In this hard-nosed and broad-scale account, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters outlines the new power map after Adrienne Jones became the compromise House Speaker on Wednesday. Progressive forces made themselves heard when the consequences of collaborating with the minority GOP were on the table. But doing the math over Kurtz's shoulder, we need to take a lesson and an incentive from his observation: "progressives regularly overestimate their overall political strength in Maryland, which isn’t nearly as progressive as they are." We'll keep making the state more progressive, because we can.
That timeless phrase comes to mind as we consider the historic election this week of Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) as speaker of the House. It’s pretty neat: the first woman and first African-American presiding officer in the long history of the Maryland General Assembly – a milestone that everyone can celebrate and brings positive attention to our state.
Jones, so far as we can tell, is just the third black woman to lead a legislative chamber in the U.S. And her election was, officially, unanimous. That’s also pretty neat.
But the real story, of course, is something different, and before the final result was achieved, the process was messy every step of the way. And all those fissures, all those bad feelings, all the chaos, can’t just be forgotten or willed away. That’s a major challenge – for Speaker Jones, most immediately – but also for every legislator, for every Democratic leader, in the state.
So she should enjoy her moment. But she should recognize – and she probably does – that there’s plenty of work to be done. At first glance, Jones’ election looks like the closest thing to a continuation of the tenure of her late predecessor, Michael E. Busch (D). But of course, change is inevitably coming.
Here are some of the winners and losers from Wednesday’s electrifying speaker vote:
Adrienne A. Jones: Unlike the principal competitors to replace Busch, House Appropriations Chair Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) and House Economic Matters Chair Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), Jones barely campaigned for the job. She entered the race with low expectations, dropped out, and then, after the House Democratic Caucus deadlocked, vaulted everyone else – all while keeping calm and her reputation intact. Already she’s being spoken in the same breath as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. But will she be a strong speaker?
The status quo: It’s entirely possible that every one of Busch’s committee chairs keeps their gavels. Busch’s aides, especially his powerhouse chief of staff Alexandra M. Hughes, could also stick around. Davis and McIntosh had people around them that they would have folded into their speaker operation and kitchen cabinet – staffers, advisers, lobbyists, committee loyalists. Jones has no real team around her – and no fixed ideology or publicly-stated priorities.
The 10th District: The only majority-black legislative district in Baltimore County now has the speaker of the House, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee (Delores G. Kelley) and chair of the House Economic Matters Public Utilities Subcommittee (Benjamin T. Brooks Sr.). Not bad. Of course, the district also has Del. Hassan M. “Jay” Jalisi (D), so nobody’s perfect.
Republicans: Unlike the Democrats, the House GOP Caucus stayed unified throughout this process. Republicans didn’t get Davis into the speaker’s chair – or the spoils that would have come with his victory – but they did effectively block a more progressive and politically savvy Democrat, McIntosh, from winning. Then they got to vote unanimously for Jones on the House floor – and Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) took the opportunity to speak to Jones’ integrity and the weight of the moment. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) left no fingerprints, but it’s easy to imagine he was involved in the strategy and the push for GOP unity. He also benefits from not having to go toe-to-toe with McIntosh.
Landsdowne High School and UMBC: Jones’ alma maters can expect extra attention and favorable treatment for the duration of her tenure.
Joseline Pena-Melnyk: After hearing her name floated as a possible compromise speaker candidate in the House Democratic Caucus Wednesday, the Prince George’s County progressive gave an impassioned speech for Jones that may have sealed the deal. She’s one of the few lawmakers who can expect a reward sooner rather than later.
Talmadge Branch: The House majority whip was a key supporter of Davis’ throughout most of the process, brokered the deal that saw Jones initially drop out of the race, then got lots of the credit when Davis ultimately deferred to Jones. He, too, could be due for a reward.
Peter V.R. Franchot: One of the candidates for speaker, McIntosh, had considered challenging the comptroller in the 2018 Democratic primary. The other, Davis, has fought with Franchot over liquor policy for the past several years. Both would have only been too happy to continue the legislative assault on Franchot and his office. Instead, Franchot gets Jones, a mild-mannered former colleague from the Appropriations Committee. And with the status quo likely to be maintained in the House for the foreseeable future, Franchot can still keep us his anti-establishment patter.
Nancy J. King, Douglas J.J. Peters, Paul G. Pinsky: Three potential candidates for state Senate president whenever longtime incumbent Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) moves on benefit, in the name of regional balance, from the fact that they’re from the Washington, D.C., suburbs rather than the Baltimore region.
