Michael Busch, who is well-known for his work for progressive causes during his position as Democratic House speaker of Maryland, fought for the environment his entire life. Unfortunately, Busch died on Sunday at the age of 72. During his final days, his policies on environmental issues became the center of attention, as he sponsored a bill to protect five different oyster sanctuaries under the Maryland law. Gov. Larry Hogan placed a veto on the bill, but it was overridden by the House on Friday. The Senate is expected to vote on the override on Monday, which is the last day of legislative session.
Unfortunately, Busch passed away from complications due to pneumonia, which came after having a follow-up procedure to a liver transplant in 2017. The transplant came after Busch was diagnosed with a liver disease known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. After experiencing consistent shortness of breath, Busch also had heart bypass surgery in September. Alexandra Hughes, the Chief of Staff, explained that Busch was surrounded by loved ones as he passed away.
The Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Alison Prost, praised Busch and his dedication to defending the precious ecosystem of the waterways. “The Chesapeake Bay lost a champion today. While there were many issues that were near and dear to Speaker Busch, he elevated saving the Bay to a priority for the General Assembly, and legislators followed his lead,” said Prost. During his career as the longest-serving speaker in the House, which he was elected to in 2003, Busch also fought for expanded health care, improving the education system and other important environmental issues.
Vincent DeMarco, the president of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said: “Nobody has done more to expand health care access and improve public health in Maryland than Speaker Mike Busch.” As a progressive Democrat, Busch was there to stand up for Maryland’s approval of same-sex marriages and the repeal of the death penalty. Busch was also responsible for standing up for and passing the increase of Maryland’s minimum wage.
Thomas V. Mike Miller, the Maryland Senate President, explained that Busch was a model delegate who truly cared about the state of Maryland. “My heart is broken for Mike Busch’s family, the State of Maryland, and the Speaker’s extended family — elected officials and staff that he has been a mentor and coach to over his time in public service. Mike has been a friend for years, and has led the state to new heights of environmentalism and education,” said Miller, who is currently fighting prostate cancer.
Republican, Hogan, made the order for flags to be flown at half-staff in memory of Busch, calling him “a giant in our government.” Hogan continued by saying that “Speaker Busch and I came from different sides of the aisle, but we often came together in the best interests of the people of Maryland. He served with the decency and good nature of a teacher, a coach, and a family man. I was honored to … work closely with him.” It hasn’t been decided who will take Busch’s place in the House, who will have to be elected by the 141 members of the House. Since Busch stopped appearing last month, Del. Adrienne Jones has taken his place as speaker pro tem.
Busch was initially elected to the House in 1986. The district he was in control of included the state capital, Annapolis, which caused him to make frequent appearances in the State House, even if the General Assembly wasn’t in session at the time. Busch was known as a good listener and a consensus builder, which allowed him to be able to manage the diverse State House. Busch was committed to equal rights, which was a result of him growing up at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
According to the Associated Press, Busch said in 2002: “That was ingrained in me from my grandparents to my parents and through the ’60s.” During that time, he referred to two pictures that were on top of his grandparent’s mantel: Jesus Christ and Franklin D. Roosevelt. According to Busch, both sets of his grandparents “believed that Roosevelt gave average people a piece of the American dream.” He also said that “I really believe government is there to give people opportunity.”
Busch, who was a Catholic, was born in Baltimore and lived in Anne Arundel County from the time that he was 10 until he left for college. In 1969, Busch set records as the running back for Temple University. During his junior year, he peaked by running 185 yards in a game. If it wasn’t for an injury to his leg, Busch could have played in the pros. He received a letter from the Dallas Cowboys, which said: “you are being considered by our ball club as one of our top draft choices,” but the Cowboys didn’t realize that Busch’s career was already finished.
Busch went on to receive a degree in education, and then he went back home to teach in parochial and public schools. He also coached basketball and football at St. Mary’s High School before he quit teaching in 1979. When he became a driver for Robert Pascal in 1982, an unsuccessful Republican governor candidate, his interest for politics rapidly grew. He finished 5th among 12 other candidates when he ran for House in 1979. He eventually won a seat in 1986.