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 death last week 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 said over the weekend.
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.
Supporters of McIntosh say they expect the winner of the Democratic Caucus vote to receive all of the Democrats’ votes on the floor — 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.
Del. Nic Kipke, the Anne Arundel County Republican who is House minority leader, said Saturday that he’s spoken with both Davis and Jones as his caucus decides how to vote.
If Davis or Jones could pick up Republican support in addition to their Democratic votes, they could have a shot at winning.
“We’re committed to voting as a bloc,” Kipke said. “We’re hoping the next speaker will build on the good relationship we had with Speaker Busch. We’re not committed to any specific candidate, but we’ve had conversations and we’re waiting to see how this develops.”
The behind-the-scenes vote-whipping is the latest in what’s been a quiet but intense fight among three of Busch’s top lieutenants to succeed him.
According to sources familiar with the vote-whipping, McIntosh is receiving strong support from Democrats across the state — including Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Baltimore County. McIntosh has been a delegate since 1992.
Several influential committee chairs also made calls over the weekend urging their colleagues to support McIntosh, the sources said.
“Her support is not based on any demographic or geographic bloc,” one of the sources said. “It’s really widespread support.”
But the race could still be in flux.
Influential Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks on Friday encouraged lawmakers to back Davis, the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, who has been in the House since 1995.
“As a Prince Georgian, I understand chairman Dereck Davis is a person who is not only interested but is well-prepared to succeed Speaker Busch,” Alsobrooks said. “As the leader of Prince George’s County, I think it would be ideal to have as a presiding officer a person who represents Prince George’s. We do not have in statewide leadership a single Prince Georgian.”
Moreover, Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat who is House majority whip, said he’s going to drum up support for whichever candidate the Legislative Black Caucus decides to back — either Davis or Jones.
“We would like to see Maryland’s first African-American speaker,” Branch said.
Republicans are considering backing Davis as well.
“We’re keeping all of our options open,” said Baltimore County Del. Kathy Szeliga, the House minority whip. “Forty-two votes don’t come without some kind of negotiation.”
Matthew Crenson, Johns Hopkins University political science professor emeritus, said it would be unprecedented in Maryland politics for a Democratic speaker to be elected on the back of Republican votes.
“I've never heard of anything like that, nor in any of my historical research,” he said. “This would create one terrible political mess and dogfight — for the next session and long after that. It’s a formula for resentment.”
McIntosh and Davis declined to comment for this article, saying they are waiting until after Busch’s funeral on Tuesday to make public remarks.
But Jones, who as the long-serving speaker pro tem of the House of Delegates ran floor sessions during Busch’s illness, said she questions the vote-counting of McIntosh’s team.
Jones said her rivals suggested to people she wasn’t interested in the job, inflating their vote tallies, but she is chipping away at their support.
“People were under the impression I wasn’t interested,” Jones said. “It’s a secret ballot. They might say one thing, then vote another way.”
Jones has been a member of the House since 1997. She’s chairwoman of a subcommittee that handles the budget for state construction projects, putting her in touch with lawmakers around the state who seek support for projects in their districts.
The delegates are expected to choose a new speaker in a special legislative session May 1. A spokesman for the governor said he has not yet formally called for the special session.
If the eventual speaker is Davis, Jones or McIntosh, the choice would be a historic first because Maryland has only had white men as leaders of its legislative chambers. Davis and Jones are black, and McIntosh is openly gay.
The speaker is chosen by a simple majority of members of the House.