Regina T. Boyce: The freshman delegate from Baltimore City was horrified by the public attention she attracted earlier this week but showed courage by breaking with the Legislative Black Caucus and calling out LBC Chair Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s) for his comments about McIntosh’s sexual orientation during a black caucus meeting on Sine Die.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski: If you’re a rookie executive in a county with budgetary challenges, you’ve got to be happy that a former colleague from your county has just become speaker – even if she did endorse one of your Democratic primary opponents in 2018.
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings: The Maryland Democratic chair’s attempts to impose party discipline on the House Democratic Caucus were ham-handed, to say the least, even if they were well intended. And by equating the speaker vote with certain Democrats’ unwillingness to embrace Benjamin T. Jealous (D) in the last year’s gubernatorial election, Rockeymoore Cummings ruffled a maximum number of feathers.
Nancy K. Kopp: Jones doesn’t have a lot of plum assignments to hand out. Could state treasurer be a prize reward for someone – and could Kopp face pressure to move on well before her fifth term ends?
Guy J. Guzzone: One legislative chamber doesn’t always pay attention to what the other does. A race for House speaker may have no bearing on the future race for Senate president, whenever it might occur. On the other hand, party leaders are often aware of the need for regional balance. So with Baltimore County in the House, could the likely bid by Guzzone, the Senate majority leader, to become Senate president, be stymied by the fact that Columbia, where he lives, is 14 miles from Woodstock, where Jones lives? Might be.
Montgomery County lawmakers: No delegation was as unified behind McIntosh’s candidacy as Montgomery County’s, and many members were poised to reap the rewards if she had won. So it wasn’t surprising to see a lot of glum faces from MoCo emerging from the Democratic Caucus meeting on Wednesday. Montgomery County may be the state’s largest jurisdiction, but the delegation still doesn’t play power politics in Annapolis as well as most others. This one felt a little like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown yet again.
Corporate lobbyists: They’ve had a friend in Davis for years – and he’d be an even better friend if he had become speaker. They’ll still be in good hands as long as he stays as Economic Matters chair, but that may not last forever, and this still feels like a loss for the “black hat” lobbyists. No lobbyists have their hooks into Jones, so far as we can tell.
TO A DRAW
Prince George’s County: County leaders did not get their man – Davis – elected speaker. And County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) may have unwittingly given cover to some of the whisper campaigns about McIntosh’s sexuality that appeared to be emanating from black churches. But having an African-American woman in the speaker’s chair has to mean something for the majority-black county. And we hear a deal was struck among Democratic House leaders to give the state treasurer’s job to a Prince Georgian (Pena-Melnyk? Sen. Melony G. Griffith?) whenever there is a vacancy. Stay tuned.
Progressives: Progressive groups flexed their muscles by threatening to find primary challengers against Democrats if they voted with Republicans for a speaker candidate on the House floor – and that surely gave some Davis supporters pause. But progressive legislators did not muster as many votes for McIntosh as they thought they would – another indication that progressives regularly overestimate their overall political strength in Maryland, which isn’t nearly as progressive as they are. Institutional reforms that were discussed during the Davis-McIntosh battle were cast aside in the giddy rush to anoint Jones as the compromise choice. We expect a formal Progressive Caucus to emerge from the rubble.
Darryl Barnes: On the one hand, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus achieved his No. 1 goal: Electing an African-American speaker. On the other hand, his leaked remarks about McIntosh’s sexual orientation – even though he apologized for them at the opening of Wednesday’s Democratic Caucus meeting – could haunt him for the rest of his political career.
Maggie L. McIntosh and Dereck E. Davis: These senior and savvy lawmakers lost the ultimate prize. But even with all the bruised feelings, they kept the lines of communication open and remained personally respectful of one another. Both will be remembered for the magnanimous way they rallied around Jones in the end – and both will likely keep their gavels and their senior status for the time being. For McIntosh, this is probably the end of the road – and she can look forward to a nice retirement whenever she’s ready. Davis is still young – 51 – and could get another bite at the apple if he chooses to stick around the legislature. But this was his second unsuccessful attempt to move up the political ladder after his short-lived 2016 congressional bid. Most likely, he’ll look to cash out at some point – and should be a hot commodity whenever he’s ready.
Published May 2 by Maryland Matters. firstname.lastname@example.org