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A divided Democratic Party turns to Jones as its next House speaker

House Speaker Adrienne Jones smiles after being elected the first woman and first black lawmaker to win the office during a special session on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in Annapolis, Maryland. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

House Speaker Adrienne Jones smiles after being elected the first woman and first black lawmaker to win the office during a special session on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in Annapolis, Maryland. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

ANNAPOLIS — Del. Adrienne Jones was not supposed to be speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates.

Less than a week ago, Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, withdrew her name from consideration as the contest between Dels. Dereck Davis and Maggie McIntosh heated up. Instead, she backed Davis and called for the Legislative Black Caucus to unify behind the Prince George’s County delegate.

But Wednesday afternoon a tearful Jones emerged from the caucus room after five hours of internal party wranglings with unanimous support of her party. A compromise choice, she nonetheless had made history — the first African American and the first woman to be the leader of the House.

“I didn’t think I’d be here this time when I left out my house this morning,” said Jones.

Jones emerged as a consensus choice, ultimately recommended by Davis and McIntosh, after five hours of closed-door meetings by a deeply divided 98-member House Democratic Caucus that featured multiple votes. McIntosh, with nearly 60 votes, could win the caucus nomination. Davis, however, could leave the caucus room with what appeared to be enough support from Democrats and a pledge of unanimous support from the 42-member Republican Caucus.

Jones praised Davis and McIntosh, who nominated her on the floor, for putting the Democratic Party over their own personal goals.

“They saw the importance of us as a caucus coming together,” said Jones. “For that, I am truly grateful.”

Jones wasn’t the only legislator who wept. McIntosh teared up as she spoke briefly to reporters following the caucus vote.

Del. Maggie McIntosh speaks on Wednesday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Del. Maggie McIntosh speaks on Wednesday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

“My goal was to get somebody to 71 (votes),” said McIntosh. “I feel extraordinarily proud to have played a role.”

By rule, the entire House elects a leader, but the nomination typically is controlled by the majority party.

“It’s all good,” said McIntosh, who only 24 hours earlier had expressed confidence that the speaker’s job would be hers. “She’s going to be great.”

Jones is not a stranger to the rostrum, having served as speaker pro tem since 2003. She becomes the first woman and first black speaker — a position that will one day mean her portrait will hang on the wall of a chamber that is lined with official portraits of other leaders of the House. All of those are white men.

“These walls will never be the same,” said McIntosh as she nominated Jones on the House floor.

The selection of Jones capped a contentious, nearly month-long battle that was more public than any in recent memory. It featured lobbying by outside groups, and the head of the state Democratic Party threatened Democratic lawmakers with electoral retribution if they engaged in a floor fight.

Wednesday’s election differed from years past when the chamber was lead by Michael Busch, the longest-serving speaker in Maryland history.

Busch’s death in early April quickly pitted his top lieutenants — Davis and McIntosh — against each other for the job. The pair had been laying the groundwork for the better part of two years predating Busch’s liver transplant in 2017. Jones, who served in Busch’s stead while he was hospitalized for the pneumonia to which he ultimately succumbed, expressed an interest in the role but later withdrew.

McIntosh, the House Appropriations Committee chairwoman, was seeking her own historical moment. Had she been elected, she would have been the first woman and first openly gay person to lead the chamber. Similarly, Davis, D-Prince George’s and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, would have become the first African American to lead the House.

Del. Dereck Davis listens on Wednesday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Del. Dereck Davis listens on Wednesday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Davis and McIntosh found themselves locked in a stalemate over their top two choices.

Del. Talmadge Branch, who supported Davis and was counting votes for the Prince George’s Democrat, said the caucus was divided.

“Not just the Democratic caucus but some of the women’s caucus and the black caucus was divided,” said Branch.

That division led to Davis and McIntosh attempting to broker a deal between themselves.

“They weren’t able to reach an agreement,” said Del. Al Carr, D-Montgomery. “After a lot of discussion, we came to the conclusion that the only person who could get 71 votes — the vote was ultimately unanimous — was Adrienne. It was very emotional. I was moved to tears.”

Del. Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, still seemed emotional following the vote for Jones on the floor. He declined to speak to a reporter.

“I’m not in the mood to talk,” Barnes said.

Before Jones’ reemergence, Branch said his vote counting was favoring a Davis win.

“We were delighted with the outcome (of the vote count),” said Branch. “We thought we’d have to come over here and allow the (House) to cast whatever votes they may have had.”

Davis, like McIntosh, also appeared disconsolate at times after the vote.

“You could tell by the look on Dereck’s face that he was about to grab the brass ring but also about to fracture the party in ways never seen before,” said one lawmaker close to Davis.

Before the full House vote, facing the likelihood that Davis would be chosen speaker, largely by virtue of Republican support, and that the party’s first choice, McIntosh, would be defeated, Democrats engaged in an emotional and prolonged closed-door caucus.

Outside, activists, including some unions and progressive groups, joined reporters in filling a lobby in the House office building. The groups earlier had engaged in a lobbying effort of sorts aimed at blocking Davis from taking his fight to the floor. The state Democratic Party Chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings issued a letter threatening Democrats who would elect a speaker with the help of Republicans. Rockeymoore Cummings a day later tried to soften the letter, saying any threat was misinterpreted by members of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Across the hall from where Democrats were meeting, Republicans met to decide whether to support Davis or McIntosh. The decision appeared to come down to a discussion of personal relationships and how Republicans would be treated.

“Adrienne has a track record of fairness, inclusiveness and not being a partisan, which is what we were hoping would be the outcome in this election,” said Kipke.

The votes of the Republicans would be enough to elect Davis. It would also raise the hackles of hard-line progressive Democrats and their supporters who questioned the legitimacy of a majority party speaker elected in such a fashion.

The Republican leader acknowledged concerns of others in his party about how they would be treated by the majority if McIntosh won. And while he didn’t name McIntosh, others said it was a big reason why many in his party sided with Davis.

“In our caucus we had people who were supportive of the different candidates but some of the mean-spirited partisan things made it very difficult for us to vote for anyone but Dereck Davis, in the end,” said Kipke. “There was name-calling by some of the partisan groups and some legislators who were supporting one of the candidates. Some of them had some poorly chosen words in their statements and social media and op-eds, and it was highly offensive to members of the caucus.”

Branch, the House majority whip, said Jones’ ascendance to the rostrum also ends the possibility of revisiting the fight in January. By rule the House elects its speaker each year. Branch ruled out a chance that there would be a fight over the role in 2020 as there could have been should Davis or McIntosh won.

“This was a healing moment,” said Branch. “She (Jones) was the magnet that drew everything back together in this compromise.”





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