Monday, November 5, 2012

Maryland Juice Explains the Controversial November Ballot Questions: I Voted "For" Questions 4 & 6 and "Against" 5 & 7

PLUS: A Comment on MoCo Questions A & B

After writing about Maryland's numerous ballot question battles for several months, last Friday night I finally got in line to vote early at Montgomery County's Silver Spring polling location. Below I explain how I voted on a few of the most controversial ballot questions. But before we begin, I sorted the ballot questions into those that are my personal top priorities, and those that are of secondary interest.

CONTEXT FOR HOW I VOTED: Many voters seem to be deciding on the ballot questions based strictly on the direct policy questions laid out before them (eg: for or against more casinos in Maryland). But for me, I looked at the ballot questions with an eye toward the future of progressive politics in Maryland and how the state Democrats should choose to define themselves against the opposition. My explanations below are rooted in the belief that political institutions and parties should be constantly evolving creatures, and that right now the demography and rules of the game are changing in favor of Maryland's progressive grassroots.

But too many Democratic politicians are still voluntarily taking the safe and cynical path forward, rather than harnessing new opportunities to advance social justice and good evidence-driven policymaking. This should be no surprise in a state where the same Democratic legislative leaders have ruled in perpetuity for the last three decades. Occasionally they throw us a progressive bone, as many have been quick to point out that Senate President Mike Miller "allowed" marriage equality to pass. Apparently the Democratic base is supposed to set low expectations for what policies should be adopted in Maryland. But hardly any incumbent Democrats in Maryland are vulnerable against  Republicans, which means these low expectations and their resulting "compromises" are purely voluntary and self-defeating.

Case in point -- when the President can endorse marriage equality without any notable impact on his swing-state chances, it means times have changed and a large chunk of Maryland Democrats are too stuck in "conventional wisdom" to see the new realities of public opinion in America. When Democrats in a liberal one-party state like Maryland sit on the sidelines (or oppose social justice) during the raging battle for Maryland's soul, it is time for a disruption. Unfortunately, that disruption is clearly not going to come from within the party. That's why it's up to us to force the Democrats to evolve -- not just on issues, but also about how they do business. In many ways, I see this as a generational battle. That's why I voted as follows:

MARYLAND JUICE'S TOP PRIORITIES: For Maryland Juice, Questions 4 and 6 boil down to whether Maryland politics will respect the personal dignity of others. You need not look further than what those opposing marriage equality and the Dream Act are saying about gay and lesbian families & immigrants to understand that you should not be siding with these folks. Just yesterday, a Frederick pastor blamed Hurricane Sandy on NYC Mayor Bloomberg's donation to Maryland's marriage equality campaign. Days before that, a Randallstown pastor stated that gay individuals and marriage equality backers were worthy of death. Meanwhile, a core of extremists organizing against the Dream Act see the battle in Maryland as their stand against the invasion of America. Enough said? If not, here's a little more explanation on each question:
  • VOTE FOR QUESTION 6: Marriage Equality - For me this is primarily a battle for civil liberties and individual rights. If you believe, as I do, that people not harming others should be let alone, then you should consider voting for Question 6. And if you believe in separation of church & state, as I do, then you'll also just dismiss offhand any religious objection about marriage equality in Maryland. But if you also believe that we are currently in the midst of discrimination against LGBT families without a legitimate, articulable policy purpose, then you should definitely vote for Question 6. Because those circumstances -- which do exist in Maryland -- would make this a civil rights issue. Otherwise, we would be saying that the term "civil rights" applied only to things that happened during the 60's.  Instead, I think the civil rights movement is alive and well, and it stands for a principle -- not just one group of people. Dr. King obviously saw civil rights as a multi-issue struggle against war, poverty, and racial discrimination -- not just as the struggles of his own people. We dishonor that powerful message by allowing the intense multi-year struggle for legal recognition by LGBT families to be withheld the designation of a "civil rights" issue. And what the battle for these words and labels is really about at their core, is a normative struggle in the public cosnciousness. Indeed, those stuck in the past seek to control even the use of words (like "marriage" and "civil rights") to prevent them from lending legal definition and legitimacy to a group they don't like. A message from my generation: Get over it. Vote for Question 6.  
  • VOTE FOR QUESTION 4: Dream Act - I am in principle against standing in the way of anyone who wants to go to school and obtain a higher education. I can think of no net positive benefit for Maryland by putting out of reach an affordable college education for someone that is already living here and paying taxes. Do you really need to hear more than that? Vote for Question 4.

