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Government & Politics

House GOP Confirms It Will Back Davis on House Floor

House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) during a break in the GOP caucus meeting in Annapolis Wednesday. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

House Republicans will vote in unison to make Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) the next speaker of the House, Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) announced on Wednesday afternoon.

The announcement followed a GOP caucus meeting that occurred at the same time as — and across the hall from — another closed-door meeting, of House Democrats. Lawmakers are scheduled to convene sometime today to choose a new speaker.

In announcing support for Davis, the chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, Kipke said, “We are mindful of the historic opportunity that this is for Maryland and are excited to cast our votes for [the man] who would be Maryland’s first African American Speaker.”

He called the Prince Georgian “a strong, fair, and effective leader who cares greatly about his constituents, our state, and all of the members of this House of Delegates.”

Davis is running against Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), who chairs the Appropriations Committee.

McIntosh and her supporters have heaped scorn on Davis’ willingness to align with Republicans, and they have urged Democrats to unite on the floor behind the top vote-getter in the caucus.

“If it goes to the floor, I think it will be very damaging to the Democratic Party in the state,” McIntosh told reporters during a conference call on Tuesday. “It will be contentious. And I point you to other states where this has happened where it’s taken years to recover.”

Although no formal announcement has been made, sources said the Democratic Caucus voted 58-40 for McIntosh over Davis. But the caucus was continuing to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss what to do next.

Kipke said that Republicans have not sought any special favors from Davis in exchange for their support, nor has he offered anything.

In an interview on Tuesday, he insisted they’re looking for fair treatment, not tangibles.

“We’re asking for fairness from the next speaker, to have a seat at the table, and for them to have a leadership style very much like Speaker Busch had.”

“Especially in the last few years, he was great to work with.”

The race to succeed Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who served 17 years, has divided the chamber. Most lawmakers have long-standing relationships with the two candidates, who have served in leadership for many years. And with the state poised to have someone other than a white male as presiding officer for the first time in its history, passions among those eager to seize the moment have run high at times.

Republicans hold 42 seats in the 140-seat chamber. Democrats have 98. There is one vacancy, the seat held by Busch until his death, following a long illness, on April 7.

If Republicans hold to their pledge to vote in unison on the floor, Davis could pull off a win with the support of approximately 30 Democrats.

He has defended his willingness to reach across the aisle, saying in an interview on Tuesday, “The bottom line is it’s now how you win a race. It’s how you govern. And the way I would lead or govern is that everybody has a seat at the table.”

The Democrats’ caucus meeting, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and end in time for the special session to begin at noon, dragged on into the early afternoon, and it was not immediately clear when a floor session would take place. During frequent caucus and bathroom breaks, lawmakers would rush, tight-lipped, past a loud throng of waiting journalists and political activists camped out in the hallway of the Lowe House Office Building.

Republicans said they would hold a 10:45 news conference, but sent out a written statement at 1:15 instead.

To become speaker, a candidate needs 71 votes, or a majority of those present on the House floor. Regardless of who wins today’s vote, the House will again elect a speaker in January when the General Assembly convenes for the 2020 session.

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House GOP Confirms It Will Back Davis on House Floor