Thursday, August 29, 2013

JuiceBlender: Stand Your Ground in Maryland, Transparency Critique, Non-English Speakers & Tribute to Gwendolyn Britt

Below Maryland Juice writer Dan Furmansky provides a mish-mosh of items on various tidbits of interest to politicos:

JUICE #1: WASHINGTON POST HIGHLIGHTS MARYLAND COUNTIES WITH HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF NON-ENGLISH SPEAKERS - While the state is considering making political participation more open and accessible to Marylanders, I wonder if it might consider how to do so for non-English speakers, or those for whom English is not their primary language.

The Washington Post has an interesting map of U.S. counties and what percent of residents speak a language other than English at home. In Maryland, the counties with more than 10% of residents speaking qualifying are below. Montgomery County has nearly twice as many people in this category as the next jurisdiction, Howard County. And each of these counties cites Spanish as the most common language:
  • Anne Arundel County:    10.1% of 4498,228 residents
  • Frederick County:         11.9% of 216,672 residents
  • Baltimore County:        12.6% of 754,586 resident
  • Prince George’s County:    19.8% of 799, 245 residents
  • Howard County:         21.9% of 266,255 residents
  • Montgomery County:     38.1% of 895,929 residents

JUICE #2: DAN FURMANSKY CALLS OUT TRANSPARENCY PROBLEMS IN MARYLAND POLITICS - If there’s one thing Maryland isn’t known for, it’s openness in its political process. As just one example, when I was a registered lobbyist, I can’t tell you how many times I was told I couldn’t sit in on a voting session because “it was frowned upon,” and there would be repercussions if I bucked this unspoken protocol. There were also countless times when bills would be held up in committee day after day in an attempt to kill them by the ticking clock, but finding out who voted to hold the bill up was like solving the mystery of crop circles. It’s refreshing to see some positive changes — to some degree — over the past few years with the increasing use of social media. And it looks like more change is on the way.

There was an interesting editorial in The Baltimore Sun last week regarding OpenGov’s involvement in making Maryland government more transparent and participatory using technology. California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, started the OpenGov Foundation—but let’s not hold that against this very noble project. Here’s a snippet from The Sun (excerpt below):
BALTIMORE SUN: OpenGov released the results of a survey last week showing that large majorities of Maryland voters are dissatisfied with the level of information they now get about state government and would like better advance notice about proposed laws and taxes that affect them.

OpenGov suggests an easy solution: Politicians should adopt social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, which are free and already in use by most of their constituents, and those who do should stop using them to post endless photos of ribbon cuttings and start telling people what they're actually doing. If voters know when their senator or delegate is working on an amendment to a bill they're interested in, they have a chance to give meaningful and constructive feedback.

A more ambitious solution is software that OpenGov has tested in Congress that makes it easier for people to see bills as they are introduced and marked up and provides tools for them to make comments or suggestions on how the proposed laws should be changed. The foundation is developing a Maryland version of the software, called Madison, that it hopes to have in place when the General Assembly returns in the fall....
We here at Maryland Juice are curious to hear from all of you as to which Maryland politicians you feel make the best use of social media as envisioned by OpenGov. In other words, which elected official manages to bring citizens further into the legislative process and demystify politics? Email your thoughts: To learn more about OpenGov, check out this report from WJZ-TV:

JUICE #3: HELP ME HONOR THE LATE SENATOR GWENDOLYN BRITT // WE'RE TRYING TO RAISE FUNDS FOR A PORTRAIT  - When I was executive director of Equality Maryland, we were fighting an uphill battle for marriage equality, and vocal support in Annapolis was few and far between. During those years, a remarkable legislator became my ally, supporter, friend, and inspiration. As many of you readers know, State Senator Gwendolyn Britt, who represented District 47 in Prince George's County, was no ordinary individual. She was a bona fide civil rights hero — a freedom rider who played a pivotal role in ending Maryland’s enforcement of segregation, risked her life in the deep south registering fellow African Americans to vote, and even spent 40 days in a maximum security prison for her activism. Sen. Britt stood by the LGBT community’s side time and again. When I asked her to be the lead sponsor of our marriage bill in the Senate, she did not hesitate. It was clear she was proud to be honored with such a request. She took the responsibility seriously, and became a passionate champion for the freedom to marry. That’s simply who Gwendolyn Britt was—a social justice leader who believed strongly in the cause of civil rights for all people.

Senator Britt passed away in 2008 of a heart attack, at the young age of 66. In the years since, I have become close with her husband, Travis. When Travis contacted me about the idea of having a portrait of his wife placed in the legislative halls of Annapolis, and let me know Senate President Mike Miller was committed to finding a place for such a portrait, I was honored to work with Travis to make the idea a reality.

