State Democratic Party Chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings issued a warning this week: When the House of Delegates elects a new speaker on Wednesday, Democratic members need to unite behind a single candidate for speaker, or else lose access to state party tools and resources.
Cummings was responding to an announcement by House Republicans that they plan to maximize the strength of their 42 votes by uniting behind one of the three Democrats vying for the position.
“A Democratic Speaker who rises to the position because of Republican support will be beholden to Republicans, their agenda and their values,” she wrote in an open letter posted to Facebook on Wednesday. “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.”
The backlash to the letter was immediate.
One of the more prominent responses came from Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. In his own letter on Thursday, he accused Cummings of “bullying” legislators.
The Black Caucus includes 45 members of the House, all Democrats. Barnes implied that caucus members may be more inclined to support one of the two African American candidates for speaker, Economic Matters Chairman Dereck Davis and Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones, over Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh, who is white.
“Although we have made tremendous strides as African-Americans, we have not realized our potential in the Democrat party yet,” he wrote. “As Maryland House Democrats, we may have to break tradition to break the glass ceiling.”
The Democratic caucus plans to vote Wednesday to pick a nominee before the full House convenes, said Caucus Chairman Eric Luedtke.
“The experience in the past has always been that the caucus has voted together, and I would hope and expect that that would continue,” Luedtke said.
He also said what the Republican Caucus is doing — uniting behind a single candidate — is nothing new.
“I think the Republicans are talking up their influence in this to an extent that isn’t really accurate,” he said.
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said House Republicans announced their plan to vote as a block because of obvious divisions within the Democratic Caucus.
“If [Democrats] were all sort of on board with the idea that, yes, whoever wins the caucus vote will get unanimous support, well then, you know, the offer of Republicans voting as a block doesn’t really matter,” Eberly said. “You only make that offer if you think there’s a division you can exploit.”
But House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said voting as a block is simply what Republicans have to do to make sure their voices are heard when the House has more than two Democrats for every Republican.
“We realize that the politics of Maryland are going to be different than what many would prefer in our caucus, but the bottom line is we have an opportunity here to play an important role in selecting Maryland’s next speaker,” Kipke said.
Kipke plans to make a recommendation to the full Republican Caucus on Wednesday based on his conversations with the candidates.
And after seeing Barnes’ letter on behalf of the Black Caucus, Kipke said he also hopes to speak with Barnes ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
To win, Jones, Davis or McIntosh needs 71 votes — more than 50 percent of the chamber. The Democratic Caucus, if united, carries 98 votes.
In an interview earlier this week, McIntosh said she has nearly 60 votes in the Democratic caucus, more than enough to win the Democrats’ nomination.
“I would never, ever, ever run for this position if I didn't feel that I had sufficient minority support,” McIntosh said. “At this point we believe — and I'm fairly certain — that about a third of the black caucus supports me."
All three of the candidates would be historic picks. Jones or Davis would be the first non-white speaker; Jones or McIntosh would be the first female speaker; and McIntosh would be the first gay speaker.