Selflessness Makes History in Maryland As First African American and Woman Elected House Speaker

May 3, 2019 by Dan McCue

It had all the makings of a political disaster. The battle to replace the late Michael Busch as speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates had come down to two candidates, both Democrats, but closed-door negotiations had produced no consensus winner.

Baltimore Delegate Maggie McIntosh, a former school teacher who had been a protégé of retired U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, had won the endorsement of the Democratic Caucus, 58-40, beating out Prince George’s County Delegate Dereck Davis, a seven-term legislator with a longstanding reputation as a centrist.

Then the House of Delegates’ Republican Caucus announced its 42 votes were going to Davis, making an all-floor fight almost a certainty.

Some feared such a fight could fracture the state’s Democrats.

But that’s when McIntosh and Davis did a remarkable thing in this age of “I’ve got mine now go get yours.” They set aside their own self-interests and made history.

All through the drama earlier this week, Baltimore County Delegate Adrienne Jones had stood quietly on the sidelines.

It was Jones who had led the House in the final weeks of this year’s General Assembly session, after Busch was hospitalized with pneumonia.

A member of the House of Delegates since 1997, and the body’s speaker pro tem since 2003, Jones had briefly considered running for speaker herself after Busch on April 7, but took herself out the running several days ago.

On Wednesday, McIntosh and Davis approached Jones and asked her to reconsider. If she’d agree to be the compromise candidate, they would support her, they said.

Soon, the progressive wing of the Democratic party was on board, as were the Republicans and the Legislative Black Caucus. Suddenly, Jones was poised to make history. If she prevailed, she would become the first woman and first African-American ever to be elected state House Speaker.

The final vote was 139-0. Unanimous. As the last vote was cast, the House erupted in a standing ovation.

“These walls will never be the same,” said McIntosh, who had nominated Jones for the speaker position following the last round of closed-door negotiations.

Behind McIntosh was a wall of portraits, all of them past House speakers, and all of them white men.

Davis had seconded Jones’ nomination, and offered a quip, “House of Cards’ doesn’t have anything on us,” he said as a broad smile spread over his face.

“Talk about high drama,” Davis added.

Later, with McIntosh and Davis at her side, Jones told reporters, “it is because of these two individuals that I’m in the position that I am in today.”

“I didn’t think I would be here when I left my house this morning,” she said.

Jones, who had previously endorsed Davis for speaker, then explained that discussions had gone “back and forth” among the members of the Democratic Caucus, but no one could get the necessary 71 votes to be speaker.

“These two individuals put the unity of this House before their own ambition,” Jones said, explaining that each had approached her separately to ask her to run.

Also appearing at the press conference was Republican Anne Arundel County Delegate Nic Kipke, the House minority leader, who stood with the Democrats to celebrate the election of Jones.

“Our Caucus is proud to have been a critical piece in this historic election and we offer heartfelt congratulations to the new Speaker of the House,” Kipke said.

As Maryland’s new House Speaker, Jones can now appoint committee chairs and make committee assignments as she sees fit, however she said she anticipated no immediate changes to leadership positions.

Last month, when she was initially considering a run for speaker following Busch’s death, she paid tribute to her predecessor saying that in the years they’d worked together in the legislature, “I learned from the best.”

Jones went on to explain they should try to follow Busch’s example and bring out the best of each member of the House. Far be it for her to adopt a “my way or the highway” approach to leadership, she said.

At the time Jones said of her colleagues in the House, “some are real quiet, others talk all the time, but each of them has something that they can contribute to make a success of the House.”

In a statement, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said “the election of our first African-American and first female Speaker marks a proud and historic moment for our state.

“It is also a moment of great opportunity,” Hogan continued. “Adrienne has pledged to be a Speaker for all delegates, and that is exactly the kind of bipartisan, collaborative spirit our state needs right now.”

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