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Two Md. Democrats show 'courage,' 'selflessness' in speaker race

Baltimore County’s Del. Adrienne Jones was unanimously elected the next speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates on Wednesday, the first woman and African American to hold the position. (Baltimore Sun / Kenneth K. Lam)

This week, I witnessed an act of political courage and selflessness that I will remember for the rest of my life. After years of working to position themselves to potentially become speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, and weeks of intense discussion within the Democratic Caucus, a moment came where both Del. Maggie McIntosh and Del. Dereck Davis knew that neither of them had the votes to become speaker with a unified caucus behind them.

They could have taken the race to the floor of the House, with potentially horrendous repercussions for our caucus, for the House of Delegates and for the state of Maryland. But in an act that has become all too rare in politics, they chose unity over ambition.

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They put the needs of Maryland, of the House and of Democrats above their own desires. And they stepped forward in front of our caucus to say that they were both willing to stand aside and throw their support to Adrienne Jones, who has since become our new speaker — the first woman and the first black legislator to hold the job in Maryland. Delegate Davis and Delegate McIntosh proved that they are leaders par excellence.

A lot has been said concerning the debate we had about electing a new speaker, and, in particular, many of the news headlines have focused on the word “division.” I think the headlines got it wrong; what we saw wasn’t division, but debate.

The Democratic Party in Maryland is an enormously diverse party, both in terms of demographics and ideology. Every single black, Latino and LGBT member of the House is a Democrat, as are the vast majority of women and Asian-American legislators. We have a range of political opinions within our caucus, from a strong progressive wing to more moderate legislators. It is natural that within a coalition party like ours there will be intense debate about who our leaders should be and what direction we take.

The Republican Caucus finds it easier to march in lockstep, not least because they have so much less demographic and ideological diversity. But it was inevitable that the next speaker was going to be a Democrat elected by Democrats. Put simply, our caucus reflects the diversity within the state much better than theirs and will continue to do so.

Because of our shared commitment to Democratic values and the people of Maryland, we were able to work out our differences and stand united. We proved, despite the naysayers, that we can and will come together for the greater good. It is an extraordinary accomplishment.

A reporter asked Speaker Jones during the press conference following the session what it felt like to make history, to perhaps be listed alongside such Maryland figures as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. She said she was still absorbing it. And that’s pretty typical of Speaker Jones, who is a woman of humility, in addition to being among the hardest working and most inclusive leaders I’ve known. She is a person who will listen to all opinions, who will seek compromise when possible and fight hard for our values when necessary.

And she will continue the work that Democrats in the House have been doing for so many years under the leadership of the late Speaker Mike Busch: the work of ensuring that every Maryland kid can get a great education, of providing economic opportunity in every community in the state, of battling the opioid epidemic and moving us towards a more fair criminal justice system, of making sure that all Marylanders have access to high quality health care, and of protecting the Chesapeake Bay and combating climate change.

House Democrats are proud to have unanimously supported Adrienne Jones for speaker and excited for the chance to continue our work under her leadership. The future of the House, and of the state of Maryland, is strong.

Eric Luedtke (ericformaryland@gmail.com ) is chairman of the House of Delegates Democratic Caucus. He represents District 14 in Montgomery County.

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