Kelly announces departure from Senate

March 22, 2024

Maryland Matters

A 13-year veteran of the Maryland General Assembly is leaving her post in May after just one year in the Maryland Senate.

Sen. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery) announced Wednesday night that she will leave the Senate to become the executive director of the Maryland Commission for Women, beginning on May 6.

“I’m really happy. I learned so much. I love the Senate but this is the opportunity of a lifetime for me,” Kelly said in an interview Thursday morning. “I’ve spent my whole career focused — even before I was in elected office — on advocacy around the issues important to women, children and families. The idea of being able to do that work full time in the Moore-Miller administration was a dream come true.”

Kelly, who announced her departure in a message posted online Wednesday night,  said the commission’s focus is on issues for which she is passionate. News of her departure was first reported by MoCo360.

During her time in the General Assembly, Kelly has been a leader on women’s issues.

As a delegate in 2018, Kelly led the charge to address sexual harassment in the legislature. Five years later, she and others say the reforms coupled with generational change in the General Assembly have impacted the culture that once tolerated sexual harassment.

Kelly also led the effort to pass an amendment to the Maryland Constitution protecting access to abortion in Maryland. That amendment goes before voters in November.

“She is an articulate, hardworking, and effective spokesperson and advocate for issues that many of us care deeply about,” said Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Mongtomery). “She’s made a difference in her too brief tenure in the Senate.”

Kelly joined the Senate in February 2023, filling a seat vacated after then-Sen. Susan Lee was named secretary of state by Gov. Wes Moore (D). During her tenure, she also took Lee’s seat on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Her assignment to that committee was very different from her work on the House Health and Government Operations Committee. Kelly served as that committee’s vice chair, focusing on subjects that included health care.

In recent weeks, she seemed to express fatigue, if not outright frustration with her work in the legislature in social media posts that have now been deleted.

When asked about the posts and whether the job as legislator in the Senate was professionally satisfying, Kelly said she was leaving now only because the “dream” position, which is not one appointed by the governor, was open.

“The legislature is, it’s hard and grueling and emotionally draining work but it has been the experience of a lifetime for me, and I’m profoundly grateful for it,” Kelly said.

Kelly succeeds Judith Vaughan-Prather, who served as executive director of the commission for a decade, working alongside its 25-member advisory board.

The commission, which is housed within the Maryland Department of Human Services, works to identify laws, policies, practices, programs and procedures that impact women or girls disparately. It then advocates for more equitable and inclusive policies.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) speaks with Sen. Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery) before the start of Thursday’s Senate floor session. Kelly, who joined the Senate in 2023, announced she will vacate the seat in May to become the new executive director of the Maryland Commission for Women. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Kelly joins the exodus of Montgomery County lawmakers from the General Assembly that began last year, when several went to work for the Moore administration or got other jobs in state government.

The turnover has put the spotlight on the process for filling General Assembly vacancies. Under the current system, the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee will nominate someone to fill Kelly’s seat, and Moore will formally make the appointment.

Legislation is progressing this General Assembly session to reform the process. Senate Bill 29, sponsored by Kagan, would establish special elections to fill future vacancies.

The House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday held a hearing on the bill, which amends the state constitution. If the passed by the House, voters would have to approve it in the November election.

Kelly and the three House members in District 16, which takes in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, favor Del. Sara Love (D) as the replacement for Kelly.

“I would love it if Delegate Love put her name in,” said Kelly. “I think that she has been an amazing representative for the people of District 16. She has been elected twice, which gives me reassurance, and she is extraordinarily brilliant. So that would be my hope that she would choose to put her name in.”

Love, a former director of the Maryland ACLU, was elected to the House in 2018.

“I will be putting my name in when the time comes,” Love told Maryland Matters Thursday. ‘I’m very excited for Sen. Kelly. She has done incredible work in the Maryland General Assembly over her term here. It’s been an honor to serve with her. I think this is an amazing move for her. She will continue to do incredible things for the women and families of Maryland. We will miss her, but know that she’ll still be here, which is very, very exciting, and I think that should be the top piece of news for today.”

If Love is appointed to the Senate, it will create a vacancy in the House. Del. Sarah Wolek (D) has represented District 16 in the House for the past year; she was appointed to replace Kelly after Kelly moved to the Senate. The third delegate from District 16, Marc Korman (D), is chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.