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Black candidates for Maryland House speaker unite, promote Prince George's delegate over Baltimore's McIntosh

Del. Adrienne Jones withdrew her candidacy on Friday and threw her support behind Del. Dereck Davis in the race to become the next speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun video)

Two African-American candidates for the next speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates have joined forces in hopes of electing the state’s first black presiding officer in the General Assembly.

Del. Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County, the House speaker pro tem, withdrew her candidacy Friday and publicly threw her support behind Prince George’s County Del. Dereck Davis.

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The two Democrats chose the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore to make their announcement, where they emphasized that Davis could break an important barrier for African Americans in the state.

“At some point, the party has to support us and our community,” Davis said.

Jones’ withdrawal from the race leaves Davis as the sole African American candidate for speaker — potentially winning over members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who might have otherwise split their votes between them.

“Unity must outweigh politics and pride,” Jones said of her decision to step aside and urge black caucus members to join her in supporting Davis.

Davis will face Democratic Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore in the race to replace longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch, who died April 7. A one-day special session of the General Assembly is scheduled for Wednesday for the sole purpose of electing a speaker.

Jones and Davis were joined at their announcement by Democratic Del. Talmadge Branch of Baltimore, the House majority whip and an influential member of Busch’s leadership team. Branch said the unification of Jones and Davis gives African American delegates a better shot at having one of their own as speaker.

“We’re doing what we have to do to say: ‘This is our time,’” Branch said.

Davis said he made no promises to Jones in order to win her support.

Davis would not reveal how many delegates have promised to vote for him, but said he’s “confident” he’ll get enough to win. In the 141-member House of Delegates, a delegate would need 71 votes to be named speaker.

To win the support of the 98-member Democratic Caucus, which holds the majority, 50 votes are needed.

Davis’ path to victory likely counts on securing most or all of the black caucus, which has 45 members, all Democrats. The caucus is expected to vote Monday.

The 42 Republicans in the chamber could be a factor as well. Davis is seen as more conservative than the progressive McIntosh, potentially making him a more palatable choice to the GOP. The Republican delegates will vote Wednesday morning to decide whom to support, and they plan to vote as a bloc for one of the Democrats.

“All we’ve asked for from the candidates is to build on the legacy of Speaker Busch, especially the relationship we had in recent years, where he treated us fairly and included us in major decisions and made all members of the House of Delegates feel important,” said Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican who is the House minority leader.

McIntosh said in an interview Friday that she’s secured about 60 votes from the Democratic caucus. She expects to pick up some of Jones’ supporters, although she acknowledged Davis will, too.

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McIntosh is believed to be winning support from more progressive Democrats. She said she has reached out to younger delegates and members from across the state. On Friday, she made stops in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to talk with delegates.

And while Davis may be hoping for support from fellow African American delegates, McIntosh is also courting black caucus members.

“I am still very confident and have spoken to all of the folks in the Legislative Black Caucus who support me, told them of this development and they continue to support me,” she said. She also said she is “very committed” to helping black delegates rise in the ranks of leadership.

McIntosh has said she would not court Republican votes in her quest to become speaker. She believes that the next Democratic speaker should not need to count on votes from Republicans.

Davis and the GOP have different views.

“I believe in governing in a bipartisan fashion, making sure everybody has a seat at the table,” Davis said. “We have a history of trying to silence voices and that’s not something I can subscribe to.”

Davis said he has not made promises to the Republicans — other than being willing to hear them out — and will not name them to leadership positions on committees.

Kipke, the Republican leader, said that for a Republican-favored candidate to win, the candidate would need “a large group of Democrats to join with us, and I think that’s good,” Kipke said.

Earlier this week, state Democratic Party Chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings warned the black caucus against aligning with Republicans in voting for vote a speaker candidate.

Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the black caucus, responded by accusing Rockeymoore Cummings of trying to bully his members. He declined Friday to comment further.

Either choice — McIntosh or Davis — would be groundbreaking, as Maryland’s House speakers and state Senate presidents have all been white men. Davis is an African American man; McIntosh, a white woman, is openly gay.

And with the competition having exposed rifts within the Democratic Party, both are pledging to heal wounds after Wednesday’s vote.

McIntosh said she would work to meet the needs of all members of the House of Delegates — African Americans included — and restore the party’s unity.

“I believe that Chairman Davis and I will work to bring this caucus back together. This is not anything the former speaker would have ever wanted to happen,” McIntosh said. “I will work with Chairman Davis. I will work with the black caucus. I will work with the women’s caucus. I will work with the Latino caucus to bring our Democrats and our party back together.”

McIntosh pledged to support Davis if he is the choice of the Democratic Caucus.

Davis, when asked about supporting McIntosh should she win the Democratic Caucus vote, did not offer a direct answer.

“I haven’t thought, quite frankly, of not winning,” said Davis, adding that he would “cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Win or lose, Davis also suggested the Democrats would be able to unify once a speaker is selected.

“We’re passionate about this decision. We recognize how important it is,” Davis said. “When the time comes, whether it’s me or Chairwoman McIntosh, I expect all members of the General Assembly to unite around our new leader.”

Both candidates for speaker have significant leadership experience in the House: Davis chairs the Economic Matters Committee and McIntosh chairs the Appropriations Committee, after previously leading what was then known as the Environmental Matters Committee.

McIntosh is regarded as more liberal than Davis, who has sometimes voted against progressive issues, such as legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012 and allowing doctors to prescribe drugs that terminally ill patients could use to commit suicide in 2019. As chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, Davis hears testimony from representatives of businesses affected by the bills before the panel — such as legislation to increase the minimum wage and setting higher standards for renewable energy.

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Both were put in leadership positions by Busch, who served as speaker from 2003 until his death April 7 from pneumonia.

Davis’s bid to become speaker also won support Friday from Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown, who said it’s past time for African Americans to have more leadership roles in Maryland. Brown, like Davis, is from Prince George’s County.

“Black voters are the most loyal constituency of the Maryland Democratic Party, and the backing of the African American community has been critical to every Democratic victory across our state,” Brown said in a statement.

Brown said that African Americans “have only managed to put cracks in the glass ceiling of our state’s political leadership. This can and must change now.”

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