A coalition of mostly progressive groups are asking leading candidates to become the next speaker of the House of Delegates to commit to a number of changes in how the chamber functions.
The coalition, led by the ACLU of Maryland, is seeking a promise that the next speaker — and her or his top lieutenants — promise to serve no more than eight years as well promote transparency in the legislative process and expand leadership roles for more members of the chamber. Organizers said their survey is meant to inform legislators and the public on how the new speaker — the first since 2003 — will govern the 141-member chamber.
“We’re not trying to pick a specific person,” said Caylin Young, public policy counsel for the ACLU of Maryland. “We simply want to give the public and legislators information and get (the candidates for speaker) on the record.”
The civil rights organization is partnering with 16 other groups, including 1199 SEIU, NAACP Maryland State Conference, Casa de Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.
The questionnaire focuses on three areas, including a transparent and accessible legislative process as well as a “decentralization of power in the House.” Advocacy groups are calling for the next speaker to limit watering down bills with amendments from other bills on the same subject that would otherwise fail. They also want assurances that the House will move to make voting sessions — where bills are finalized — more accessible to the public via live-streaming and to require the identification of lawmakers who offer amendments in committee.
While the voting sessions are open to the public they are not live-streamed. Lobbyists and activists, by tradition more than rule, tend to not sit in committees when their bills are voted on. Many will tell or repeat stories they’ve heard about bills killed in committee because a lobbyist or activist was present during a voting session.
“We’ve spent many a day outside a committee room,” Young said, speaking of members of the coalition. “It’s in voting sessions where the tough work is done and that information is inaccessible to members of the public who aren’t in Annapolis every day and don’t have access to the committee rooms.”
Young also said the next speaker should be willing to prevent lawmakers from holding multiple leadership positions and commit to limiting their tenure and that of their committee chairs to no more than eight years.
“It’s the most specific ask,” said Young. “It’s kind of a term limit. This is a democracy. We don’t want a political aristocracy, a political class that will be running things for years.”
The questionnaire is due Wednesday — a week before lawmakers are scheduled to return to Annapolis for a special session in which a new leader of the House will be selected after the death of Michael Busch, the longest-serving speaker of the House in state history.
“It’s an unusual thing,” Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said of the questionnaire. “But really it’s such a rarity to have a change at the top in Maryland.”
Busch served as speaker since 2003. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has served as his chamber’s leader since 1987 and is the longest serving Senate president in Maryland history and in the country.
The House, which is arguably the most progressive in history, has been subject of complaints by some members who see leadership as too slow in moving on issues such as minimum wage or social justice and the environment.
“There is a sense among progressives that their issues are running up against an institutional establishment that is trying to find that middle ground or middle temperament,” said Eberly.
Three candidates — Dels. Dereck Davis, 51, D-Prince George’s and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee; Adrienne Jones, 64, D-Baltimore County and House speaker pro tem; and Maggie McIntosh, 71, D-Baltimore city and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee — are all seeking to become the next leader of the chamber.
All three are well-known in the legislature, having each held office for more than two decades. Any of the three, if elected, would represent a historic milestone in Maryland political history.
McIntosh last week issued a public statement saying she would focus on progressive issues if she became speaker.
By rule, the entire House will vote on a new leader but, in practice, the 97 members of the Democratic Caucus will likely decide who succeeds Busch.
“The next speaker has an incredible opportunity to improve transparency to achieve that goal. Marylanders deserve a government that is open, honest, accessible and committed to advancing racial and social justice,” said Ricarra Jones, political director for 1199 SEIU.