Del. Adrienne Jones has served as Maryland House of Delegates’ longest serving speaker pro tem for the past 16 years. As the chamber’s second highest ranking official, she would fill in whenever Speaker Michael Busch was absent. Until Busch’s liver transplant in 2017, heart surgery last year, and continued health challenges this year—opportunities that didn’t present themselves often.
But in the final weeks of the legislative, Jones was propelled into a more expansive role and on a more consistent basis. On April 8, the final day of the session, she deftly shepherded dozens of bills during the floor session before 140 delegates. In her thoughts was advice from Busch, who died unexpectedly the day before the session adjourned.
“He would tell me ‘just be yourself’ and reminded me of the resources at my disposal,” Jones says.
At the rostrum, she led the chamber through votes and debate, ensuring the procedure and decorum were being followed. “Sometimes I felt like an auctioneer,” she says. “You have to keep the flow of the session going and try to get as many bills across so they can be voted on as soon as possible.”
In the final half hour of the 90-day session, in lieu of the traditional celebratory drop of confetti and balloons, Jones led a quiet tribute to the man who had been her mentor since 2003. “It was a difficult time for a lot of us, especially with [the final day] being the day after he died,” she says. “We adjourned Sine Die in his memory.”
Jones remembers exactly when she got the call from Busch asking that she serve as speaker pro tem. “It was Nov. 20, 2002, at 8:30 p.m.,” she says. “I remember because it was my birthday.” A press release at the time called her a consensus builder, she says, and noted that she did not have a big ego. The release said she would be a good partner with Busch.
Busch’s death leaves a vacancy for the first time in 16 years. Delegates will meet in a special session called by Gov. Larry Hogan on May 2 to decide, by simple majority, who will succeed Busch.
Jones has tossed her hat in the ring. Talk that she was not interested in the position was not true, she says. “There was not an opening [until now].” She considered it inappropriate to campaign for her boss’ post while he was still serving.
Del. Derrick Davis, chair of the Economic Matters Committee, and Maggie McIntosh, chair of the Appropriations Committee, are also expected to run and reportedly had begun solidifying commitments from their colleagues months ago. The election would be historic for any of the three candidates, either as the first African American, the first woman or in Jones’ case, the first African American and the first woman. She is already Maryland’s first black woman and longest serving speaker pro tem.
Jones says the compliments from legislators and citizens who observed and listened in on the proceedings are encouraging. She hopes her experience and time at the podium give her an edge. Of her chances, she said, “We’ll have to see.”
Jones, 64, came into office in 1997. After District 10 Delegate Joan Parker, died while in office, Gov. Parris Glendening appointed Jones to complete her term. Jones was elected the following year.
The same year Busch appointed her to be his #2, assigned her to the House Appropriations Committee and as chair of its capital budget subcommittee, which decides which capital and construction projects. Over the years Jones has chaired of a number of other committees, such as Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight, and the 2017-18 Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.
A resident of Woodstock and mother of two grown children, she worked for Baltimore County as director of Office of Minority Affairs and Executive Director of the Office of Fair Practices and Community Affairs. She retired in 2014 after 37 years and became a full-time legislator.
Busch will be missed, Jones says. “He encouraged others to be the best they can be. It was an honor to serve with him.”