All but one of Maryland’s Democratic National Committee members voted against a proposal to sanction a standalone climate debate pushed by progressives, a recently released roll call vote shows.
The volatility over the proposal made news at the time of the vote in late August, when DNC members voted 222-137 against a compromise resolution that would have allowed Democratic presidential candidates to hold a debate dedicated to climate change. But a detailed roll call vote has only been publicly circulated in the last week – and it’s prompting progressive party members to confront those who opposed the idea of the single-issue debate.
The roll call vote shows that only one of the 14 DNC members from Maryland, Larry Cohen, voted in favor of a standalone climate debate. Eight members voted against. And five members – including Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings – did not cast votes.
Bobby Moore, a Baltimore resident and progressive party activist, pressed Rockeymoore Cummings about her position on Twitter.
“Climate change effects every issue … if this issue is not addressed, all the other issues don’t matter,” said Moore, who shared the roll call vote this week and continued to ask for explanations from party leaders.
Rockeymoore Cummings said she couldn’t attend the DNC vote because of a family emergency, but Moore and other progressives are upset that she did not vote by proxy or otherwise stake out a clear position on the issue.
In July, the state party’s executive committee voted in favor of a resolution supporting a climate debate, following lobbying by chapters of Indivisible, Our Revolution and the Sunrise Movement. The measure passed by an overwhelming voice vote but did not bind the state’s DNC members.
Sheila Ruth, who sits on the state party executive committee as the director of the party’s Progressives Leadership Council, was one of the members who voted in favor of the resolution.
“We’re in an existential crisis that could lead to the extinction of humanity,” Ruth said.
She said she’d hoped more of the state’s DNC members had followed the executive committee’s lead in voting for the debate.
“The next president is going to be really important in addressing climate change,” Ruth said, noting the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assessment that the world has little more than a decade to act before irreversible damage to the planet. “We need to hear from all the candidates what their plans are.”
Cohen, the national chairman of Our Revolution and a former president of the Communications Workers of America, is an at-large member of the DNC. He helped broker a compromise about the climate debate that would have allowed presidential candidates to appear together at a third-party sponsored event.
Cohen said he was disappointed to see the measure fail and has continued to push for more substantive debates. Cohen thinks the party should dedicate portions of the nine debates remaining after Thursday to certain issues that are in the party platform, allowing candidates more time to expound on policies and ideas.
The party needs to build itself by mobilizing voters around core issues, Cohen said, not candidates and soundbites.
While the climate resolution was being debated last month in California, DNC Chairman Tom Perez, a Marylander, made the case that primetime debates with a broader focus would reach more voters. He noted that the committee has received requests for too many single-issue debates – all on compelling issues – to handle.
The leading Democratic presidential contenders did participate in a televised climate town hall on CNN recently, but they did not appear on stage together.
Moore, who believes the breadth of the climate change issue warrants disproportionate debate, said the August DNC vote shows a disconnect between leadership of the Democratic Party and younger voters who are becoming more involved.
“This vote makes me skeptical that they’re listening to young voters, or that they’re taking our vote for granted,” Moore said.
Arinze Ifekauche, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, said pressure from progressive party members is drawing more attention to climate change this election cycle, including on the MD Dems Podcast, which hosted some of the activists who came to the July meeting in Annapolis.
“The general feeling is that yes, we definitely support progressive action on climate change, and we also need to give equal billing and time to women’s reproductive rights and social justice and education and so much more,” he said.
State Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), the Maryland Democratic Party’s first vice chairman, cast a ballot by proxy against the climate debate resolution at the DNC, in line with his “no” vote in the state executive committee.
“It’s not that climate isn’t important,” McCray said. But he argued that his constituents need him, as one of few black people generally in party leadership meetings, to advocate for greater movement on issues like justice reform, police brutality and economic opportunity.
“We can’t take the issues that are very prominent in the communities I represent and decrease their value,” McCray said.