  • VOTE AGAINST QUESTION 7: Gambling Expansion -As mentioned in my notes about marriage equality above, I believe that individuals not harming others should be let alone. Indeed, Maryland Juice likes a good game of hold 'em poker and the occasional trip to Atlantic City with old friends from high school. But I still think Marylanders should not support the further creep of the gambling industry into our state. First, let's just be honest here. The Democratic Party around the nation is now a wholly corporate party. Like many other issues, liberals have thrown in the towel concerning special interest influence on our party. We accept that our side has to raise money to combat the other side. We look the other way when our side approves clear special interest legislation, and we do it because they do other good things that the Republicans oppose. But this situation is not ideal, and it is beginning to give me a stomach-ache. If the older generation was willing to tolerate and facilitate the corporate takeover of both major political parties, I hope my generation will spend every day fighting to burn down the House of Cash that the oldsters have built. Let's start by voting against Question 7. I know I am not the only Maryland Democrat to cringe in embarrassment when our Democratic leaders brought the legislature back for a special session, the sole purpose of which was to allow MGM to built a casino at National Harbor. We're all watching the barrage of ads about this issue, and we know they were not free. One can only conclude that Maryland residents were not subjected to this horrifying political freak-show without the aiding and abetting of numerous Democratic leaders. Not cool.  Even more, we as voters should not reward the casino industry for treating us like we're stupid. Do you remember their last few rounds of lies? First, we needed slots to save the Preakness; then we needed more slots for tots & schools stadiums; and now we need more slots and table games because of scary West Virginia. Blah, blah blah..... We get it, you want more Marylanders to spend money gambling, and you'll say whatever argument-du-jour fits your goals. But here's the reality: almost half of all casino revenues will come from repeat-Maryland customers who live within a 45 short drive of a casino. So we would be pulling money out of Maryland consumers' pockets to shore up the state budget, just because a small percentage of our dollars are going to West Virginia. Forget it: West Virginia can have our gambling money, because while they're protecting their slot barns, Maryland jobs are luring their young residents to move here!
  • VOTE AGAINST QUESTION 5: Congressional Districts - Voting against Question 5 is completely a realpolitik analysis for me. If you vote against Question 5, then Maryland's Congressional Districts will have to be re-drawn -- by Democrats. This seems like a freebie, even though I've heard concern that "anything could happen" if the lines are redrawn. Anything can't happen -- the Democratic party leaders of Maryland have already demonstrated their ability to strong-arm a map through the process. And in reality, I don't like this map very much. Not because it wasn't drawn "independently" (whatever that means) -- but because I think Democrats could've achieved their goals while taking into account a few other considerations. For example, the map didn't do anything to increase chances of diversifying Maryland's Congressional delegation, and it artificially narrowed the potential candidate field in the 6th Congressional District. Moreover, the map was drawn to suit the wishes of politicians who advance neither the progressive agenda, nor the Montgomery County agenda (eg: Rep's Steny Hoyer & Dutch Ruppersberger). The map also destabilized the bases of MoCo favorites Chris Van Hollen & Donna Edwards. For all of those reasons, I voted against Question 5. But let me be very clear, that I am opposed to Maryland adopting independent redistricting for Congressional districts. I am in favor of fair outcomes, not a process which is on its surface fair but leads to bad outcomes. Please study the issue, because independent redistricting will lead to both a de-facto Republican gerrymander and could potentially harm racial representation. Maryland's residential segregation patterns will not easily lend themselves to drawing more "square" or blind districts. Not to mention, readers should keep in mind that independent line drawing for 8 out of 435 Congressional Districts is folly. It has got to be all or nothing. Believe me that many of those complaining about "gerrymandering" are shedding crocodile tears and have said nothing about the ridiculous GOP gerrymanders that have been sweeping through the South and eliminating Democratic seats in state after state. So Maryland Juice voted against Question 5 and wants to see a map re-drawn that factors in the interests of the party base. Moreover, a new map should not disadvantage Montgomery Democrats, and at a minimum would allow the party to stick John Delaney's house into CD6.

If you live in Montgomery County:
  • VOTE FOR QUESTION A - Disability Hiring - Question A is common sense, as it would expand hiring opportunities for disabled individuals.
  • VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE ON QUESTION B - Montgomery County Police Union Effects Bargaining Repeal - I'm not sure it makes sense for me to explain how I voted on this measure, as the matter seems to be confounding many people. The only thing I will say is this: I don't like the idea that my tax dollars can go to referenda lobbying. How much should the County be allowed to spend on this? Who decides? Do we get a say? Why stop at Question B, why not spend on the other issues? Would we be cool with Blaine Young spending money against the Dream Act in Frederick? Should the state legislature then spend money defending the laws it passed? I think County Executive Ike Leggett is setting a terrible precedent in Montgomery County by spending so many staff and monetary resources on referendum advocacy. Meanwhile, his personal campaign account was flush with funds at last check. Why didn't he just pay for this with his campaign account? I think Montgomery County residents should be very concerned about the fact that the government has been spending money on referenda advertising this cycle.

Thanks for reading!
 - Juice

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