Dem Chair Gets Major Blowback for Warnings on Speaker Election

Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George's), chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings has received major pushback from some Democratic elected officials following her warning Wednesday to members of the House of Delegates not to enter into an alliance with Republicans during next week’s vote for a new House speaker. Rockeymoore Cummings also suggested that there would be consequences for elected Democrats who do not enthusiastically embrace party nominees.

Some Democratic officials and activists applauded Rockeymoore Cummings’ warning – echoing her sentiment that Democrats do not want to be associated with “the party of Trump” when it comes to selecting a replacement for the late Speaker Michael E. Busch (D), who died on April 7.

That seemed like a direct message to the supporters of House Economic Matters Chair Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), one of three Democratic candidates for speaker, who may be the beneficiary of a 42-vote bloc of Republicans at the May 1 House session. A candidate will need 71 votes to be elected speaker.

The other declared candidates are House Appropriations Chair Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), who is believed to have more commitments than any of the other candidates in the Democratic caucus, and Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).

But several other Democrats excoriated Rockeymoore Cummings, saying she was overstepping her bounds and trying to put her thumb on the scale in the speaker election.

Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus – who represents the same district as Davis – was especially harsh in his assessment, accusing Rockeymoore Cummings of “bullying.”

In a letter to Rockeymoore Cummings, he noted that the black caucus, which has 45 members in the 141-member House, has been loyal to the Democratic Party and Democratic ideals. And he accused Rockeymoore Cummings – who is black – of interfering with an African-American lawmaker’s potential to make history.

“Although we have made tremendous strides as African-Americans, we have not realized our potential in the Democrat Party yet,” Barnes wrote. “If not now, when?”

He also asserted that House Democrats “may have to break tradition to break the glass ceiling. It is distressing that our party leaders chose to threaten our members with punishments for being bold enough to do something different to get historic results.”

In fact, all three candidates for speaker would make history: Jones is also African-American, and McIntosh is openly lesbian. The presiding officers of Maryland’s legislative chambers have always been white males.

State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), who is often at odds with party leaders, called Rockeymoore Cummings’ message “a preposterous strategy, poorly executed, at the worst possible time.”

Franchot, who served in the House from 1987 to 2007, said the institution “is in dire need of modernization and reform” and that party leaders should work to empower rank-and-file members.

“We need a Speaker who will lead his or her chamber with transparency and inclusion, in accordance with the new politics of this new day,” Franchot wrote on Facebook.

“What we do not need are marching orders, threats of retaliation and other antique relics of 20th century machine politics from our party chairwoman. It’s corrosive to our system and it does nothing to help us grow the Democratic Party – which is why Maya was elected in the first place.”

Also noteworthy was a missive that Del. Eric Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), Davis’ vice chair on the Economic Matters Committee, wrote Thursday to Rockeymoore Cummings. He implied that party leaders may be out of touch with certain districts in the state – even some represented by Democrats – and sought to reassure Rockeymoore Cummings that the House will be “in very good hands” regardless of who wins next Wednesday’s election. Here is Bromwell’s memo, in full:

Good morning Mrs. Rockeymoore Cummings,

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Eric Bromwell and I am a 17-year veteran on the Maryland House of Delegates. We have never met.

Having received your letter last night, I felt the need to respond this morning, as I disagree with some of your statements. And since I am one of the 140 members who has a vote for the next Speaker of the House of Delegates, I want to add a different perspective.

I appreciate that in your role as Chairman of the Democratic Party for the State of Maryland, that you “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.”

Del. Eric Bromwell (D-Baltimore County)

As one of those candidates who has won a seat in the House of Delegates, I want to thank you for the work that you do. I believe this past election to be the most organized we have ever had in Maryland, and I certainly appreciated the overwhelming help from my fellow Democrats. In what is arguably the most contested district in the State of Maryland, we were able to gain another seat in the House, something rare in District 8. The last time that occurred was in 2006, but we lost that seat again in 2010.

My colleagues in the Senate and House of Delegates who came to help us knock on doors and canvass our entire district both surprised and encouraged Senator Kathy Klausmeier and me. Our colleagues understood that many of the doors they would be knocking were Democrats and Republicans, and in many instances, they asked us if there were any issues we would rather not address. You see, our colleagues in the General Assembly understood that District 8, and others like it, may have a 2-1 Democrat registration, but they are very moderate compared to the voters of Baltimore City or Montgomery County for example.

