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Harris Jones & Malone: Spotlight on Alexandra Hughes

The Maryland General Assembly is comprised of some of the sharpest minds in the State of Maryland. For ninety days each year, unless there is a special session, these minds come together to make changes to Maryland’s laws and enact statewide policies. Throughout the session, legislators often work well into the night in order to evaluate upwards of 2,000 bills. Due to the demanding nature of the work, legislative aides, staff members, and staff personnel play an essential role in the legislative process. Behind closed doors, staff members are responsible for many tasks such as coordinating meetings, drafting floor speeches, and meeting with individuals to discuss important aspects of legislation. One of the most important staff members in the General Assembly is Alexandra Hughes, current Chief of Staff to Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch (D -30A, Anne Arundel County). Considered one of the hardest working people in Annapolis, Ms. Hughes has garnered a reputation for being honest, well in tune with the political workings of the General Assembly, and highly effective at her job. While interviewing Ms. Hughes, I learned about her upbringing, how she became involved with government, and how she has been so effective as a valued staff member in various essential positions.

Alexandra Hughes was born in Baltimore, MD and raised on a steady diet of government and politics. As a child, Hughes recalls having countless conversations at the dinner table regarding local, State, and Federal politics. Growing up in a household with frequent political discourse, Ms. Hughes developed an interest in government from an early age. Throughout high school and college, Ms. Hughes played an active role in student government. As a high school student, Ms. Hughes served as the Vice President of the Student Council. While studying at Princeton University, Ms. Hughes helped organize a successful anti-sexual assault program as part of the “Take Back the Night” organization. In both of these experiences, Ms. Hughes continued to build her leadership skills and further her interest in public service.

Despite majoring in government and politics, Ms. Hughes chose to work for T. Rowe Price following college. Although she worked at a very prominent investment management firm, Ms. Hughes continued to have a burning desire to work in public service. During then Mayor Martin O’Malley’s first term in office, Ms. Hughes decided to change career paths and accepted a job in his office as a special assistant to the Chief of Staff and an Economic & Neighborhood Development aide. Following her successful tenure with Mayor O’Malley, Ms. Hughes moved to Atlanta to work with the Atlanta Police Department. Speaking of her experiences working in local government, Ms. Hughes stated, “Local government is where the rubber meets the road. It’s where citizens most closely interact with their government. City legislature is a pretty broad policy making body and you’re sort of at a 30,000 ft. view level where you have the ability to deal with a lot of different and pretty complicated issues.” While she enjoyed her time in Atlanta, Ms. Hughes returned to Maryland to attend the University of Baltimore School of Law. In 2006, while still a law student, Ms. Hughes eagerly accepted an offer from House Speaker Michael Busch to join his staff. Excited by the opportunity, Ms. Hughes accepted the offer and has been a member of Speaker Busch’s staff ever since. Through hard work and determination, Ms. Hughes has worked her way up the ranks from serving as Speaker Busch’s Communications and Policy Adviser to now serving as his Chief of Staff.

In 2015, when Ms. Hughes was appointed Chief of Staff, she made history by becoming the first African-American to serve as the top aide to a presiding officer of the Maryland General Assembly. In her time with Speaker Busch, Ms. Hughes has noticed the differences between local and State government. Contrasting her experience in the General Assembly from her early years working in local government, Ms. Hughes stated “State legislature is much more of a policy making body that really sets the blueprint for where the State is going to move.” Continuing her point, Ms. Hughes says, “If you’re in Baltimore, you’re only dealing with Democrats and it’s much more focused on people’s individual issues in their districts as opposed to here where you have partisan and geographical differences.” While Ms. Hughes acknowledges that there are often challenges, she enjoys the thrill getting both parties to come to agreement on important issues. In addition, she has learned the importance of having thick skin and working to build relationships with members of both chambers of the legislative branch. Her willingness to take on tough challenges and work well with others has made her one of the most effective staff members in the General Assembly.

As the Chief of Staff to one of the most powerful members of the State legislature, Ms. Hughes is responsible for monitoring legislation that comes to the House floor, managing the committee system, and interacting with the Senate President’s office, among many other duties. Since the Speaker acts as the administrative head of the House Democrats for all intents and purposes, Ms. Hughes assists with setting the agenda each session for what the House Democrats should seek to accomplish as the majority caucus. Ms. Hughes believes that good communication is essential in this role, mentioning, “[t]here’s a lot of coordination, member interaction and making sure that you are tracking legislation. There’s a lot of keeping people happy but delivering bad news when you have to.” Because of Ms. Hughes’ ability to communicate well with members of both parties and her ability to be transparent with them when it comes to their legislative concerns, she has proved a vital asset to assisting Speaker Busch during his reign.

This legislative session, Ms. Hughes worked closely on issues surrounding middle class economics, women’s health, and access to voting. She also brainstormed with legislators throughout the State on ways to assist Baltimore City in rebuilding and investing more in neighborhoods and communities that feel they have historically been left out. While staff members like Ms. Hughes may never get the credit they deserve from members of the general public, they remain well-respected inside the doors of the General Assembly. Without their dedication and hard work, legislators simply would not be able to do their jobs effectively. We often credit legislators for the work they do throughout the State, but perhaps it is time to credit the essential staff members of the General Assembly for serving as the engines which keep the General Assembly functioning efficiently.

By:  Kenneth N. Harris, Jr.


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