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Del. Maggie McIntosh should be the next House speaker

Del. Maggie McIntosh should be the next House speaker
Del. Maggie McIntosh is the right choice for speaker of the House of Delegates. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

When members of the House of Delegates reconvene next month for a special legislative session, they won’t vote to replace the late speaker, Michael E. Busch. He is irreplaceable. But delegates will vote on the leader for the next chapter of the House’s history, and among the three announced and universally well qualified candidates, Del. Maggie McIntosh is the right choice.

We have tremendous respect for both of her competitors, Del. Dereck E. Davis, who chairs the Economic Matters Committee, and Del. Adrienne Jones, the speaker pro tem. Both have been members of the House leadership as long as Delegate McIntosh, and both are well regarded by their colleagues, but neither is quite the right person for this particular time. To see why requires an understanding of what the role of speaker actually is.

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The speaker is one of the Big Three in Annapolis along with the Senate president and the governor, and people often assume he (or perhaps soon, she) is able to bend events to his or her will by mustering the power of the House to enact or block legislation. That’s not entirely true. By virtue of the size and diversity of the House (and particularly of its Democratic Caucus, to whom the speaker must answer), he or she is not so much driving the House in a particular direction as steering it on a swift current through rapids. The speaker is a creature of the caucus, not the overlord of it.

Mr. Davis is more politically moderate than Ms. McIntosh, and therefore probably closer to the politics of Maryland’s popular Republican governor, Larry Hogan, than she is. But that’s not where the mainstream of the House Democratic Caucus is now. Buoyed by a large crop of newly elected members, the House Democrats are decidedly more progressive, as is Delegate McIntosh, which is a large part of the reason she appears to have more support in the caucus than Mr. Davis does.

There is talk of Mr. Davis, who is African-American, mustering the strength of the Black Caucus and the Republican Caucus, which has pledged to deliver its votes in a block to a speaker candidate it prefers, to win the speakership without the majority support of his own party. The trouble is, the Black Caucus is not unanimous in support of Mr. Davis. Ms. Jones is also African-American and has supporters in the caucus, as does Ms. McIntosh, who is white.

Furthermore, winning the speakership that way would make governing unworkable. Such a speaker would eventually either need to make deals with the Republicans that alienate him or her from the Democrats, or betray the Republicans who delivered the job. Either way, it’s a recipe for a short tenure. We’re all for the Republicans to seek assurances from the candidates that they will have a fair role in running the House and participating in the legislative process. But electing a speaker who doesn’t have the majority support of his or her party is unworkable.

Under different circumstances, Ms. Jones might be an ideal successor to Speaker Busch. She has had as close a view of his management of the House as anyone during the last 16 years, and she was a reassuring presence on the rostrum when illness forced him to cede the gavel. Her experience in running the capital budget and education committees would be valuable to her as speaker, and she is an excellent listener — an under-appreciated quality that’s essential to the job.

But Ms. McIntosh is a more forceful presence and more adept at the public-facing aspects of the role. Those qualities take on added significance at a time when the governor is of a different party and the leadership of the Senate is somewhat in doubt because of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller’s own health problems. The House needs someone who is prepared to fight for its interests, and Ms. McIntosh has shown herself eminently capable in that regard.

One final note: We do, of course, have a parochial bias toward the Baltimore-area candidates in the race, but we also believe electing a Prince Georgian would put too much power in one area of the state — both Mr. Miller and Governor Hogan are natives of Prince George’s and have deep roots there. By virtue of her roles on Appropriations and Environmental Matters, Ms. McIntosh has developed a true state-wide perspective, most recently evidenced by her efforts to bring the executives of counties across the region together this year to back a school construction bill. She would be a speaker for all of Maryland.

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