Black Speaker candidates just made history more likely

The political path forward just became even more rocky for Rockeymoore

Earlier this morning, two democratic candidates vying to become Maryland’s next Speaker of the House came together to unify the politics of the African American community. Delegate Adrienne Jones and Delegate Dereck Davis – two high ranking African American elected officials – worked out a compromise that will see Delegate Jones suspend her bid to become Speaker, instead supporting her colleague Delegate Davis’ bid to become the state’s first African American Speaker.

The contest, which also includes Delegate Maggie McIntosh – a democratic delegate from Baltimore City – will be held next week during a Special Session called on by the Governor in order to fill the void left by Speaker Michael Busch’s passing the night before the end of the 90-day session. This recent development also allows for the 45-members of the state’s legislative black caucus to remain unified behind one candidate in their quest at making history next week.

Earlier this week, the chairwoman of Maryland’s Democratic Party, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore-Cummings, ruffled a few feathers when she sent out a scathing memo to members threatening any member who chose to try and become speaker by accepting the 42-votes of the House’s minority party. This statement was immediately rebuked by the chairman and members of the MD Black Caucus, who sent out their own statement blasting the party leader’s actions as bully tactics that won’t work.

“It is distressing that our party leader chose to threaten our members with punishments for being bold enough to do something different to get historic results,” the letter stated. “We may have to break with tradition in order to break the glass ceiling.” Rockeymoore-Cummings, who is African American, won her own stunning election last year when she defeated the party establishment’s leader Kathleen Matthews – who was popular amongst the party elite and had come off of a fairly successful campaign cycle.

However, Maya aligned herself with the left-wing of the party filled with progressive union officials looking to “shake things up” with a leader who wouldn’t operate in the same fashion as the political elite. These operatives were tired of their party leaders putting their thumb on the scales of justice and operating behind closed doors to get people elected to positions of leadership without the support or input of the overall body.

After winning the race, she sat down with Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater and said that her goal was to “strengthen the party apparatus in a way where all stakeholders feel supported”. However it seems if that goal came to a crashing halt over the past few days, after the memo caused many elected democratic members to question her true motives in sending out this oddly timed letter.

Rumors began circulating weeks ago that although Delegate McIntosh seemed to have the majority of votes within the 99-member democratic caucus, it appeared that Davis could possibly receive the speakership even if losing the vote within the democratic caucus by receiving the votes of the 42 members of the House GOP, coupled with the membership of the Black Caucus, which would certainly put him over the 71-vote threshold needed to become the next Speaker of the House.

So when black members realized that while the majority of the 99-democratic House members may have already aligned themselves with McIntosh – who would also make history as the first openly gay female to hold the position – they began calculating how they could possibly garner the support of the 42-members of the House Republicans to add on to the support they had within their own party. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise since it is basic mathematics; use every bloc of voters you can obtain in order to get to the win number necessary for victory. In fact, it’s how each of the 141-members of the House got elected to their seat in the first place.)

The problem is, business as usual in Annapolis has always seen the winner of the vote within the democratic caucus become the candidate that succeeds as Speaker, since Democrats have retained control of these chambers for the past 100-years, which was the last time Maryland had a Republican House Speaker (Herbert Wooden, 1918). But the problem with this scenario is, the position at stake isn’t the Speaker of the Democratic Caucus. The position of Speaker is to serve over the entire body of legislators, both democrats and republicans alike. So it makes sense that the minority party has a say in whom they feel could best serve in the capacity of Speaker, regardless of their political values. Also, Speaker Busch often had the unanimous support of the GOP over the past few elections, because they had grown fond of the man who served admirably over the entire body, giving every member – regardless of party affiliation – the opportunity to express their concerns and differences.

But to prevent this from happening, Rockeymoore-Cummings threatened members that if any of them decided to go against the wishes of the democratic caucus, that they would in fact be penalized by the party in such a fashion that they could be prohibited to access the party’s voter database or have to pay a higher premium for the party’s powerful database and apparatus. But Black Caucus chairman Delegate Darryl Barnes, who represents the same district as Delegate Davis, said that the caucus may have to break with tradition in order to break the glass ceiling.

Members said that it appears as if Rockeymoore-Cummings seems to be more aligned with the progressive movement who helped get her elected last year – who seem to be pushing for the selection of Delegate McIntosh – than the African Americans who helped get her elected. They pointed to an event that took place just the other day, where the leader of the Democratic Party, along with her trusted Executive Director Ben Smith, made a trip down to Caroline County as a part of their “listening tour”; and were joined by the constituent service manager of Delegate McIntosh – a Baltimore City representative who would have no interest in Caroline County politics unless her boss were elected Speaker next week. (They also noted that this same aide also donated several times to Rockeymoore’s gubernatorial bid just over a year ago.)

One member of the black caucus laughed at the prospect of a non-elected Party leader threatening an elected member of office, stating that most African Americans and democrats don’t get “diddly crap” from the party during election time other than empty promises and headaches. And they had choice words for certain political operatives working with the union who made threats in other publications that no democrat is safe who votes with a speaker candidate supported by the GOP.

“How can you call yourself a progressive while working behind the scenes to ensure your candidate gets in based on your own personal politics or lifestyle choices, but condemn us for doing the exact same thing,” they questioned. “To me, it appears as if they are operating off of a personal agenda while using the influence of their employer, which has nothing to do with the values of their organization. And as a longtime union official myself, I find it sad and appalling.”

Several members of the black caucus suggested to me that they could care less about the empty threats made against them by the party or the unions, and will continue to work within their caucus, as well as with the members of the minority party, to ensure that the next Speaker of the House is African American.

“Just because we gain the support of the GOP, does not mean that the Speaker who garnered that support will somehow become a Trump conservative overnight; and to suggest otherwise is an outright lie. Just call it what it is, your attempt at pushing your leftist agenda down our throats while ensuring we do as we are told, which is the same elitist mentality this chairwoman was supposed to be fighting to undo when she ran for the position less than a year ago.”

Delegate Davis did respond to a question earlier this morning, ensuring that he had no plans of empowering the Republican Party by appointing them to powerful chairmanship or vice-chairmanship positions, if he is elected speaker. But he did say that a contested election for speaker, as opposed to a coronation, is good for the party, as well as for the body itself. So if Davis does receive the unified vote of the GOP, as well as garnering the vote of either all, or ¾, of the black caucus members; he will in fact become Maryland’s first African American Speaker of the House next week. Either way, DMVDaily will be there to report on the vote LIVE!

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