Editor’s Note: As the year winds down, we’re re-running the 10 most-read pieces of the year in Maryland Matters. Here is #5, which first appeared on April 29, just two days before House lawmakers met to choose a replacement for the late speaker Michael E. Busch (D). Since the article ran, new Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D) has worked to heal wounds in the Democratic Caucus. Look for #4 on the list tomorrow.
A member of the Legislative Black Caucus from Baltimore City has resigned from the group over remarks purportedly made by the caucus’ leader.
Her decision comes just days before the House of Delegates votes on a new speaker, amid signs that a leading candidate — a member of the caucus from Prince George’s County — may be preparing to align himself with Republican legislators in order to win the position.
That decision has frayed relations within the 98-member Democratic caucus – which includes 45 members of the black caucus. The LBC is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon in Annapolis – two days before the full House meets to elect a new speaker.
Freshman Del. Regina T. Boyce (D) quit the black caucus Friday afternoon to protest comments from Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), the LBC chair, that she found “unacceptable and infuriating.”
She made her intentions known in an email to Barnes that was obtained Sunday by Maryland Matters.
In an email Monday morning to Maryland Matters, Boyce said she did not intend for her note to Barnes to be made public.
“My intentions are not to divide any group and cause further tensions, however I believe the publication of my email does,” she wrote.
In her email to Barnes, Boyce accused the black caucus leader of saying, “We are going to let a white lesbian be the speaker of the House?” an apparent reference to Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), the first legislator in Maryland history to acknowledge being gay.
According to her email, Barnes made his comments during a black caucus meeting on Sine Die, the last day of the legislative session.
McIntosh is vying with Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) to succeed the late Speaker Michael E. Busch (D), who died earlier this month.
“I was ashamed and embarrassed that our caucus could be so obsessed with having a ‘first black person’ in leadership that they would tear down someone else to express that desire,” Boyce told Barnes in her email.
“The white lesbian is my district mate, Maggie McIntosh, a woman who has tirelessly supported me and so many others in the [General Assembly],” Boyce added.
“She is someone I respect, someone who is a friend, and I believe she is an incredibly fair and honorable individual. I take great pride in serving with her in the 43rd District.”
In an interview Sunday night, Barnes said he did not mean to disparage McIntosh at the black caucus meeting earlier this month – only that he wanted to emphasize the importance of the caucus supporting one of its own in the historic race to replace Busch.
“We are all concentrated on getting an African-American male to be the next speaker of the House,” he said.
Barnes added, “I’ve said on numerous occasions…that this is a historical moment on multiple fronts. I’m not saying anything to discriminate [against] anyone. I think Del. Davis, Del. McIntosh, I hold in high regards. I think they all bring a lot to the table.”
But on follow-up call Monday, Barnes said he was Boyce’s “words were troubling to me,” and asserted he would never use incendiary language about a colleague.
“Because of the historical nature of this race, I understand that emotions are running extremely high, and people are trying to use political posturing in their favor,” he said. “I did not say that we would not support a white lesbian in a closed-door meeting. I never used those words.”
McIntosh and her allies say she has firm commitments from at least 60 of her colleagues – including about one-third of the black caucus. Seventy-one votes will be needed to take control of the 141-member House.
On Friday, Davis picked up the endorsement of longtime Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), whose own bid to succeed Busch failed to generate traction.
If he becomes speaker, Davis would become the most high-profile African-American ever elected in Maryland.
In throwing her support behind him, Jones urged members of the black caucus to do likewise. Davis also picked up the support Friday of U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D), a former lieutenant governor and state delegate who represented the same Prince George’s County legislative district as Davis.
But it appears increasingly likely that Davis will only be able to prevail in the speaker’s race if he takes it to the House floor, where the 42 members of the Republican caucus have agreed to vote in a bloc for one of the Democratic candidates – presumed to be Davis, who is more of a centrist than McIntosh.
The Republicans’ maneuver has prompted calls from Democratic leaders for Democratic House members to honor the will of the majority of the caucus when the vote for speaker reaches the House floor.
Over the course of the weekend, at least three dozen Democratic delegates announced via Facebook that they intend to support the designee of the caucus on the House floor. That list includes a dozen members of the black caucus: Boyce and Dels. Gabriel Acevero of Montgomery County; Erek Barron of Prince George’s County; J. Sandra Bartlett of Anne Arundel County; Tony Bridges of Baltimore City; Alfred C. Carr Jr. of Montgomery; Julian Ivey of Prince George’s; Robbyn Lewis of Baltimore City; Joseline Pena-Melnyk of Prince George’s; Stephanie Smith of Baltimore City; Alonzo T. Washington of Prince George’s; and Melissa Wells of Baltimore City.
Some rank-and-file members of the black caucus have chafed under the pressure they say they are under to back the African-American candidate in the speaker’s race.
Many have a long history of working with McIntosh, a long-serving progressive who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee.
In addition, many of the left-leaning organizations considered key to the Democrats’ success at the ballot box in Maryland have expressed concern that Davis might ascend to the speakership with the backing of Republicans.
The chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, Davis is considered more moderate than McIntosh. He voted against the measure giving same-sex couples the right to marry, and he voted against an Oregon-style death-in-dying measure.
Asked whether he understood why progressive groups would oppose Davis’ possible alignment with Republicans, Barnes replied, “I’m sure they [Davis and McIntosh] are trying to reach as many members as they possibly can. … As the chair of the black caucus my job right now is to try to get nominated an African-American during this historical moment. So I’m not sure where folks are or where they’re aligning themselves up. But my focus right now is to ensure that at this moment and this time in history, that we have an opportunity to elect the first African-American person to be the speaker of the House of the Maryland General Assembly.”
In her email to Barnes, Boyce said that she is resigning from the black caucus “effective immediately.”
“I have been black for 42 years and will continue through my best efforts to work on policies that enhance the well-being of the black community whether they are African, Caribbean or Latin descent.
“I would like my name removed from the Black Caucus letterhead as well,” she added.
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.