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In divisive Maryland House speaker's race, Baltimore's McIntosh says she's been promised enough votes to win

As lawmakers prepare to elect a speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh said she's got enough votes locked up to win.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon — the eve of the election — McIntosh expressed confidence that she’ll beat her rival, Democratic Del. Dereck Davis of Prince George’s County.

McIntosh said she has enough votes to win a majority of the 98-member Democratic Caucus, and believes that many of Davis’ supporters will flip to her in the official vote by the full House during Wednesday’s special legislative session.

“I have the votes in caucus. And I know that there are a number of members who may be supporting Chairman Davis that will not vote to overturn the Democratic Caucus selection on the floor,” McIntosh said. “So, that means I’ve got it.”

Davis was just as assured that he would become speaker.

“I’m pretty confident myself,” Davis said in an interview. “We can only go by what folks tell us. If everyone keeps their word from what they told me, then we should win.”

Many of McIntosh’s supporters and the head of the state Democratic Party have been preaching party unity as the speaker vote approaches. Several delegates have pledged publicly to back whomever the Democratic Caucus backs, even if that person wasn’t their first choice.

Seventy-one votes are needed to win the speakership of the House, which has 141 seats. The Democratic delegates, with 98 members, can control the vote if they unite for one candidate.

Both candidates have been warned against trying to cobble together a victory with the House’s 42 Republicans and a smaller number of Democrats.

The advocacy group Progressive Maryland warned that such an alliance would be “tantamount to allowing Republicans to choose the next speaker and handing the power of the House over to the minority party.”

Progressive Maryland made 10,000 robocalls and sent 60,000 emails urging Maryland residents to call their delegates and urge them to support the Democratic Caucus choice for speaker.

“We believe the Republican Caucus should not be deciding who the next speaker is,” said Larry Stafford Jr., the director of Progressive Maryland. “They’re a minority caucus for a reason. The majority of Marylanders want to see Democratic values.”

Stafford said the campaign is to let lawmakers considering partnering with the GOP know “we’re not happy.”

“It would be a stain on their records,” he said. “We’re hoping the most progressive candidate wins.”

Progressive Democrats fear if there’s a Democratic Caucus divide on choosing a speaker, it would create a rift in the party that could be difficult to heal.

They point to states such as New York, where they say Democratic Party divisions set back progressive legislation for years. New York Democratic state Sen. Gustavo Rivera said his state’s now-dissolved Independent Democratic Conference — which allied itself with Republicans — resulted in “complete disaster and chaos” during its existence from 2011 to 2018.

“The whole state went into disarray,” Rivera recalled. “The legislature came to a halt. It was an absolute mess.”

McIntosh said it would be wrong to “run on the backs of Republicans” and that Democrats should be more focused on “coming together and having party unity.”

“That is really winning an election with a majority of Republicans against the will of the Democratic Caucus,” McIntosh said. “I think that is very troublesome.”

McIntosh pledged to support Davis if he wins the vote in the Democratic Caucus. Davis made no such pledge in return.

“All I’m committing to, at this point in time, is going into the caucus and doing all I can to win the caucus nomination, and I will just have to see where I am,” Davis said.

Caucus meetings are private and delegates rarely speak publicly about caucus matters. But Davis and McIntosh are expected to address their fellow Democrats before a vote is taken.

The Democratic and Republican caucuses are scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday in rooms across the hall from one another in the House building in Annapolis.

The Republicans plan to hold a news conference immediately afterward to announce who they support. GOP leaders have said their members will vote as a bloc for one of the Democratic candidates.

The delegates then will go into a floor session at noon to elect the speaker.

The winner will succeed Michael Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who led the chamber from 2003 until his death April 7. The winner is only guaranteed to be speaker until January, when the General Assembly convenes for its next regular 90-day session.

A vote for speaker is held each January, though typically a speaker serves all four years of the delegates’ term. Busch died just before the end of the first annual session of the current term.

The speaker leads delegates through floor sessions, shepherding debate and calling for votes. The speaker also traditionally has led his party’s members in selecting which bills are priorities and lends a hand during campaign season to hang on to vulnerable seats and elect more members from their party.

All of Maryland’s presiding officers in the House and the state Senate have been white men, so the selection of either Davis, an African-American man, or McIntosh, a white woman who is gay, would be groundbreaking.

Davis secured the backing Monday of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, which counts 45 members, including Democratic Speaker Pro tem Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County. She dropped a bid to become speaker to support Davis.

Democratic Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the black caucus, said Monday that it’s past time for Maryland to have an African American presiding officer.

However, the black caucus does not vote as a bloc and several of its members have publicly said they’re supporting McIntosh.

Barnes has come under fire after multiple delegates reported he warned during a black caucus meeting against electing a “white lesbian” instead of a black candidate. He denied making the remark.

“I was in the meeting. And it was said,” said Democratic Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk of Prince George’s County, a McIntosh supporter.

Democratic Del. Sandy Rosenberg of Baltimore said in an interview that he’s backing McIntosh because she’s best qualified to carry out Busch’s legacy.

“I support Maggie for two reasons: Because of her stellar record as a legislator and as chair of the Appropriations [Committee],” Rosenberg said. “She has extraordinary skills and will be an extraordinary leader of the House following in Mike Busch’s footsteps.”

McIntosh lined up several of her colleagues Tuesday to sing her praises in the conference call.

Democratic Del. Pat Young of Baltimore County said he’s been impressed with McIntosh’s leadership on the Appropriations Committee. “I trust her judgement completely,” he said.

And Del. Stephanie Smith of Baltimore praised McIntosh’s work on the campaign trail to elect fellow Democrats. “Maggie knows what it takes to bring winning candidates to the caucus,” she said.

McIntosh also discussed an agenda she would pursue as speaker: improving the quality of education, as well as school buildings, pursuing “an economy that works for all Marylanders,” continuing criminal justice reforms and working for a clean environment and to combat climate change.

“I’m a Baltimore city teacher who kind of took a right turn, or a wrong turn, at some point in my career and ended up here,” McIntosh said. “I left my heart in the Baltimore city classrooms. Education is going to be my top priority in my speakership. In fact, I would like to lay out a plan for me to become the ‘education speaker.’”

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