CONVERSATIONS WITH HJM: MOLLIE BYRON
“…this Governor wants to be everywhere and partner with everyone. There is not a single local elected that I’ve introduced him to that he has not been so warm and kind to and connected with immediately…he loves being around people, so it’s difficult sometimes to staff him because he wants to connect with everyone and hear their stories…we are so fortunate to have a great principal leading us and also have a lot of opportunities to make this State better. That’s what gets me excited about waking up every day.”
In her next step as a lifelong community leader, Mollie Byron has returned to state government as a senior advisor and the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Governor Wes Moore. With an extensive professional background in government and politics, Byron first jumped into Maryland politics after earning her Juris Doctor from the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law, in 2010. While waiting for her bar results, she worked on former Governor Martin O’Malley’s (D) reelection campaign. Byron was subsequently offered a position in O’Malley’s intergovernmental affairs division, an office where she would “work her way up the food chain” before returning as Director under Moore. In 2015, Byron added to her local government experience with a legislative session as legislative liaison for former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) before rejoining O’Malley for his 2016 Presidential run, where she served as O’Malley’s deputy national political director. “It was an emotional rollercoaster, and although it did not end up the way we all hoped, it was a really cool experience,” Byron says.
Feeling a bit “burnt out on politics,” Byron took a different route and beefed up her policy and advocacy experience with the Maryland/DC Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, where she did local, state, and federal lobbying for nearly seven years. However, it wasn’t long before she returned to campaign life when Angela Alsobrooks (D) successfully ran for Prince George’s County Executive in 2018. Byron had been following Alsobrooks’ ambitious career for years, and she was thrilled with the opportunity to serve as her director of government accountability, where one of her primary roles was running “County Stat,” a program used to make policy decisions in Prince George’s County. When Alsobrooks got involved in the Governor’s race by endorsing the then-candidate Wes Moore, Byron got to know Moore and what he stood for. “When he won, I thought I could really contribute to his administration in a way that I was uniquely qualified to do, and I have always loved local government,” Byron says. Once appointed, Byron hit the ground running and quickly staffed up her team.
Even with her busy schedule, Byron is extremely passionate about her involvement as a board member with EMERGE Maryland, an organization working to change the face of politics by recruiting and training Democratic women who aspire to run for office and leadership positions. Some notable alumni of EMERGE Maryland include Comptroller Brooke Lierman, Delegate Stephanie Smith, Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, and State Senator Sarah Elfreth.
In this conversation series, Mollie Byron takes the time to tell me how she earned her most recent role as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Governor Moore, how she approached her new leadership position, and what initiatives the administration is currently working on in coordination with local jurisdictions.
Tell me about your professional background. What led you to get to where you are now in the Moore-Miller administration?
I’m the Governor’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the State of Maryland. I’ll give you a high-level review of what brought me here. I am a barred attorney; however, I’ve never practiced because when I graduated from law school, it was 2010, and we were in the midst of the Great Recession. I took the bar exam, and while waiting for my results, I decided to work on a campaign. I worked on former Governor Martin O’Malley’s reelection campaign and had the good fortune for them to offer me a position in intergovernmental affairs for his second term. Then I was off to the races and having a blast. I took that position and just worked my way up the food chain, learned a ton, and ended up as Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Governor O’Malley. From there, I went directly into local government for a legislative session working for former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, who is a lovely person. I had a great time there, but when Governor O’Malley decided to run for president, I went to be his deputy national political director on his presidential campaign, which was a wild ride. It was an emotional rollercoaster, and although it did not end up the way we all hoped, it was a really cool experience.
After that, I was kind of burnt out on politics, so I went to the Nature Conservancy to do some of their state and federal lobbying in the area until someone whom I had been following for a long time, Angela Alsobrooks, ran for Prince George’s County Executive and won. I thought to myself, “Hm, my non-profit job is great, I’m having fun, and there is a great work-life balance here, especially with having a child,” but I just could not resist the opportunity to work for County Executive Alsobrooks because I believed in her so much. When I went over there, I ran something called “County Stat,” which is how we use data to make policy decisions in the county. Shortly after, the global pandemic started, which was crazy. We all got pulled off of our other assignments and were doing work related to the pandemic. On top of being on calls about the pandemic 24/7, I had a newborn at the time, and my other kid was stuck at home and could not go to daycare because of COVID-19. Throughout all the craziness, I always say that it was the most fulfilling experience because I felt like I was actually doing life-or-death work, which is crazy for a political hack! All in all, I can say that it was a memorable experience.
