By Beth Hladick
NCSL mourns the loss of Speaker Michael E. Busch, the longest-serving speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates.
He died Sunday at the age of 72 following several health challenges: a liver transplant in 2017, heart-bypass surgery last year and recent hospitalization due to pneumonia after a follow-up procedure for his liver transplant.
Busch, a Democrat, was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1986. He held several leadership positions in the legislature, including a committee chairmanship, prior to being elected speaker in January of 2003. In addition to leading as the longest-serving speaker in Maryland, he is also one of the longest-serving speakers in the nation.
He helped promote African Americans and women to leadership posts. Delegate Adrienne Jones (D) is the first black woman to serve as speaker pro tem in Maryland, a position to which she has been reelected 2003.
Throughout his tenure in the legislature, he was revered far and wide by colleagues and constituents. Busch was well-known and respected for his impact on health care and an “all-payer” hospital system, supporting same-sex marriage and protecting the Chesapeake Bay. This session, he was focused on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and strengthening education funding.
“I’d like to think that when my time is done here, whenever that may be, that we’ve made every effort to make Maryland’s school system the best in the country,” he told The Baltimore Sun during this session. His legacy will live on in his many legislative achievements, and because of his dedication to the constituents of Annapolis and the state of Maryland.
Prior to serving in the legislature, Busch taught history and coached basketball and football at St. Mary’s High School. Until his retirement in 2018, he also spent decades overseeing youth athletics programs at the Anne Arundel County parks and recreation department. His colleagues called him “Coach” for his even-handed leadership and his willingness to work with legislators from across the state and across party lines to tackle complex issues. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan ordered state flags to fly at half-staff in Busch's memory.
Busch participated in several NCSL leadership programs and will be missed by his peers across the nation. He is survived by his wife, Cindy, two daughters, Erin and Megan, and three sisters, Susan Evans, Gail Burkhead and Laurie Bernhardt. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.
Beth Hladick is a policy associate for NCSL’s Leaders and Legislative Training Program.