The head of Maryland’s Democratic Party is making the selection of the next leader of the House of Delegates a party call and threatening to cut off delegates who buck her mandate.
The open letter to the 98-member House Democratic Caucus from Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, suggests that the race to succeed the late speaker, Michael Busch, continues to be close. The leader of the state party told Democrats that they should not split votes and allow Republicans the ability to decide the next leader.
“The Speaker of the House of Delegates carries a lot of power,” Rockeymoore Cummings wrote in her letter. “S/he appoints committee chairs who determine how legislation is developed and whether it is advanced, sets the policy and political agenda for the full body, and schedules the matters to be taken up on the House floor. A Democratic Speaker who rises to the position because of Republican support will be beholden to Republicans, their agenda and their values. This outcome would not only hurt the Democratic Party, it would diminish the power of Democratic legislators and their ability to represent the values and the will of Democratic voters across a range of important issues.”
Some members of the Legislative Black Caucus reacted with shock and anger.
“This is a veiled threat to the Legislative Black Caucus,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore and immediate past chairwoman of the black caucus. “In all my tenure I have never seen the Democratic Party insert itself in an internal legislative election.”
Del. Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s and current chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, was not immediately available.
Three main contenders have emerged for speaker: Dels. Dereck Davis, D- Prince George’s and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee; Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County and speaker pro tem; and Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.
All three represent historical firsts should they be elected speaker.
Davis could become the first black speaker of the House and the first from Prince George’s County since 1962.
Jones would become the first woman and first black member to lead the chamber. She also would be the first from Baltimore County since Gordon Boone briefly held the gavel in 1963.
McIntosh would become the first woman and first openly gay leader of the House as well as the first from Baltimore since former Gov. Marvin Mandel in the 1969.
McIntosh and Davis are considered to be the main contenders, with McIntosh reportedly securing commitments from approximately 50 or so members of the Democratic caucus.
The black caucus, which has 45 members, is said to be considering throwing its support behind Davis. Republicans, with their 42 members, could tilt the odds in Davis’ favor should they move to support his candidacy.
“I have not made any deals with anyone, Democrats or Republicans,” said Davis. “This is all just political talk.”
“No matter who is elected, it will be a Democrat,” said Davis. “It seems we’re more interested in electing a preferred Democrat than a Democrat.”
Davis said Rockeymoore Cummings’ letter was “an overreach” and that the party was placing its thumb on the scale.
“The party should stick to electing more Democrats and raising money to help Democrats and let elected officials decide who is going to lead them,” said Davis. “Elected officials answer to the people in their districts who elect them.”
The edict from Rockeymoore Cummings, who is black, has touched a racial nerve among some members of the House, including Davis and Glenn.
“It’s never our time,” said Davis. “We’re good enough to be No. 2 or No. 3 but not No. 1.”
Davis said he was focusing on winning the Democratic caucus vote as well as the black caucus, women’s caucus and even Republicans.
“I don’t want to be the speaker of a subset of the House,” said Davis. “I want to be the speaker of the House.”
By rule, the entire House of Delegates selects the leader of the House. In practice, it is the majority party — in this case Democrats — who typically decide.
The General Assembly is set to return to Annapolis on May 1 to pick a new leader.
Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said last week that Democrats should be bound to the vote of the caucus when the vote for speaker comes to the floor.
Rockeymoore Cummings, in her letter, said the party would punish Democrats who go their own way on a floor vote.
“Because the scenarios outlined above (and several more not yet articulated) conflict with our core principles and diminish our ability to achieve our goals, the Maryland Democratic Party is prepared to penalize (e.g. deny access to party tools and resources, charge a higher premium for services, etc.) any elected official who is caught using Party resources to promote Republican candidates and/or who work to block the ascension of Democratic nominees duly elected through official Democratic processes and procedures,” she wrote.
“If officials deemed in violation of Party principles receive access to the tools and resources of the Maryland Democratic Party indirectly through leadership organizations, these organizations will be held to the same standards and penalties. More detailed guidelines explaining how and under what circumstances party penalties will be deployed are forthcoming.”
Glenn said the letter offended her and that the black caucus should hold an emergency meeting to discuss possible reactions to the letter.
“I’ve been a team player for 13 years. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat,” said Glenn. “I’m certainly offended by the tone of this letter. I, for one, am not going to be threatened.”