Stylish, but not self-consciously so, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones is what every politician wants to be: respected on both sides of the aisle. Historically speaking, Jones, a Democrat who represents Baltimore County, has created a distinction for herself.
She is the first woman — and first African-American — in Maryland’s history to be sitting in the speaker’s chair. She served as former Speaker Michael Busch’s second-in-command until his death on April 7. Her manner is forthright, practical, serious minded. While some politicians feel the need to make their point by raising the decibel level equal to that of a jet engine during take-off, Speaker Jones is soft spoken and mild mannered, exuding a sense of calm. But in her own quiet way, she doesn’t miss a thing.
Q: What was it like growing up in Cowdensville, Maryland?
A: Cowdensville is a small historic African-American community near Arbutus in southwest Baltimore County. It was a close-knit community, and everyone knew each other. My mom, dad, four brothers and I lived next door to the Cowdensville African Methodist Episcopal Church. Our house was across the street from the cemetery. That’s where my brothers and I learned how to ride our bikes and drive a car. It was great; there weren’t any people in the cemetery we could disturb.
Q: One day it won’t be a big deal for a woman or woman of color to be Speaker of the House, but right now you have a very special place in history. How do you think being a woman will affect your role?
A: I can’t change my color or my sex. I’m more than those two factors, but there is a difference between a male and female perspective on issues. Women tend to be more inclusive. If there’s a problem that needs to be solved, we are going to make sure we get the right experts in this area. Women are not afraid to ask. I listen. I won’t make my mind up until I listen to you. You may cover an aspect of an issue that I hadn’t thought about. At the same time, I may have something to add that you didn’t think about. I’m not saying all men think, “It’s my way or the highway,” but a lot of time it is.
Q: You’ve been a member of the House of Delegates since 1997. Your resume is packed with chairing dozens of committees and serving on task forces, boards and advisory councils. How do you manage balancing work and home?
A: I just do it. I work hard and I don’t complain, that’s how I was raised. Women are used to multitasking.
Q: On the lighter side, what is the most interesting or unexpected thing we won’t learn about you from your resume?
A: I like forensic TV shows. I like museums. I am the type of person who could spend hours in a museum reading those little placards next to each work of art. They are fascinating to me.
Q: What is the trait you like most about yourself?
A: I believe there is good in everyone. And I can read people very well. You can look at me and say one thing and your eyes and expression say something else. I can read that.
Q: What influence did your parents have on you?
My parents instilled in all of us the importance of getting an education, that it was the key to anything we wanted to do with our lives. They struggled to save enough money to get us all into college, but they did it.
We were taught to be respectful to all individuals and that sometimes people are not always going to be respectful to us. I was born in 1954, so we experienced the issues of those days, particularly when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. passed. I walked into school and got spat on. Another time a classmate was told by his parents that he couldn’t dance with me, so my teacher did. During that time, those things happened.
Q: Was former Speaker Busch your mentor?
Michael Busch and I worked closely together and collaborated on many projects. I valued his advice, and I felt honored that he sought my advice on a number of issues. It is for that reason that I did not consider ours a mentor/mentee relationship but rather two members of the same team.
Q: After a bitter battle in the Democratic caucus, what were your thoughts when you became the consensus choice to be Speaker?
I dropped out of the race for Speaker because I did not have enough votes. I knew I was qualified and had proven my abilities when I took over during Speaker Busch’s illness. However, I wanted to see a unified Democratic Caucus, and I knew that Mike (Speaker Busch) would want that also. I stepped back and supported Delegate Derrick Davis. Delegates Davis and Maggie McIntosh did not have the votes, and I was chosen. I was very surprised, elated and humbled by the process.
Q: Do either of your two sons have any interest in politics?
No. Not at all. It’s hard enough during election time when I have them working at the polls. I’m a divorced mom, and I try to instill in them a positive role model. Brandon, 38, is my oldest. He works in the public safety arena for Baltimore. Daylon, 35, is my youngest. He is a TV producer in Baltimore, has a master’s degree in communications and is married with two children. When I need a little escapism or want to experience the reality of things, I spend time with my grandchildren, a 6-year-old boy and 20-month-old girl. They are sheer joy and can do no wrong.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self?
Stay on top of technology. I am not tech savvy. If I want something done on my phone, I ask my kids. I wish I was more in tune with the 21st-century technology.
After I graduated from UMBC with a psychology degree, I wish I had continued and gotten a master’s degree at that time. Later, when you talk about going back to school, other things happen. I should have continued.
Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I may go overboard being concerned about the other person, particularly when trying to help someone.
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
I would like people to say, “She made a difference.”