BALTIMORE — A Prince George’s County lawmaker received support Friday in his bid to become the state’s first African-American speaker in the House of Delegates.
Dereck E. Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville became the lone Black candidate to seek the position after Del. Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), a Black woman, chose to withdraw from the race.
“But like my mentor, I find myself in difficult circumstances wondering what is the best for Marylanders,” said Jones, who stood alongside Davis and Del. Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City) at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore. “We as a people are in difficult times and unity must outweigh politics and pride.”
Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), an openly gay woman also seeking the position, would become the first woman as a presiding officer in the House if selected.
Both Davis and McIntosh would make history if chosen during a special session Wednesday in Annapolis, as only white men have held the position. The lawmaker will replace the late Michael Busch, who served as House speaker from 1993 until his April 7 death — the longest tenure in state history.
During the state’s 90-day session in the state capital, Davis and McIntosh both chaired prominent committees — Davis with Economic Matters and McIntosh with Appropriations.
However, Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland) and the state’s former lieutenant governor, came out in support of Davis and Black leadership in Annapolis.
“Diversity has always been Maryland’s strength, but there is more work to do to ensure that diversity is reflected in the highest public offices,” Brown said in a statement. “Even though African Americans continue to break barriers and make significant strides in public life, we have only managed to put cracks in the glass ceiling of our state’s political leadership. This can and must change now.”
With Davis as the only Black candidate vying for the seat, the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland would be able to rally its support behind one person. The group has 45 of the 98 delegates in the House.
Meanwhile, the Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee nominated Sheneka Henson, a Black Annapolis alderwoman, to fill Busch’s seat in District 30A. Gov. Larry Hogan would need to approve the appointment that would allow Henson to possibly become the 46th member of the state’s Black Caucus.
Branch, the majority whip and also a member of the Black Caucus, has been one of Busch’s most ardent supporters and served in the House the same years as Davis since 1995. Jones, who serves as speaker pro tem and ran the House sessions when Busch wasn’t in attendance, became appointed in 1997 and elected a year later.
Part of the unity stems from a letter Wednesday posted on Facebook by Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the chairwoman of the state’s Democratic Party. The letter states a Democratic candidate shouldn’t accept Republican votes for the speaker seat.
There are 42 Republicans in the House and could vote as an entire voting bloc. Approximately 71 votes are needed for a person to become chosen speaker.
“A Democratic speaker who rises to the position because of Republican support will be beholden to Republicans, their agenda and their values,” Rockeymoore Cummings said. “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.”
Davis said he doesn’t plan to simply represent certain groups such as Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in the state 2 to 1.
“I’m not running for speaker to represent a single caucus,” he said. “I’m running to be speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates.”