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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Md. Legislative Black Caucus pushes back on Democratic Party threat on speaker election

The leader of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus fired back at the head of the state Democratic Party, saying the organization may need to break with tradition to shatter the glass ceiling for black lawmakers in leadership.

Del. Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s, in a letter to Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said it was “distressing that our party leader chose to threaten our members with punishments for being bold enough to do something different to get historic results.”

Del. Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George's County and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Del. Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s County and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Rockeymoore Cummings issued an open letter to House Democrats, demanding the 98 members vote for the caucus nominee for speaker of the House at a May 1 special session.  The letter threatened punishments, including blocking access to state party resources, for any member who votes for another candidate.

The letter was seen by Barnes and other members of the Legislative Black Caucus as a threat directed at them. The 45-member caucus is said to be considering backing Del. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, to succeed Michael Busch, who died earlier this month.

Barnes chastised Rockeymoore Cummings, saying “the act of bullying or threatening others is unacceptable! As the leader of the state’s Democratic Party, you set the tone for how our party carries itself.”

Rockeymoore Cummings, in a late afternoon call with reporters, said the letter has been misinterpreted.

Rockeymoore Cummings said the memo focused on two separate but linked issues including making sure “we are taking of the speakership with a majority of Democratic Caucus votes. That we can make sure the next speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates is someone who basically stands for Democratic values, policies and issues in a way that is not compromised.”

She said it would diminish the power of the Democrats in the legislature if “the outcome was one that focused on where the person winning the vote wins it with Republican votes.”

Also included in the memo was concerns about the actions in the 2018 general election by Democrats who used party resources to support Republicans including Gov. Larry Hogan.

“I wanted to make sure Democrats are very clear that the resources of the Democratic Party cannot be used in the general election to actually support a non Democratic candidate,” she said, adding the party has “some leverage” and that she was “making it clear we will not tolerate that kind of behavior.”

Rockeymoore Cummings said interpretations of the letter as a “veiled threat or direct threat” concerning Democratic candidates pursuing Republican votes to become speaker were based on a misunderstanding.

“The two were actually disconnected,” she said.

“In the speaker of the House of Delegates scenario, they are not actually using other resources of the party in order to pursue their objective so that is a different scenario,” said Rockeymoore Cummings, adding she is not “presupposing what the outcome of the election should be.”

Some lawmakers questioned the missive’s audience saying Rockeymoore Cummings could have addressed her concerns over an election held six months ago directly with what is likely a relatively small number of Democrats who “may have tiptoed on the line of what is acceptable.”

In theory, all 141 members of the House of Delegates elect the speaker. In reality, the party in control — in this case Democrats, who hold a slightly more than 2-1 advantage over Republicans — choose the nominee. For nearly two decades that was Busch.

Rockeymoore Cummings expressed concerns that that a large block of Democrats, such as the black caucus, could join with the 42 members of the Republican caucus and elect a nominee other than one put forth by the Democratic caucus.

“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.

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

“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.”

The chairwoman said any Democrat who becomes the next speaker will likely need a majority of Democrats to ensure their win is considered credible “and build their power credibly.”

“If that were to happen, that’s what happens,” said Rockeymoore Cummings. “Republcans are free to vote for who they want to vote for. At the same time I am just calling on and basicallly asking each of the persons in the speakers race to make sure they win with a majority Democratic (caucus) vote.”

Rockeymoore Cummings told reporters she didn’t regret linking the two issues in one memorandum. She said she spoke to Barnes earlier in the afternoon in an

In her phone call, Rockeymoore Cummings said the sanctions mentioned were directed at concerns about Democrats who used party resources to help Republicans including Hogan.

Included in the list of complaints she said she received were Democrats who sent General Election mailings featuring Hogan’s image.

A Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee controlled by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. sent one such mailing featuring Hogan and Democratic Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, whose district was considered to be a battleground for Republicans.

Rockeymoore Cummings acknowledged that the mailing for Klausmeier was an example of a concern brought to her attention and in the future could lead to party sanctions.

Rockeymoore Cummings and other legislative Democrats want to bind Democrats in the House to the winner of the internal caucus election — something they say is tradition.

“While acknowledging your issues, we have not wavered or diverted from our mission goals,” wrote Barnes. “The Black Caucus has stood firmly with the Democratic Caucus promoting Democratic values through our votes on Democratic Caucus legislation. Simultaneously, we have remained strong and consistent in our representation of our African American communities.”

The contest for speaker is the first since Busch ascended to the role in 2003.

Barnes and others say the letter attempts to put a thumb on the scales and tilt the election in favor of another candidate — Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. McIntosh is considered a leading candidate for the rostrum, along with Davis.

McIntosh, if elected, would become the first woman and openly gay member of the House to become speaker.

Del. Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County and speaker pro tem, is also a candidate for the position.

Davis, if elected speaker, would become the first African American to hold the position in state history. Similarly, Jones could become the first black woman to be speaker.

“Although we have made tremendous strides as African-Americans, we have not realized our full potential in the Democratic Party yet,” wrote Barnes. “If not now, when?”




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