has extra reason to stay.

The last two Appropriations chairmen -- Inouye and the legendary Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) before him -- died in office. Inouye was 88 and Byrd was 92. Split the difference, and, though not necessarily based on real actuarial predictors, you can estimate that Mikulski may serve till she’s 90.

That means the next Senate vacancy in Maryland might not roll along till, oh, about 2026. And anyone thinking Sen. Ben Cardin (D), just elected to a second term at age 69, is going to relinquish his post anytime before the 2020’s should guess again.

Cardin likes to point out that his politically active father and uncles lived into their 90’s. He spent 20 years in the Maryland House, followed by 20 more in the U.S. House. Why shouldn’t we expect him to spend 18, or 24, in the U.S. Senate? That would bring us to 2024, or maybe 2030.

Every culture has its own curious numerology. The Mayans, for whatever reason thought the world was going to end on Dec. 21, 2012. In Maryland politics, the magic number is 1986. That’s the year many of the political veterans now considered impediments to the up and comers won significant, trend-setting victories.

For a little trip down Memory Lane, queue up “Say You, Say Me” on your Walkman, push the “Top Gun” VHS into your video player, reacquaint yourself with the steps to “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and consider that in 1986:

* Mikulski was first elected to the Senate, after 10 years in the House. Her political career began in the Baltimore City Council in 1971.

* Cardin, after 20 years as a delegate, was elected to replace Mikulski in the House.

* Mike Miller (D) became Senate president. At that point he had already been in the Senate for a dozen years, and in the legislature for 16.

* Mike Busch (D), who’s now speaker in Annapolis, was first elected to the House of Delegates.

* Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) won his first of five elections to the House of Delegates.

* Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett (D) won the first of his four terms on the County Council.

* State Sen. Brian Frosh (D), the early frontrunner in the 2014 race for attorney general, won his first election to the legislature.

What’s the significance of it all? That’s hard to say.

But if you’re a Maryland politician trying to figure out how to climb the political ladder, and you were a high school senior in 1986, or a 5th grader then, or if, heaven help us, you were born in 1986, well, you can’t be too happy about all the seasoned pols crowded together at the very top.


Happy holidays! The column will return on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Thanks so much for reading and for all your great feedback! I look forward to keeping the dialogue going in 2013!

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Sole Practitioner

Franchot to Seek Re-election, Won’t Run for Governor

No Heroes Here

Running Mates

Montgomery County’s 800-Pound Gorillas

Garagiola: ‘People Lose Elections All the Time’

You Can’t Spell ‘Meme’ Without M-E

Opening Day
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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.