The next Speaker should be one of substance, not style

The history of the speakership in Maryland dates back to February of 1777, following the state’s 1776 Constitutional Convention, where Maryland’s first Speaker of the House was selected from the county he founded, Montgomery County. Delegate Thomas Wooton, who a year prior to being selected by his colleagues as the state’s first Speaker, introduced legislation that broke Frederick County into three counties, Frederick, Washington and Montgomery – which was the first counties in the nation to be established by elected representatives.

Since its inception, Maryland has had a total of 106 gentlemen to have served as Speaker of the MD House of Delegates. Over the past 242 years, we’ve witnessed several different term limits on the number of years one could serve as Speaker, from one year to two years to now indefinitely; as well as a long list of farmers, former military and businessmen selected to serve in this role. But what we have yet to see happen to-date is the election of an African American or a female to this powerful position – which is guaranteed to happen this year with the election of three highly qualified candidates vying for the seat.

The selection between Prince George’s County Delegate Dereck Davis, Baltimore City Delegate Maggie McIntosh and Baltimore County Delegate Adrienne Jones will certainly tear apart the fabric of the democratic establishment, as each have long histories of distinguished service to their party, and have developed lasting relationships with the other members that serve in this distinguished body. But there can only be one winner, and the other 138 members of the House (excluding these three who will certainly vote for themselves) should carefully weigh the future of this state, and its politics, before casting their vote next month.

Here’s the dynamics that many will look at:

The process in selecting a Speaker usually transpires within the confines of the House’s Democratic Caucus, which is currently made up of 99-members. Of those ninety-nine, 45 votes belong to members of the Legislative Black Caucus, if they vote in unison, which is highly doubtful. Each candidate comes from a different region who would certainly like to see someone from their delegation ascend to the throne of power. Prince George’s County and Delegate Davis would have the advantage here, given their 23-members. And while Baltimore County has just as many members, only fifteen of those twenty-three are Democrats, which would be to the disadvantage of Delegate Jones. The city’s caucus has as many members as the Democrats that come from Baltimore County, fifteen; which leaves this dynamic in favor of Delegate Davis.

Now, if the three-way race breaks down along racial and geographical lines, we could see either Davis or Jones gaining a winnable majority, especially if they can garner 20-30 of the black caucus members, and 90% or more of their county delegation. But we could also see a divided black caucus, half with Jones and the other half with Davis, leaving an opportunity for McIntosh to take full advantage of. However, given that the city’s House delegation is made up of 11 African American members, who could decide to choose race over region, that could seriously hurt the chances of the chairwoman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

We also have the dynamic of a unified minority party, who have never historically been given the opportunity to sway the vote on who will become their next Speaker. But given the opportunity to turn their 42-votes into gold, they could very well ensure that the victor of the democratic caucus vote is short lived. It never made sense to me why members of the powerful black caucus never formed a stronger alliance with the state’s Republican Party, which would ensure passage of anything they deemed fit; but this is one opportunity that can change all that.

Members of the minority party never get to serve as chair or vice-chair of any standing committee or sub-committee in the House chambers, which tends to go contrary to the checks and balances process of a two-party system. But given that they can effectively select the next leader of the House, this could be the moment that all that changes – or not! It seems as if whoever loses the democratic caucus vote would have to have a strong contingency of supporters willing to buck the party line and vote in unison with the GOP to ensure their candidate succeeds. And that’s a lot of ifs to consider.

It is more likely that whoever wins the vote within the democratic caucus will have the assurances of the other two candidates that they won’t try to pull a political coup with the opposing party – or else suffer the wrath of the democratic establishment. And given that neither of the three candidates seem to have ever been political mavericks willing to stand on principle, even when it directly conflicts with their party, I doubt it’s something that will happen on May 1st.

Now of course we can go on and on regarding the voting possibilities, and who can promise what and how each member can get to that magical win number; but the question is, what quality do these delegates want from their next Speaker of the House? The late, great Speaker Michael Busch never allowed the office to inflate his ego or dilute his sense of purpose when it came to presiding over a diverse body of men and women who at times acted like children. He remained diligent and steadfast in his quest of ensuring that the constitution of this great state was upheld, regardless of the political will to go contrary to the roughly 26,000 words that guarantee many of the freedoms we enjoy today.

And the question that every member should be asking themselves when deciding on which delegate they should support, shouldn’t be about race, gender, sexual orientation, geographical region or even personal gain; but rather who, of those willing to serve at the pleasure of their colleagues, can lead with dignity and grace while serving as a substantive Speaker rather than a polarizing “progressive”. The next Speaker of the House should be one that chooses substance over style, willing to put their personal politics aside as they govern a body that covers twenty-four jurisdictions as politically diverse as a gay, African American, conservative immigrant who voted for Obama and Trump.

In politics, there are typically two approaches taken by those representing the interests of their constituents, style and substance. Some have mastered both, though most tend to reflect one or the other. Style is more concerned with the outward appearance of the brand they have crafted to get them elected to office, while substance tends to focus more on the value of the work getting done, than on the perception of those watching from afar. Speaker Busch was more of the substantive kind of Speaker, less flashy and concerned about his own personal politics and more concerned with the end results rather than the theory.

The stylish approach is less concerned with how it gets done, and more focused on the appearance of the process, choosing to sell the sizzle and not the sausage. Whereas the substantive approach adds benefit to those they serve, focusing on the functional value of the body rather than the slick approach of the parts. It appears as if Delegate McIntosh, while substantive in her approach to governing, seems to embody the far-left ideals and values that will fight tooth and nail to make the body more “progressive” instead of allowing for its members to reach that goal on their own.

Delegate Davis on the other hand appears to be the more stylish representative, wanting to appear a reliable liberal, but always allowing his conservative nature to interfere with the image he has built for those less familiar with his body of work. Delegate Jones, though certainly not a stylish leader per say, does have the ability to merge a stylish approach to her substantive nature given her the perfect mix of political persuasion that will fit well when trying to govern a body that can be at times both crass and primitive.

In my opinion, Adrienne Jones is the leader the House needs at this time to be the balance between a state senate that became more progressively left-leaning since last years election, and a moderately conservative executive branch; both looking to create policies that benefit a state with an electorate that tends to be more fiscally conservative, yet socially liberal. While Delegate Jones has been a stalwart Speaker Pro-Tem during the sixteen years of the Busch regime, she should avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes and getting lost in his shadows (Law #41), but rather assure her colleagues that if elected, she will lay the foundation for her own pathway forward.

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