view counter

Speaker Michael Busch

The editor’s hale and farewell

     When Our Delegate, Mike Busch, won election as speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, Bay Weekly paid him an office visit to ask him to peer into the future. On January 3, 2003, the day before his 56th birthday, the new speaker Busch had pretty well finished unpacking boxes as he moved into his new digs. And elegant digs they are, I wrote.
     Ceilings rise not quite sky-high to the rotunda in this, the oldest working statehouse in America, where George Washington truly did visit. Walls are warm in taupe with yellow undertones, and mahogany paneling up to the chair rail is polished to a fingerprint-free gleam. On a sunnier day, afternoon sunlight would stream in from soaring windows.
      I asked how becoming speaker changed his life — besides bringing him a new title and a new office.
       It’s been a very substantive change, he replied. All of a sudden, you go from being appointed committee chair to replacing Speaker Cas Taylor, who has been a longtime mentor and friend. The reality is that now I’m in charge of 140 House members and the legislation that goes through it and the interaction with the state Senate and the governor.
     One-third of the House is brand new, and you have new committees under your jurisdiction with quite a few people moved around and the daunting task of a $1.8 billion total deficit.
      It’s a challenge. You try to take the experience that you have and some of the insight that you’ve received from your colleagues and take a direction for the upcoming session and the four-year legislative term.
      Once-upon-a-time has its hands all over that interview. Heightened security in the wake of 9/11 was still new enough to mention. Bob Ehrlich had just been elected governor. Whether to allow gambling — which was not to happen for five years — was the year’s big issue. Iron Mike, as we’ve come to know him, was a big, solid ruddy man who, in the prime of mid-life, seemed hewn from granite.
     Busch himself seemed to be the constant through all those years. After that four-year term, he was elected three more times, most recently last November. By his peers, he was elected speaker 16 more times, achieving a record as the longest-serving speaker before his unexpected death from pneumonia on April 7, one day short of adjournment.
      Of course time was changing Mike Busch just as it was governors and issues. Whether you saw him in person or in photographs, you read the toll of time — plus a liver transplant and heart surgery — on his once-powerful body. 
      What time did not change was the heart of the man. 
      How had he achieved this grand and powerful office, I asked him.
      I like to think I was successful and tried to accommodate people and make the appropriate decisions for what I thought was the best interest of everybody, he told me. Unfortunately, there are some things you have to put your foot down on. But in general, I try to empower people.
      Time can stop the heart of a man like that. But the heart of that man never failed.
Pay your respects at the State House, where Mike Busch’s body lies in state in the rotunda on Monday, April 15, 1-7pm, and Tuesday April 16, 8-10am; or following his funeral at Tuesday’s reception, 1-4:30pm, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.