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Rockeymoore Cummings, progressives urge Democrats not to cut deal with GOP in Maryland speaker race

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

“Republicans in the Maryland House of Delegates have reportedly offered to cast their 42 votes in support of a Democratic candidate for Speaker who is unlikely to win the majority vote of the Democratic Caucus,” Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, wrote on Facebook. “While Republicans are free to cast their votes as they so choose, it would be unacceptable for a Democratic candidate to assume the Speaker’s position in this manner.”

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 April 7 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.

Supporters of McIntosh 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.”

Rockeymoore Cummings’ Facebook post followed a letter from 11 Maryland unions and progressive groups to all 98 Democrats in the House of Delegates on Wednesday to “urge them to back the eventual Democratic caucus nominee — regardless of who they support in caucus — when the vote reaches the House floor.”

Groups signing onto the letter included: CASA in Action, Jews United for Justice Campaign Fund, Maryland State Education Association, Maryland Working Families and NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland.

“Efforts to splinter the caucus will put the priorities of working families and our shared Maryland values at risk, which is why we believe it is so important that the Democratic Caucus speak with a unified voice,” the groups wrote.

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.

Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat who is House majority whip, has 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.

Rockeymoore Cummings also said she would seek sanctions against Democrats who side with Republicans in general election races, such as those who either “explicitly or implicitly” backed Republican Larry Hogan for governor last year.

“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 response, Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland, wrote on Facebook that Rockeymoore Cummings’ letter was an example of “blind partisan loyalty.”

“The Chairwoman’s letter is a great example of how our politics becomes so poisoned,” he wrote. “’Toe the line or we will punish you.’ The position is Speaker of the House, not Speaker of the House majority party. It’s pretty sad that party leadership needs to resort to threats to try to control party members.”

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