The contest to succeed Michael E. Busch as Maryland House speaker intensified Wednesday, one day after his funeral, with the lead contender warning of a rift in her party if rivals try to win with support from the chamber’s Republican minority.
Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) said she is shoring up support among Democratic delegates and thinks she can win a majority of votes in the party’s 98-member caucus, which traditionally delivers the speakership.
But McIntosh said she has heard rumors that the 42-member Republican caucus, which plans to vote as a bloc, could team with Democrats who support Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) or Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), both of whom are also actively seeking the job.
Davis won a recent closed-door straw poll of the 45-member Legislative Black Caucus, but the vote was not unanimous, The Washington Post reported last week. He also has the open backing of Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) and many other politicians from the county.
“We all have to come together in the end and stick together as a caucus,” McIntosh said Wednesday. “That is not to say that you don’t work with the Republicans. We work with the Republican Party to govern. But not to choose our speaker.”
The 141-member House of Delegates is expected to elect a successor to Busch (D-Anne Arundel) in a special legislative session on May 1. The winner needs a majority vote.
Del. Eric Luedtke, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said that in his experience the caucus has always united behind whichever candidate wins a majority of support among its members.
“I expect and hope that the caucus will come together” on May 1, he said.
The all-Democratic Legislative Black Caucus will meet in coming days to decide on a candidate, and will then throw all of its support behind that person, said its head, Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s).
“The Black Caucus will be 100 percent unified by the time a vote takes place on May 1,” Barnes said, adding that all three candidates “would make history.”
McIntosh, 71, Davis, 51, and Jones, 64, were all close lieutenants of Busch, the longest-serving speaker in state history. McIntosh is an openly gay white woman; Davis and Jones are African Americans. In Maryland, only white men have served as governor, Senate president or speaker of the House.
Asked whether he would push for an African American speaker, Barnes said that his priorities as the chair of the Black Caucus are twofold: To make sure the next speaker is “putting the African American community at the forefront of their agenda,” and to find the person best-suited to lead the sometimes unruly House.
House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) said Wednesday that the Republican caucus will vote as a bloc but has not yet decided whom to support. Kipke said that the caucus authorized him to have conversations with candidates vying to succeed Busch and that some of those conversations have happened in recent days.
“None of them have asked me for our support, nor have I asked for anything,” Kipke said. “I have expressed to them that whoever the next speaker is, we expect them to build on the positive relationship we had, especially in recent years, with Speaker Busch.”
He declined to say whom he is inclined to support, saying; “I think any of them can rise to the occasion.”
McIntosh, chair of the Appropriations Committee, said she had not spoken with Kipke.
Davis, chair of the Economic Matters Committee, said he has spoken with the Republican leader and other members of that caucus because he wants to be a leader who is “open and inclusive of all members.”
“It would be foolish not to talk with everyone, because everyone has a voice,” said Davis, who is generally viewed as more centrist and business-friendly than McIntosh.
Davis said he has spent recent days calling members on both sides of the aisle, learning about the issues in each of their districts. He said he is focusing on individual members, not caucuses.
“I’m not running for speaker of the Democratic Caucus or the Legislative Black Caucus,” he said. “I’m not looking for any particular bloc.”
Davis said it is premature to speculate about how the Democratic caucus members will vote and what could happen after that vote. “People change their minds,” he said.
Jones said that she has spoken with Kipke but that her focus is on winning support among Democrats. She said she has been doing a “full-court press” since Busch’s funeral, making individual calls to delegates in the Democratic caucus asking for their support.
“I have to get them on board first,” she said. “We don’t want the House to be divided with the loss of the speaker.”
She said that many thought she was not interested in the position because she did not begin discussing it until after Busch’s death. “I’m playing catch-up,” she said, declining to cite the number of commitments she has received.
McIntosh said she knows she has “strong support” among members of the Black Caucus and would not be running if she didn’t.
She said she has been calling Democrats who support Davis and Jones, stressing the importance of being unified as a party and asking them to shift their support to her if she wins a majority vote of the Democratic caucus.
She said that a few delegates so far have pledged to do so.
“I’m not going to rest until it’s over,” she said.