FLAGS AT the Maryland State House in Annapolis flew at half-staff Monday. The rostrum in the chamber of the House of Delegates was draped with black bunting, and on each desk was a bracelet imprinted with the words “Iron Mike.” But the most fitting tribute to the late House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) on the last day of the General Assembly were the bills debated and the votes cast. “Mike Busch would have expected us to keep doing the work of the people,” said Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery), “and we’re going to keep doing the work of the people.”
Mr. Busch, who presided over the House longer than any other speaker in Maryland history, died Sunday at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where he was being treated for pneumonia. He was 72. Though he had had health issues in recent years, his death was unexpected, and it jolted a capital that had come to depend upon his low-key style of leadership even as it may have taken it for granted.
That many affectionately called him “Coach” was derived from his earlier work as a high school teacher and coach but also from how he managed the fractious egos and shifting alliances of Annapolis. He saw lawmaking as a team effort, was adept in building consensus and mentored a new generation of political leaders that included women and minorities. “He coached people and then let them step up,” said Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.). He “always had a way of bringing out the best in everyone,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). He was “loved by all of us in the Republican caucus,” said House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel).
First elected to the House as a representative from Anne Arundel County in 1986 and serving 16 years as speaker, Mr. Busch — along with his more flamboyant counterpart in the Senate, Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) — helped to shape laws in such critical areas as health care, education funding, gun control, cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and legalization of same-sex marriage. As admirable as those triumphs were, it was one of his rare defeats — legalization of gambling in Maryland — where Mr. Busch demonstrated the courage and conviction that proved to be his hallmarks as a leader. Morally opposed to gambling — having seen the damage caused by his father’s gambling addiction — Mr. Busch questioned the arguments of it as a revenue booster and only relented by leaving it to voters to decide the issue and then working to limit the number of casinos.
At a time when we too often are seeing only the worst of politics, Mr. Busch showed what was best. He will be missed.