By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
The day of an important committee chairman being a Delegate from St. Mary’s County has passed as history can now record Mr. Chairman John F. Wood Jr. being firmly in the record book of Maryland politics and held close in the bosom of his family having gone forever on June 9, 2023, from his beloved land of the flask, the fiddle, and the dark-roasted possum.
Johnny Wood was a rare legislator in Annapolis. He wasn’t a lawyer, a wealthy son of an important family that didn’t need him in a big industrial concern, or a retired bureaucrat looking for a regular paycheck. Instead, Johnny Wood was the owner of a small family business that knew what it was like to struggle to make a payroll, keep up with inventory, and sales, pay taxes, provide customer service, and face the vagaries of weather, deliveries and supply chains needed to keep a small country grocery store operating. When his family would be old enough to operate the family store, Wood decided that his appetite for community service would be fulfilled by running for election to the Maryland General Assembly.
Winning election to an open seat that covered a portion of Charles County and the northern section of St. Mary’s County, Wood won the Democratic Primary election and the General Election in 1986 and was returned to office again in 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 and for the final time in 2010.
To win elections that many times takes a lot of bull, and that is precisely what Johnny Wood, his family, and scores of volunteers served up each year at the Olde Breton Inn when hundreds of attendees from all over Southern Maryland around the state arrived to eat crab balls and roast beef while talking politics and downing large quantities of beer and soda.
There have been other notables elected to the Maryland General Assembly in the past, including attorney John Hanson Briscoe, who became Speaker of the House after Marvin Mandel was selected to be Governor following the election of Governor Spiro T. Agnew as Vice President in 1968. Briscoe remained in the critical post until giving up his seat in the House of Delegates as he eyed an appointment to the Circuit Court in St. Mary’s County, landing on the bench in 1982.
St. Mary’s Delegate Roy Dyson leapfrogged from the delegate position to the United States Congress in 1980, where he stayed for five terms, lost reelection in 1990, and began winning election to the Maryland Senate in 1994 until being whipped in 2014.
Senators Jim Simpson and Bernie Fowler also were influential in Annapolis but never rose to a committee chairmanship.
Senator J. Frank Raley served a term in the House of Delegates and then one term in the State Senate, achieving the dubious distinction of giving away the control of the Potomac River to a compact composed of a commission with members from both Virginia and Maryland, along with doing away with slot machines. Senator Paul J. Bailey was elected four times to serve in Annapolis, and his span covered making slot machines legal in 1947 and making oil refineries illegal in 1974.
Delegates Ernie Bell and John Slade, both attorneys, did time on the House Judiciary Committee and, while safely can be credited with watching out for the welfare of St. Mary’s County, never became committee chairmen.
Delegate John William Quade made Maryland safe for lenders to charge the highest interest rates on record during the infamous Jimmy Carter years when the recession was king and home sales tanked. Delegate Deb Rey, Sen. Steve Waugh, Del. Jerry Clark, and Del. Brian Crosby (who thinks he represents the trans-liberal enclave known as Montgomery County) all failed to find fame and glory as committee chairman.
Del. John Bohanan found that being the key vote for gay marriage in Maryland led to his defeat for reelection in 2014 and ended his trajectory on the glide path of political success to be Speaker when Mike Busch retired went up in smoke.
The boy wonders, the hotshot lawyers, the lumberyard executives, the entrenched politicos, none of them achieved the modest success of Chairman Johnny Wood. Johnny might have stayed in his post as committee chairman for longer had he not dallied with Republicans and bent against the liberal Yahoo windbags of the Maryland Democratic Party. For those transgressions, he gave up his gavel.
Wood served in Annapolis through the administrations of Democrat Governors Harry Hughes, William Donald Schaefer, Parris Glendening, and Martin O’Malley. Republican Robert Ehrlich, elected in 2002, served one term while Chairman Wood guided important legislation in the House of Delegates.
Representing a district composed of tracts of bedroom communities of commuters who rise early to travel to the DC area for work or to Pax River NAS, farmers, watermen, entrepreneurs, medical practitioners, educators, law officers, and government workers takes a lot of listening, and that was a quality that Johnny Wood honed as a grocer and perfected as a politician.
Wood’s seat went to Republican Matt Morgan in 2014, and it appears that Morgan intends on keeping it for a while as his campaign war chest runs neck and neck with the bucks being amassed by Sen. Jack Bailey.
Barbara and Johnny Wood were an inseparable force in retail grocery and retail politics and, as such, are a classic American success story with a family legacy with few rivals for size and happiness.
Maybe someone will toss a gavel in the casket for Chairman Wood in case he gets bored.
Chairman of Maryland House of Delegates Commerce and Government Matters Committee.