When the County Executive got involved in the Governor’s race, we all got an opportunity to get to know the then-candidate Moore better. When Governor Moore won, I thought I could really contribute to his administration in a way that I was uniquely qualified to do, and I have always loved local government. To me, local government people are just the most wonderful people you will ever meet, so with that, now I am the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Governor Wes Moore and having so much fun!
You’ve noted all these significant positions that you have held, so when you were tapped into the Moore-Miller administration, how did you approach your new leadership position?
My previous work in intergovernmental affairs for Governor O’Malley shaped the approach that I have now to local government, especially since he was also the former Mayor of Baltimore City. Then, of course, when I was with County Executive Alsobrooks, Prince George’s has the most municipalities of any county in the State, and her approach to local government is very much a part of how I do intergovernmental affairs now. As a woman in our workspace, sometimes we doubt ourselves and doubt our qualifications. Still, I felt like I could hit the ground running in this world and thought that it would be really important for the Governor to have our team ready, so I went headstrong and staffed up our team immediately. I thought that would be a really valuable asset to a new Governor, so my approach was just to hit the ground running, and I had very strong opinions about how I wanted to do this and felt very prepared coming in. It also helps that Governor Moore is just such a great person. He loves Mayors, he wants to be everywhere, and everyone we meet is his friend. It’s really not a cliche. He wants us to leave no one behind, so we try to be the boots on the ground all over the State so that his presence is felt and everyone feels like they have a direct link to him and our administration.
What has surprised you the most so far?
Having been in less of an outreach function for the last four years of my career, it hit me quickly when we had a boil water advisory in Western Maryland just a few days after the inauguration. I had only been officially on the job for a few days and was already dealing with a real public health emergency with some of our mayors on the ground. I think, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it’s just the speed at which we were having to really work with our mayors in a true crisis situation that was intense. This was in Allegany County in a very rural area. The mayor in this area that we were working with had not had a governor visit his town for twelve years. So, Governor Moore and I were out there within the first couple weeks of being in office to visit them and pass out water, which was very fulfilling.
You talked a bit about being a woman in a leadership role. Knowing that you are one of the board members of EMERGE Maryland, can you tell us a little bit about that and anything you would like to say to the young women who may be reading this conversation series and interested in pursuing a career in government or politics?
I am very passionate about my involvement in EMERGE Maryland! It is an incredible organization that trains women to run for office and leadership positions. Comptroller Lierman, Frederick County Executive Jessica Fitzwater, and countless elected officials and candidates all over the State are graduates of EMERGE Maryland. To me, we need to continue building the bench here in Maryland for women to run for office, including local government, school boards, and all those great things. That is a real priority of mine and something that I’m very passionate about. Something that I would like to add is that I feel really supported as a woman in leadership in our administration and as a mom. Our cabinet is over 50% female. Because I came from Team Alsobrooks, where all of my bosses were black women and moms when I first started, I wasn’t sure what the vibe would be like for me as a parent of young children on this team, but I have felt nothing but incredibly supported. The Governor always tells us we need to prioritize our families and is constantly modeling that behavior for us.
What initiatives is the administration working on now in the local outreach area? What is Governor Moore doing to bring all parts of the State into the fold?
Our key priority in the first year of our term is to increase communication between the state agencies and local governments to ensure that we are helping them take advantage of various grant opportunities, especially federal grants. We feel it has not happened over the last few years, so we started having regular internal calls to talk with the agencies and help plug them into the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) and Maryland Municipal League (MML). One call for the county and one call for the municipalities where we share grant opportunity information with them and offer resources to help them with their applications. So that’s something I’m very excited about, that we’re starting right away and can make a real difference in the lives of these local governments.
What excites you the most about working for the Moore-Miller administration?
This Governor wants to be everywhere and wants to partner with everyone. There is not a single local elected that I’ve introduced him to that he has not been so warm and kind to and connected with immediately. I would say that the only downside is that he legitimately loves being around people, so it’s difficult sometimes to staff him because he really wants to connect with everyone and hear their stories. What an amazing problem that is to have with your boss! We are so fortunate to have a great principal leading us and also have a lot of opportunities to make Maryland better. That’s what gets me excited about waking up every day.
I truly believe that I have the best job in state government. To me, mayors and county executives, it’s not political, and it’s not about whose team you are on. They all have to make sure the snow is plowed, the trash is picked up, etcetera. For a lot of them, it’s not even a full-time job, but they are just passionate about giving back to their communities, so better connecting them with state government is amazing, and I feel so lucky to have this job.
By: Valerie Skvirsky, Government Relations Associate