The speakers race and other progressive politics

By: Richard Deshay Elliott

When 15-year veteran of the House Speakership Delegate Mike Busch (D-30) passed away on Sine Die Eve, the grieving was nearly unanimous. Almost immediately thereafter, the longtime whisper campaign for Speaker turned into a battle of votes. The Chair of Appropriations (Maggie McIntosh, D-43), Chair of Economic Matters (Dereck Davis, D-25), & Speaker Pro Tempore (Adrienne Jones, D-10) have all announced their candidacies. Now, Jones & Davis are having a meeting to “form an alliance” and unite around a sole candidate, following Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings demanding that Democrats follow the vote of the Democratic Caucus on May 1st or face increased costs for party services.

While McIntosh is purported to have the votes to get the endorsement of the Democratic Caucus, that is no guarantee for her to become Speaker. Progressive groups are demanding that Dem delegates support the choice of the Democratic Caucus, as there are murmurs that Republicans may form a bloc to support a candidate a la the IDC in New York’s Senate. There is no precedent nor reason to build a coalition government with a Democratic supermajority.

At present, the Speaker of the House picks the Committee Chairs, the leadership, and sets the legislative agenda for Maryland House Democrats. It is a very powerful position with almost no democratic accountability. With the first opportunity to elect a House Speaker in over a decade, Maryland Democratic voters deserve increased transparency & democratization within their Caucus. These are demands of our next Speaker.

Term limits for House Speaker & other leadership positions

Mike Busch was Speaker for over 15 years. He oversaw a rapid transition where there are now multiple democratic socialists within the Democratic Caucus. He saw the power centers completely change. And there’s no reason any other Delegate should be in charge of the rodeo for that long ever again. The House Speaker is particularly powerful and should be voted on each session, with 8 year term limits for all future House Speakers and Committee Chairs.

Democratize the Caucus

Currently, the Speaker picks the Majority Leader, Majority Whip, Chair of the Democratic Caucus, and the Committee Chairs. Why aren’t these positions elected within the Caucus? Would Joe Vallario (D-23) have been the Committee Chair of House Judiciary for over 30 years if the position was elected within the Caucus? Shouldn’t party positions be switched up with regularity to help build our bench for the future? The author supports the following people for these positions:

  • Adrienne Jones (Baltimore County) OR Maggie McIntosh (Baltimore City), Speaker
  • Debra Davis (Charles County), Speaker Pro Tempore
  • Julian Ivey (Prince George’s), Deputy Speaker Pro Tempore
  • Erek Barron (Prince George’s), Majority Leader
  • Melissa Wells (Baltimore City), Deputy Majority Leader
  • Stephanie Smith (Baltimore City), Majority Whip
  • David Moon (Montgomery), Chair of the Democratic Caucus
  • Charles Sydnor (Baltimore County), Judiciary Chair
  • Shelly Hettleman (Baltimore County) OR Gabriel Acevero (Montgomery), Appropriations Chair
  • Lorig Charkoudian (Montgomery), Economic Matters Chair
  • Steve Lafferty (Baltimore County) OR Vaughn Stewart (Montgomery), Environment & Transportation Chair
  • Joseline Peña-Melnyk (Prince George’s) OR Robbyn Lewis (Baltimore City), Health & Government Operations Chair
  • Alonzo Washington (Prince George’s) OR Jheanelle Wilkins (Montgomery), Ways and Means Chair

More Transparent Process

The Speaker’s race has been a whisper campaign among Democratic insiders for years. Most voters don’t know who occupies the position, let alone what they do. Why isn’t there a public forum every year to ensure that the Speaker hears from Democratic voters all over the state, rather than just special interests? This race needs visibility especially because it is often chosen by whoever can donate the most to other elected officials. Both McIntosh and Davis have been campaign transfers to other elected officials for years, specifically to curry favor for the Speaker’s race.

The Speaker doesn’t just represent the Democratic Caucus in Annapolis. They need to represent Democratic voters and democratic values.

Diversify the Speaker’s Staff

When speaking with elected officials about working with the Speaker’s office over the past few years, one name is always mentioned: Alexandra Hughes. Hughes worked for Busch since he became Speaker and has been noted for her ability to hold a grudge and strike back at legislators. This was specifically mentioned this year in regards to HB1052, stripping the Comptroller’s Office of alcohol and tobacco regulatory ability. The next Speaker should replace Ms. Hughes with a staffer who has better relationships with other delegates and ensure that their staffing looks like our state.

Restructure Ethics Enforcement in Annapolis

If this year didn’t show it, none ever will. Annapolis is a town of partying politicians as much as it a town of legislative activity. Rumors abound of married legislators cheating on their spouses (often with other elected officials and lobbyists). Sexual harassment and sexual assault. Pay-for-play.  An “omerta” culture. And nothing can be done about it unless enforcing ethics is de-politicized and in the hands of independent actors, not elected officials.

Turning State Senate President & House Speaker into Statewide Elected Positions

In Maryland politics, State Senator Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. has been the most powerful elected official for decades, even though voters have no clue who he is. The positions of State Senate President and House Speaker are both so powerful in a state with guaranteed super majorities that we should consider making them statewide positions. With a rapidly changing Maryland Democratic Party, what is a better way to ensure that the leadership is following the demands of voters?

Improve Press Accessibility in Annapolis

 Stop and think about how many news sources we have in this state. The Sun, Washington Post, the Capital Gazette, the Daily Record, & a smattering of well-written blogs that go straight to email like DMVDaily News and Maryland Matters. Prince George’s County, larger than several states, has no weekly newspaper dedicated specifically to local issues. Now that the House and Senate are beginning livestreams, we need to ensure that Marylanders can hear what is happening in Annapolis and how it relates to their day-to-day lives. The next Speaker should be committed to opening up Annapolis to press.

 Expel “Delegate” Mary Ann Lisanti

If you haven’t heard what Delegate Lisanti said, just Google her. Mary Ann Lisanti is a lame duck legislator who, as of last session, had no committee nor subcommittee assignments. She can’t represent her district n Annapolis. She’s been asked to resign by dozens of organizations.

She has no plans to resign yet is still being paid and has an office and staff. She should be expelled for not just her disrespectful language, but her lack of concern for the decorum of office is disruptive to Annapolis.

Encode Unionization, Ballot Initiatives, & Recall Elections in the Maryland Constitution

This past session, Speaker Busch was pushing for a constitutional amendment to protect reproductive rights in Maryland. With the Supreme Court now having a conservative majority and no guarantee that a Democrat wins in 2020, we should protect these rights within Maryland as strongly as possible.

Within Maryland, there has been a recent push for right-to-work laws. Unionization rates, especially in the private sector, are falling. The Fight for $15 bill had enormous cut-outs that will negatively impact the most vulnerable Marylanders. What can we do about this? We can ensure that all Marylanders have the right to join or form a union. Maryland can be one of the most progressive states in the nation on labor with this right coded into the Maryland Constitution.

Ballot initiatives have been notoriously difficult in Maryland, as they need legislative action to be possible. If the same rules that apply for Baltimore City initiatives (10% of voters in the previous gubernatorial general election) were applied to the state, think about how much legislation could pass in this state. With political power in the hands of the voters, we can completely change this state’s political culture.

Richard Deshay Elliott is a Ph. D candidate at Johns Hopkins University, an electoral fellow for Progressive Maryland, the former campaign manager for Allison Berkowitz (District 7) and director of digital strategy for Allison Galbraith (Maryland’s 1st congressional district). You can find him on Twitter at @RichElliottMD & Facebook.

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