On another day, they might have been sparring. But on Monday, they were united in grief.
Following the unexpected death Sunday of House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) gave emotional tributes to the Anne Arundel County Democrat in speeches that focused on his enduring legacy.
All three men have wielded enormous power in Annapolis over the years. And all three have confronted life-threatening illnesses in office.
Miller, 76, announced at the beginning of this year’s legislative session that he has metastasized prostate cancer. The country’s longest continuously serving state Senate president began chemotherapy two days after the legislative session started, and faces radiation after the legislature adjourns.
He told his Senate colleagues Monday that he could not sleep after learning of Busch’s death on Sunday afternoon.
“I could’t even talk about it,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “It’s going to be a difficult day.”
Busch, Maryland’s longest-serving speaker, died after being hospitalized for pneumonia and placed on a ventilator. He was 72.
On Monday, delegates wore the “Iron Mike” bracelets that were made two years ago after Busch received a liver transplant.
Then, Busch lost almost 50 pounds in six months before he learned the medications he’d been prescribed for a liver disease he was fighting were not working. His sister, Kathleen “Laurie” Bernhardt, donated 60 percent of her liver to her older brother.
A few months later, Busch was back in his office, focusing much of his time on raising awareness about the living donor program and vowing to run for a ninth term, which he won easily.
Hogan said that when was battling cancer four years ago, Busch called him. The two talked about what matters in life — such as their families — and what doesn’t matter — such as political squabbling.
On Friday, it was the governor who phoned Busch. The speaker was still paying attention, from the confines of his hospital bed, to what was happening in the General Assembly, a downcast-looking Hogan said.
“He’s a guy that doesn’t have any quit in him,” Hogan said at an afternoon news conference, where he declined to take questions that were not about Busch. “He was a great man and just an incredible leader.”
Hogan canceled the usually festive bill-signing ceremony that traditionally happens the day after the session ends. The celebrations that usually take place upon adjournment — including balloons and confetti raining down from the ceiling — will be replaced by a tribute to Busch.
In the Senate on Monday morning, Miller presided as senators, many of whom began their political careers in the House of Delegates, delivered passionate homages to Busch, describing him as a mentor and decent man.
The famously irreverent Miller, who usually has jokes on hand, was somber. In a lighthearted moment, he remembered the newly elected Busch tripping and falling on ice at an inaugural parade for then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and getting carted away in an ambulance.
“He always told that story,” Miller said.
Miller also remembered Busch’s fond relationships with news reporters and said the bill that Busch was most proud of this session was one renaming the main State House press room to honor the victims of the shooting at the Capital Gazette, his hometown newspaper.
After the shooting, an emotional Busch said that he knew the reporters who were killed well and described them as “part of the fabric of where we live.”
“It’s a lasting legacy for him,” Miller said. “It’s a lasting legacy for them.”