No one in Annapolis this week is more in need of a comfortable chair and a hot drink than Brian E. Frosh, the man who has been spending hours standing on the floor of the Senate, brandishing a microphone and defending the governor’s gun-control legislation.
Sen. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is tasked with ushering some of the session’s most-watched bills through the State House and onto the desk of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
This week, it was guns. Next week, it will be death penalty repeal. And sometime in the coming weeks, it will be a bill to address who is responsible when dogs attack. Then, at some point, it will be proposals to tweak Maryland’s speed-camera laws.
“It’s not like these are things that I’m new to,” Frosh said. “I’ve been working on these issues for a while now.”
Frosh was one of a group of lawmakers, just days after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., to announce a series of bills to tighten gun regulations in Maryland. Later, O’Malley announced his own gun-control package, which included many of the provisions proposed by Frosh and others.
“We have 30,000 deaths a year as a result of gun violence,” Frosh said. “How do we address the public health problem?”
While defending the bill on the floor, the senator cited instances where the provisions in the bill might have saved lives, including Christina-Taylor Green, struck down by the 13th round of ammunition from accused shooter Jared Loughner in 2011 in Tucson. The bill limits magazine capacity to 10 rounds.
“Magazine limits will save lives,” Frosh said. “It’s a life-saving bill.”
The legislation, said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, is the most difficult he’s seen his mentor chaperon through. “It’s just such a complicated bill, because there are so many moving parts,” Raskin said.
The bill had 20 amendments when it came out of committee, and more than 50 amendments, both friendly and not-so-friendly were proposed during three days of debate on the floor.
But in his 11th year chairing the committee that deals with all measures of law and order, and his 27th year in the General Assembly, Frosh, 66, has gotten used to it, and he’s eyeing a larger stage.
That Frosh, a practicing attorney in his day job, is exploring a run for attorney general is no secret: In October, he released a long list of supporters on his exploratory committee, and that support is growing, he said.
Current Attorney General Douglas Gansler is widely believed to be preparing to run for governor when O’Malley’s term is over.
Part of the appeal of the attorney general’s job, Frosh said, is having an inherent bully pulpit as the state’s top legal officer. He already has identified some of the areas on which he would like to focus his attention should he be elected: environmental protection — he spent eight years on the House Environmental Matters Committee, followed by seven years on the Senate Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee, and various task forces and commissions dealing with the issue — consumer protection and senior abuse. On the latter, he would like to create a task force on senior abuse protection.
And in some ways, Frosh said, the attorney general’s role is much simpler than that of a lawmaker.
“The attorney general enforces the law, that’s the job,” Frosh said. Creating the law, he said, is often much more complicated.
He will make an official announcement on whether to run when the session is over, he said.
If Frosh decides to run, he’ll likely be in a crowded field for the Democratic primary, including his district-mate William C. Frick (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda, Del. Jon S. Cardin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills and Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville.
It’s a natural move, Raskin said, given that Frosh has had a hand in many laws enacted during the past quarter century.
“He knows the criminal law and the civil law in Maryland inside and out,” Raskin said. “He’s running to make the laws that he introduced and passed work for the whole state.”
However, having Frosh in an office where he can further push initiatives he has championed in the Senate is frightening to some Republicans, like state party Executive Director David Ferguson.
“Brian Frosh, in his approach to government, is taking Maryland in a radical direction,” Ferguson said. “He would be a dangerous attorney general.”
All of his fairness and thoughtfulness won’t matter, Ferguson said, “if he’s trying to cram his liberal, partisan agenda down the throat of Marylanders.”
“Of course I think he’s too liberal,” said former state senator and Maryland GOP chairman Alex X. Mooney, who served for eight years on Frosh’s committee. “He’s a liberal guy, and he doesn’t hide it.”
But even Mooney, who opposed Frosh on issues from speed cameras to same-sex marriage, said that Frosh never got too personal about issues or tried to coerce him to vote a certain way.
This isn’t the first time Frosh has thought about seeking the office. In 2006, when it looked like longtime Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. was going to retire, Frosh weighed the idea, but was struck by an even better one when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach said he would step down in 2010, at the end of his ninth term.
Frosh was one of several senators jockeying for Miller’s spot on the rostrum, when the Senate president announced in 2008 that he would seek re-election after all.
While he believes he would have been a good fit for the job, Frosh acknowledges that there’s no one quite like the longest-serving state legislative leader in the country, whom he calls “incredibly skillful,” although there are many things on which the two do not agree.
“The question was not ‘How could I be Mike Miller?’” Frosh said of his considering Miller’s job. “The question was, could I do it not being Mike Miller, and I think I could have.”
Miller, who put Frosh in the chairman’s seat and is supportive of his run for attorney general, said Frosh is very different from his predecessor, the late Walter M. Baker (D-Dist. 36), who served as chairman of Judicial Proceedings from 1987 to 2003.
“Walter Baker and Brian are about as different as night and day in their political ideology,” Miller said, adding that Frosh’s quiet, thoughtful leadership style is also a departure. “I think Brian is a little farther to the left than most people in the state of Maryland.”
Frosh is certainly further left than Miller, who disagrees with him on issues such as the death penalty repeal, which Miller opposes.
“He understands my positions on the bills, but that doesn’t affect our role as friends and as colleagues,” Miller said.
Sen. Norman R. Stone (D-Dist. 6) of Dundalk, another conservative Democrat, diverges from his committee chairman on a fair number of issues, he said.
“He’s fair, even when you disagree,” said Stone, himself a former chairman of other committees, who called Frosh a hands-on chair. “And he doesn’t pawn things off on the vice chair.”
One thing that people don’t see unless they’re behind the scenes, Frosh said, is the diplomacy that goes into each day of bill hearings, when the committee takes up to 14 proposals, each with their contingent of witnesses for and against the legislation.
“And someone always has to leave by a certain time, or has another bill to testify on, but you want to keep related bills together, and you want to keep the committee members there until the end so that everyone feels they’ve been heard,” Frosh said. “It takes a lot of energy. It’s a juggling act, trying to keep everybody happy.”
From now until the end of the session, his committee will hear 14 bills each day, with voting sessions following hearings, in addition to floor debates on the most-anticipated bills.
That leaves him little time to see his wife, Marcy Frosh, director of programs at the Children’s Dental Health Project in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve been missing each other a lot lately,” Frosh said.
But Marcy Frosh and their two daughters — one 21 and at school in California and one 25 and living in D.C. — are enthusiastic about his running for attorney general, Frosh said.
“Marcy is a die-hard do-gooder,” Frosh said. “So she sees this as a great opportunity.”
But should he end up in the office, “I can say, unequivocally, that this is the last job I’ll ever run for,” Frosh said.