A coalition of progressive groups is preparing to urge the 98 Democratic members of the House of Delegates to commit to voting for the selection of the Democratic caucus when the full House convenes next week to choose a replacement for the late Speaker Michael E. Busch (D), who died on April 7.
Whether it’s delivered overtly or implicitly, that request is expected to be accompanied by a warning that the Democratic lawmakers could suffer political consequences if they vote for a candidate for speaker of the House next week who enjoys substantial support from Republicans.
The message, to be delivered in a letter sometime Wednesday, comes amid assertions from House Republican leaders that the 42-member GOP caucus is going to vote in a bloc for one of three Democratic candidates for speaker – widely assumed to be House Economic Matters Chair Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s).
House Appropriations Chair Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) and Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) are also seeking the post.
While McIntosh is believed to have commitments from a majority of the Democratic caucus to replace Busch, Davis would need 29 Democratic votes if all 42 Republicans vote for him to become speaker on the House floor.
That’s why progressive groups that traditionally align with the Democrats, including powerful labor unions, are urging Democratic delegates to stick with the pick of the caucus when the vote for speaker goes to the full House on May 1. The leaders of these organizations worry about any deals Davis might cut to earn Republican votes – and about a Democratic speaker being associated with conservative GOP positions.
“Democrats should be united as a caucus and any Democrat that chooses to make a pact with Republicans to win is risking a nearly unwashable stain on their record,” said Larry Stafford, executive director of the group Progressive Maryland. “This would weigh heavily in any future primary endorsement conversations.”
In an interview, Davis said Tuesday he’s made no promises to secure support and minimized the influence Republicans will have in selecting the next speaker.
“The 42 Republican votes do not constitute the majority, so they can’t effectively be picking the speaker,” he said.
But liberal groups also fear that a Democratic speaker elected with GOP support would hamper Democrats’ efforts to offset the influence of Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. on state policy.
“Maryland wanted a Republican governor and wanted him for a second time, and I think they expected that that Republican governor would be checked by a Democratically-controlled House,” said a person familiar with the letter the progressive groups are preparing to circulate Wednesday.
Unions are warning Democrats that they could be targeted in 2022 primary elections if they succeed in electing a speaker who has gotten more Republican votes than Democratic support.
“You all turned to labor to cut the checks and bang the doors,” said Mark McLaurin, political director of Service Employees International Union Local 500. “Three years is not that far off.”
McLaurin suggested that if unions and progressive groups could defeat two powerful Senate committee chairs and the Senate president pro tem in Democratic primaries last year, “then no Democrat is safe.”
And he also said that progressive groups are viewing the speaker vote in the broader statewide and national conversation about the future of the Democratic Party.
“The vote for speaker is about the clearest indication of where a person’s values are,” he said.
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.