By Daniel Oyefusi
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Following more than four hours of deliberation, the Maryland House of Delegates made history in a surprise decision Wednesday afternoon, voting Delegate Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County, the next Speaker of the House.
Jones, who served as Speaker pro tempore, becomes the first African American, and the first woman, to be voted into the position.
She filled in for the late House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, who had fallen ill during the session and died April 7 after being hospitalized with pneumonia.
For weeks following the close of the legislative session April 8, Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, and Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, were considered the front-runners to fill the vacancy.
Jones initially expressed interest in being the next House Speaker but withdrew her name from the race last week.
As the special session drew closer to Wednesday, both McIntosh and Davis stated they had secured the 71 votes — a simple majority — necessary to win the election.
The Legislative Black Caucus announced its support on Tuesday for Davis. And in the midst of the Democratic Caucus’ deliberations Wednesday afternoon, the House Minority Caucus released a statement that it was pledging all 42 Republican votes to Davis.
The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post reported the Democratic Caucus voted 58-40 for McIntosh in its closed-door meeting, which would have given Davis, with Republican support, enough votes to win but at the cost of party unity.
Both the House Democratic and Republican Caucuses met for hours across the hall from each other in the Lowe Office House Building; the House Minority Caucus scheduled a press conference for 10:45 a.m., but time passed and there was no announcement.
Through various times during the late morning and into the early afternoon, members of both caucuses left and re-entered their meeting rooms. At one point, the Black Caucus left to have its own short meeting.
The full Democratic Caucus finally exited its meeting room around 2:30 p.m., where at a makeshift podium they announced unanimous support for Jones.
The unanimous vote was made official at a special House session roughly 30 minutes after the announcement. Both McIntosh and Davis spoke on the floor in support of Jones as new House Speaker, and Jones was visibly emotional as her colleagues spoke glowingly of her.
At a press conference following the vote, Jones thanked McIntosh and Davis, who she said placed the Democratic Caucus above themselves in working together and eventually backing her.
“It’s because of these two individuals that are flanking me on the left and the right,” Jones said while gesturing to McIntosh and Davis, “that I am in this position where I am today.”
Said McIntosh: “I think everybody agreed at the end that it was so important to find a candidate who could get to 71 … I think we all are better and stronger for it. We’re united. I think we’re even stronger.”
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Speaker President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, joined in congratulating Jones.
Hogan called Wednesday’s vote a “proud and historic moment” for Maryland, and Miller called Jones a “natural successor” to Busch.
Delegate C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, praised Davis, who he said had the votes secured, but was open to Jones as the next House Speaker to prevent a fracture within the party.
“Dereck Davis had it. He had that gold ring in his hand and he stepped back to save the Democratic Caucus,” Wilson said. “The Black Caucus endorsed him and I’m happy for Adrienne, but Dereck Davis had it. He was a gentleman.”
Wilson said a primary issue some Democratic lawmakers had with Davis was that he wasn’t as progressive as they would have liked.
“I keep telling them, African Americans aren’t as liberal as they think we are,” Wilson said. “We’re thinkers, we’re church-goers, we’re God-fearing people.”
Either way the votes tipped, history would have been made. McIntosh would have been the first openly gay House Speaker and the first woman, and Davis would have been the first African American House Speaker.
Jones has served as a delegate since 1997, notably sitting on the Appropriations Committee, which McIntosh chairs, for 16 years.
She oversees the agenda of a state that still has many unresolved issues from the past legislative session, notably issues over educating spending and redistricting.
“Adrienne has been spectacular,” Davis said. “She guided us through the roughest period I know during my 25 years down here. She did it with dignity and grace and she’s the best person for the job.”