The tension spilled over with a Bible verse.
“Whoever walks in integrity . . .” started Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee member Derrick Richardson, reading from Proverbs as part of a filibuster meant to derail a vote on two issues that have divided the body.
The raucous meeting that ensued late Tuesday revealed more internal turmoil in a political committee struggling to preserve its independence amid pressure from party leaders to rally behind such causes as extending term limits and endorsing school board candidates. Some on the committee do not support these initiatives, and some think the committee should not take a position.
The fissures come at a critical time for Maryland Democrats. Party committees across the state are supposed to be mobilizing to help elect Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to the governorship. And the Prince George’s committee is supposed to help instruct the county’s more than 427,000 registered Democrats on how they should vote.
The contention surrounds ballot question “J,” which will ask county voters in November to loosen a two-decade-old limit on terms in elective office. It would permit the county executive and County Council to serve three instead of two terms in office.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), an unapologetic critic of term limits, asked the central committee not only to include the question on the sample ballot sent to Democratic voters but also to go a step further and recommend a “yes” vote.
The sample ballot resembles State Board of Elections materials but identifies Democratic Party positions on issues and candidates, officials said.
Twice, Prince George’s voters have rejected any changes to term limits. In the recent past, the committee has shied away from contentious ballot questions because endorsing a position on the sample ballot can sway voters.
“They know that the voter takes the sample ballot to the polls and votes down the line, following all the checks,” said Pat Fletcher, former committee member and school board candidate.
Richardson and several other committee members previously rebuffed Baker, arguing that the matter is far too controversial and should be left to voters to decide individually.
The committee chair, Cheryl Landis, argued the controversy could be a “blessing in disguise” and bring more voters out to polls.
As the bizarre meeting grew acrimonious, Landis pushed forward as opponents tried to block the vote, and Richardson’s filibuster ended with a brief recess.
Ultimately, however, the measure passed.
“This is going to splinter us,” said member Theresa Dudley, who voted against it.
More outrage ensued when Courtney Glass sought to have fellow committee members reconsider their decision last week not to endorse the executive’s picks for the nonpartisan school board races.
State Sens. Paul Pinsky and Joanne Benson, both Prince George’s Democrats, testified in support of the candidates, asking the committee to be leaders on challenging issues. “These positions are important,” Pinsky said.
In a close vote, the committee overturned their previous position. The decision sparked angry chatter and denunciations from the crowd. Some witnesses wondered aloud whether the melee could hurt the elected body’s ability to get out the vote for Brown.
“You see what has happened,” said committee member Denise Riley. “This has distracted us from our goals. . . . We are pitting Democrats against Democrats.”
Dudley vowed to file an affidavit with the state party alleging that the committee violated the bylaws, and she called the vote a “mockery.”