Rockeymoore Cummings Lays Down the Law on Speaker Vote — and More

Maryland Democratic Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings

With the election to replace the late House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) drawing closer, Maryland Democratic Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings has sent a memo to Democratic members of the House of Delegates, warning them not to support a candidate for speaker who has substantial Republican support – and urging Democratic speaker contenders to accept the will of the Democratic House caucus.

Rockeymoore Cummings’ stern warning also promises consequences for Democratic elected officials “who explicitly or tacitly throw their support to Republicans in general elections,” referring to Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s reelection race in 2018.

In the extraordinary memo, billed as an “Open Letter Regarding the Speaker of the House of Delegates Leadership Race and Similar Matters,” Rockeymoore Cummings makes it abundantly clear that party leaders will look to punish any Democratic delegates who enter into an alliance with GOP House members during the vote for speaker. The memo, issued on Facebook, links to a Maryland Matters article about the Republican speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, who was elected with substantial Democratic support.

Rockeymoore Cummings was apparently spurred to action by reports that the 42 House Republicans plan to vote for a Democratic candidate for speaker in a bloc. There are 98 Democrats currently in the House, and 71 votes will be required on the House floor next Wednesday to elect the next speaker.

The three declared candidates are House Economic Matters Chair Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Appropriations Chair Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City).

McIntosh is widely assumed to be ahead within the Democratic caucus, but 42 Republican votes for another Democrat – likely Davis – could make the battle very close on the House floor. With her memo, Rockeymoore Cummings is seeking to forestall internecine Democratic warfare on the House floor and an alliance between House Republicans and some Democrats, calling it “unacceptable for a Democratic candidate to assume the Speaker’s position in this manner.”

“A Democratic Speaker who rises to the position because of Republican support will be beholden to Republicans, their agenda and their values.,” she wrote. “This outcome would not only hurt the Democratic Party, it would diminish the power of Democratic legislators and their ability to represent the values and the will of Democratic voters across a range of important issues.”

Equally significant, Rockeymoore Cummings articulates that she will not in the future tolerate a repeat of 2018, when some Democrats endorsed Hogan’s reelection and many more kept their distance from the party’s gubernatorial nominee, Benjamin T. Jealous.

“Unfortunately, the Speaker’s race is not the end of this matter,” she wrote, asserting that “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.”

Here is a full text of the letter:

MEMORANDUM

TO: Democratic Members of the Maryland House of Delegates
FROM: Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Maryland Democratic Party Chair
DATE: April 24, 2019
RE: Open Letter Regarding the Speaker of the House of Delegates Leadership Race and Similar Matters

As the Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, it is my role to make sure that the Party’s infrastructure and operations are solid, so the public is informed, inspired, and activated to vote for Democrats and so Democratic candidates can win elections and serve the people effectively. I am also responsible for ensuring that Democratic elected officials can operate in a political environment that optimizes their ability to represent Democratic voters, values, and policies.

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. 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.

The Speaker of the House of Delegates carries a lot of power. S/he appoints committee chairs who determine how legislation is developed and whether it is advanced, sets the policy and political agenda for the full body, and schedules the matters to be taken up on the House floor. A Democratic Speaker who rises to the position because of Republican support will be beholden to Republicans, their agenda and their values. This outcome would not only hurt the Democratic Party, it would diminish the power of Democratic legislators and their ability to represent the values and the will of Democratic voters across a range of important issues.

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.

Unfortunately, the Speaker’s race is not the end of this matter. For all the reasons stated above, the power and positioning of the Democratic Party is also threatened by Democratic elected officials who explicitly or tacitly throw their support to Republicans in general elections. The Party saw the result of this kind of behavior when Republican Governor Larry Hogan won reelection in the 2018 election cycle with the support of approximately 25 percent of Democratic voters; many of whom took cues from certain Democratic officials who refused to publicly support the Democratic gubernatorial nominee and/or publicly indicated their preference for the Republican governor.

Because the scenarios outlined above (and several more not yet articulated) conflict with our core principles and diminish our ability to achieve our goals, 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.

If officials deemed in violation of Party principles receive access to the tools and resources of the Maryland Democratic Party indirectly through leadership organizations, these organizations will be held to the same standards and penalties. More detailed guidelines explaining how and under what circumstances party penalties will be deployed are forthcoming.

[email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

4 COMMENTS

  1. She does not speak for MD Democrats – she speaks for the central committee members who put her there. Central Committee does not speak for MD Dems, as the central committee system itself is a farce filled with nepotism and cronyism. Moves like this weaken our party and our democracy and corrupt the moral high ground we currently hold against the Republican party both in MD and across the country. Do not let yourself be bullied by party warfare that hurts us all.

  2. Seems to me the Republicans should not have broadcast their strategy, and instead planned it and executed it without fanfare. This would have resulted in a fait accompli, without the threats and intimidation from Cummings against her fellow Democrats. It would also have resulted in perhaps a more centrist House of Delegates, one that could have reached across party lines to get things done, as Governor Hogan has tried to do.

    Now, with Cummings as the MD Democratic Party head, her party has more the appearance of the North Korean Politburo, where all must vote as they’re told or be sent off to the gulags. If those free-thinking Democrats are intimidated and eventually fall into line, the House of Delegates in Maryland will become too polarized for progress; stated goal of the Democrat Party.

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