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Md. Legislative Black Caucus chairman accuses Rockeymoore Cummings of 'bullying, threatening' in House speaker race

The chairman of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus fired back Thursday at the state’s Democratic Party over what he called “bullying” and “threatening” attempts to prevent a political deal to elect the state’s first African American speaker of the House of Delegates.

Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Democratic Party Chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings is attempting to intimidate black lawmakers from partnering with Republicans to elect a black speaker.

“As Maryland House Democrats we may have to break tradition to break the glass ceiling,” wrote Barnes, a Prince George’s County Democrat, to Rockeymoore Cummings. “It is distressing that our party leader chose to threaten our members with punishments for being bold enough to do something different to get historic results.”

Concerned that Republicans could influence the pivotal election for the next speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, Rockeymoore Cummings and progressive groups urged Democrats Wednesday not to cut a deal with the GOP.

She also said she would seek sanctions against Democrats who side with Republicans in General Election races.

“The Maryland Democratic Party is prepared to penalize (e.g. deny access to party tools and resources, charge a higher premium for services, etc.) any elected official who is caught using Party resources to promote Republican candidates and/or who work to block the ascension of Democratic nominees duly elected through official Democratic processes and procedures,” she wrote.

In an unusual twist, Republicans in Maryland’s Democratic-controlled House of Delegates are attempting to play a key role in electing the chamber’s next speaker after the April 7 death of long-serving Speaker Michael Busch.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, 71, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is close to shoring up enough votes to become speaker, several sources with knowledge of the vote-counting have told The Baltimore Sun.

McIntosh has close to 60 commitments to vote for her from fellow Democratic delegates for a job with considerable sway over the direction of policy in the state, the sources said. She needs a total of 71 in the 141-seat House to be assured of becoming speaker.

McIntosh supporters say they expect the winner of the Democratic Caucus vote the morning of May 1 to receive all of the Democrats’ votes on the House of Delegates floor later that day — assuring her victory. With Busch’s death leaving a vacancy, there are 98 Democrats in the House.

But there’s a potential catch: Maryland’s House Republicans say they will pledge their 42 votes as a bloc to one of three main Democratic candidates for the job: McIntosh, Prince George’s County Del. Dereck Davis, 51, or Baltimore County Del. Adrienne A. Jones, 64.

If Davis or Jones could pick up Republican support in addition to their Democratic votes, they could have a shot at winning.

But Rockeymoore Cummings on Wednesday condemned such a strategy.

“A Democratic Speaker who rises to the position because of Republican support will be beholden to Republicans, their agenda and their values,” she wrote. “For this reason, I call on each candidate for Speaker of the House of Delegates to accept the vote of the Democratic Caucus, vote for the Democratic nominee for Speaker, and refuse to accept a nomination from the floor if it means winning the position because of Republican votes.”

Barnes said the Legislative Black Caucus will meet early next week to decide which candidate to back. But he said his members would not pass up a chance to make history.

“Although we have made tremendous strides as African-Americans, we have not realized our potential in the Democrat party yet. If not now, when?” Barnes wrote. “We now find ourselves with a historic opportunity before us — the selection of the first minority or African-American Speaker of the House of Delegates. We should not prevent our colleagues from either side of the aisle from voting for the Democratic candidate they feel is best qualified. Your letter is very surprising, even more, so devastating as means of retaliation.”

Moreover, he argued, the Democratic Party should not be seeking sanctions against its own members.

“Lastly, the act of bullying or threatening others is unacceptable!” he wrote. “As the leader of the state’s Democratic party, you set the tone of how our party carries itself.”

In an interview Thursday, Rockeymoore Cummings said she would not seek to punish members of the Legislative Black Caucus for how they cast ballots on the floor of the House of Delegates for speaker. She said she would only seek penalties against Democrats who use party resources to help Republicans.

Nevertheless, she said it would be “unacceptable” for Democrats to cast ballots for anyone other than the winner of the Democratic Caucus vote.

“I’m so sorry that Chairman Barnes misinterpreted my memo,” Rockeymoore Cummings said. “I would hope that he wouldn’t think that this is war. I am the leader of the Maryland Democratic Party. I have an interest in making sure Democrats do not undermine other Democrats.”

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