By Dayvon Love
It is not enough to elect Black people to the Maryland General Assembly who stand up unapologetically for Black people. We must advocate that these legislators are placed in positions of power within the legislature. People have characterized the 2018 primary election cycle in Maryland as a progressive wave.
This wave included three Black women who were the first Black women to be elected from Montgomery County to the Maryland House of Delegates. It included the victory of racial justice champion Sen. Jill P. Carter over the Martin O’Malley political machine backed and well-funded JD Merrill. It is important that we are forceful in advocating that Black people who have been champions of racial justice are elevated to positions of leadership, otherwise the new rhetoric of progressivism will just be the newest garment used to cover up the Democratic Party establishment body that is committed to and structured by the traditional centers of White corporate and political power.
In the Maryland General Assembly, the Speaker of the House of Delegates and the President of the Senate are elected by their colleagues. When elected by their colleagues they appoint committee chairs who are able to control which pieces of legislation are able to be considered on the floor of the legislature. The progressive wave of this past primary election presented an opportunity for the leadership to appoint committee chairs that have a track record to standing up for racial justice.
This was particularly the case as it relates to the newly vacant seat of the House Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee is the place where criminal justice legislation is heard. The Speaker had an opportunity to appoint a bonafide criminal justice reformer like Del. Erek Barron. Del. Barron was instrumental in the development of the Justice Reinvestment Act and on bail reform during this last legislative term. He is well regarded as one of the leading voices on criminal justice reform in the legislature.
Instead, Speaker Busch appointed Baltimore City Del. Luke Clippinger. The argument for Del. Barron to be committee chair is not to disparage Clippinger’s competence as a legislator, but I am confident that Clippenger would not describe himself as a leader on criminal justice reform. He represents a district that has a large constituency of wealthy White folks that have a tendency to call for harsh criminal justice policies.
This dynamic was manifested last session during the fight against mandatory minimums where he voted for enhanced sentences. The progressive wave may have taken out long time an opponent to criminal justice reform, former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Vallario, but the appointment of Del. Clippinger represents a protection of the status quo.
A particularly important issue for Baltimoreans is the election of the next chair of the Baltimore City Delegation. In a confusing and convoluted attempt to elect a new Delegation chair at the end of the last session (which did not result in the election of a new chair), it was clear that there are two legislators who have expressed interest in chairing the delegation; Del. Nick Mosby and Del. Cheryl Glenn.
The Delegation chairs will be elected by their colleagues. The Delegation Chair is important because it sets the legislative agenda for Baltimore City in Annapolis. It has been my experience that Del. Glenn is too connected to the Democratic Party establishment, which was most notably evidenced by her endorsement of Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who is been a major roadblock to substantive criminal justice reform in Maryland.
Del. Mosby on the other hand has been an advocate for criminal justice reform and is not beholden to the Democratic Party establishment. With that being said we are urging the community to contact your newly elected legislators in Baltimore City and urge them to vote for Nick Mosby as chair of the Baltimore City Delegation. This will help ensure that Baltimore City’s representation will not be beholden to the Democratic Party Establishment.
Dayvon Love is Director of Public Policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a Black, grassroots think tank based in Baltimore.