April 8 (UPI) -- Michael E. Busch, Maryland's longest-serving House speaker, died of pneumonia Sunday at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. He was 72.
Busch told legislators about his illness last week and warned that he could miss the remainder of the General Assembly. Physicians diagnosed pneumonia during a follow-up treatment for a liver transplant in 2017.
"At 3:22 p.m. this afternoon, Maryland Speaker of the House Michael Erin Busch passed away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones," Busch chief of staff Alexandra Hughes, said in a statement.
Busch, a Democrat, led a progressive agenda as Maryland's House speaker, including the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, legalizing same-sex marriage, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and striking down the death penalty. Serving Anne Arundel County, Busch became speaker in 2003 and became Maryland's longest-serving speaker in 2012.
"We loved him," Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley told the Capital Gazette. "We loved him because he always stuck up for the underdog. He was the favorite son of the city. I thought he was Iron Mike. I thought he was going to come through this."
In one of his final interviews Friday, Busch told the newspaper he hoped to leave the hospital this week and be back at work.
"As long as I'm healthy and my body lets me, I' hope to be out by Monday," Busch had said.
"He cared deeply about improving the lives of Marylanders, and his legacy is evident in his many legislative achievements," said Gov. Larry Hogan, who ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff. "Speaker Busch and I came from different sides of the aisle, but we often came together in the best interest of the people of Maryland."