Ben Jealous’ campaign chose not to come to our district, as I feel they understood that swaying those moderate Democrats would be difficult. In the end, they were correct. A popular moderate Republican Governor was able to win our district easily, despite us picking up a seat in the House and holding off a very strong candidate for Senate. At the same time, we were a driving force in helping get Johnny O Jr., an east side candidate, elected Baltimore County Executive. His opponent Al Redmer had even represented District 8 in the House of Delegates and is quite popular in the area.

When you refer to elected officials who, “took cues from certain Democratic officials who refused to publicly support the Democratic gubernatorial nominee,” I would ask, who took cues from whom? Were we expected to campaign for someone who had no interest in campaigning in our District? Or even on the east side of our County? I don’t think so. I would point to our success in almost adding a third seat as proof that we chose the right path in District 8. I will be clear, neither Senator Klausmeier and I ever endorsed Larry Hogan.

Furthermore, we gained enough seats in the House of Delegates that a veto-proof majority barley even requires a vote to be whipped. But in doing so, our tent got a little bigger. I ask that you not forget that fact. As Democrats we share many values, but we also recognize that there are differences within our party.

You stated, “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.”

I again disagree with this statement. I disagree because of the assumption that if a Speaker is not elected among the Democrats, then that Speaker is beholden to Republican support. As Chairman of the Baltimore County Delegation, I was elected four years in a row with unanimous support. Every Chairman of our County Delegation since has also won with unanimous support. In Baltimore County, we not only recognize that we must work with the minority party, but we are EXPECTED to do so. District 8 elects Democrats and Republicans, so my job is to get along for the greater good of the District, County, and State.

When Marriage Equality was debated in Maryland (hardly a Republican initiative), we passed the bill by two votes. I believe that if the vote were to take place today, we would see in pass by an overwhelming majority. But that was not the case back then. We passed that legislation because we had two Republicans join Democrats to pass the bill. We had a veto-proof majority back then as well (and a Democrat Governor), but it still took two Republican votes to pass it, and I was proud to stand with them and my Democrat colleagues as a co-sponsor.

Finally, I want to address the portion of your letter that essentially threatens us as Democrat members of the House of Delegates. It is easy to make threats when you are trying to influence the vote of members of the House of Delegates, especially when we have so many devoted freshman legislators who may take those threats to heart. But as a veteran, I have been threatened like this before. Despite such threats, I have earned everything I have achieved in my career in the House of Delegates, including the honor of serving as Vice Chairman of Health and Government Operations and Economic Matters.

No matter who wins the election for Speaker, we will be in very good hands. All three of the candidates have a tremendous appreciation for their fellow Democrats in the House of Delegates. I know that they will work hard to provide resources for their members, no matter how the election turns out. If the Party’s stance is that you are with us or you are against us, then that is unfortunate. But in that scenario, I would offer this: I am one of 140 votes on the House floor. I hope every member takes this vote seriously and chooses the person they feel will make the best Speaker of the House of Delegates. I also hope every member does their best to block out all the threats and outside noise, realizing that they can vote for whomever they want to be Speaker. That FLOOR vote is yours and yours alone, and should not be dictated to you by anyone or anything.

In my 17 years here, I have served more years under a Republican Governor than a Democrat Governor. Yes, we are a very blue State, but we must also understand that there are millions of Marylanders who may not agree with us 100% of the time. To immediately shut out those members and jurisdictions who have sent Delegates to Annapolis to represent them would be a mistake. We already have a veto-proof majority. We win every time on the floor, so what is wrong with having an honest debate? What is the worst that could happen, especially when we will again vote for our Speaker in January of 2020?

I truly hope the next Speaker of the House learned from Speaker Mike Busch. As a true Speaker, Mike Busch always included the minority party in the debate. He made sure that every member was treated fairly, and that everyone’s vote was recorded. I don’t know why we would change that, since I believe it is what separates us from the politics of Washington DC. We are the People’s House.

 

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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.

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