A contentious fight to elect the next Democratic speaker of Maryland’s House of Delegates ended in a historic compromise that places Del. Adrienne Jones at the helm of the chamber.
Jones, a 64-year-old veteran lawmaker from Baltimore County, is the first woman and the first African American to serve as House speaker in the state’s history.
The dramatic conclusion of a contest that elicited national attention began Wednesday afternoon when the state’s House Democratic Caucus voted 58-40 to nominate Baltimore City Del. Maggie McIntosh, a liberal, gay woman, over Del. Dereck Davis, a black moderate from Prince George’s County, for the top legislative post.
But soon after the vote, House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke (R) announced that all 42 of the chamber’s Republicans would back Davis in a floor vote.
McIntosh knew she did not have the votes to win a majority of Democrats and Republicans on the House floor. And Davis knew he would have difficulty governing with a majority of his fellow Democrats angry about the manner in which he had won.
As a result, during a private House Democratic Caucus meeting after the caucus vote, she and Davis agreed to drop out and back Jones, according to a lawmaker who was present. Jones had also been a candidate for speaker until Monday when she dropped out and endorsed Davis.
With the chamber’s Democratic supermajority unanimously behind her, Jones won the speakership unanimously on the House floor.
Crucially for Democrats and allied groups nervous about Davis’ candidacy, Jones did not need Republican votes to win the speakership. The outcome averts a situation that critics feared would thwart the majority will and undermine liberal priorities by making the Democratic speaker indebted to the GOP minority.
“I’m happy we came together as a caucus and did not allow the Republicans to drive the narrative, drive a wedge between our party or dictate the outcome of our speaker,” said Del. Ben Barnes, a McIntosh ally and member of House leadership. “We just could not accept the precedent of Republicans intervening in our process.”
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Jones served as speaker pro tem prior to Wednesday, which gave her the responsibility for presiding over the chamber in the speaker’s absence.
She is viewed by her colleagues as something of an ideological continuation of the late Michael Busch’s largely liberal, but consensus-driven speakership. Busch’s death in April after 16 years leading the House sparked the leadership battle to begin with.