Together, we are launching the Senator Gwendolyn Britt Portrait Project—a tremendous opportunity to honor her contributions to equality for all people. For those of you who respected and admired Senator Britt as much as I did, I am asking you to please join in this effort. Click here to learn more about the project and to make a contribution:

JUICE #4: DEL. PAT MCDONOUGH PUSHES "STAND YOUR GROUND" LAW IN MARYLAND // BALTIMORE CITY COUNCILMEMBER PROPOSES FLORIDA BOYCOTT OVER SAME LAW - Del. Pat McDonough, who no doubt had heartburn after seeing how many households in Maryland don’t speak English at home, is also upset that Maryland doesn’t have a Stand Your Ground law on the books, so he plans to introduce one. The Baltimore Sun recently reported on the development (excerpt below):
BALTIMORE SUN: McDonough said Maryland is one of a minority of states with a duty to retreat.
“The duty to retreat is the weakest form of protection for crime victims and their families,” he said. “Maryland citizens are being placed in harm’s way in a state where assault and violent crime are numerous.”
The “stand your ground” concept is widely supported by gun rights advocates but its chance of winning the support of the Democratic-dominated Maryland legislature are all but nonexistent. 
McDonough’s sponsorship is not a good sign for its prospects. The conservative delegate has seen few of his legislative proposals become law since he was elected in 2002....
Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago, Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby introduced a resolution that, if passed, would mark the first attempt at economic sanctions between U.S. cities. Here’s a piece of news that slipped by me but was pointed out by a reader: reports that the proposal is a response to the Florida "stand your ground law" that was the subject of debate during the Trayvon Martin case (excerpt below):
AFRO: During an Aug. 13 city council meeting, 7th District Councilman Nick Mosby proposed a measure that would limit the city’s commercial and financial ties to Florida and encourage all city agencies refrain from doing business with companies in Florida.

"The idea is to ask city agencies to look at any opportunities of diverting business from corporations from the state of Florida," Mosby told the AFRO.

Mosby said he hopes that the Florida stand-your-ground law is amended. He said while the Zimmerman defense did not employ the stand-your-ground law in its self defense strategy, the judge in the case spelled out the law in her instruction to the six-member panel before they deliberated on the second-degree murder case.

"I think the application of the law should be looked at and changed,” he said. “I want to insure that it stays on the forefront of their legislatives minds and hopes that we can maybe get a more perfect policy down there. I never want to see another Trayvon Martin incident again in my lifetime."
The resolution calls for: "Divestment from the State of Florida FOR the purpose of requesting that the City of Baltimore review and minimize it's business dealings connected with the State of Florida, and municipalities in Florida, in protest of that state's 'Stand Your Ground' law."

The resolution made news across the country, but it doesn’t appear likely it will move. Some people have publicly condemned Mosby for “wasting time.” Call me an idealist, but I can’t help it—I appreciate a legislator who is willing to use his soapbox to promote dialogue on key issues. As long as a legislator is effective at promoting and passing innovative public policy and supporting their district and constituents’ needs, then I say more power to him or her for creatively weighing in in such a fashion on an issue that should concern us all.

JUICE #5: MARYLAND WON'T LEVERAGE RUSSIAN RELATIONSHIP TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST ANTI-GAY OPPRESSION - Across the world, people are protesting at Russian embassies, urging a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and dumping Russian vodka out in the streets. Why? The Duma’s recent passage of frightening, anti-gay legislation that bans “propaganda” of “non-traditional relationships.” In other words, speaking out for gay rights, assembling for a rally, or even coming out of the closet too publicly, could now be construed as grounds for incarceration. People have already been arrested under the law, including tourists. This follows years of escalating attacks on LGBT people and their public assembly — attacks that have been violent, and fomented by the Russian Orthodox Church.

In addition to the traditional boycott tactics, LGBT activists across the country are urging U.S. cities to sever “sister city” relationships with Russian counterparts. Lansing, Michigan voted unanimously last week to adopt a resolution urging the city to sever its symbolic relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia.
Bernard Cherkasov, Equality Illinois CEO, said in the press such a move by Chicago would be one of "many small but meaningful steps" that could lead to "a national and then an international consensus will grow and ultimately, we believe, force Russia to change its behavior toward its gay citizens and visitors," the Chicago Phoenix reports.

Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith wrote to St. Pete, FL lawmakers, saying “These laws send dangerous messages that LGBT people are not fit to be full members of society with all of the freedoms afforded to everyone else; that their mere existence is a danger to children.  While Saint Petersburg, Florida joins so many other communities in guaranteeing workplace and family equality, ending hate violence, and celebrating our diverse community, we cannot stand silently by while close partners of our pursue policies of hate and violence.”

According to Metro Weekly, Maryland has a partnership with the Leningrad Oblast region of Russia, the capital of which is St. Petersburg, through Sister Cities International, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to foster relationships and understanding between different communities across the globe. The partnership has been in place since former Maryland Gov. Donald Schaefer (D) and Alexander Belyakov, the governor of the Leningrad Oblast region, signed an agreement in June of 1993. As part of the program, both "sister cities" are expected to maintain diplomatic relations; foster the exchange of business, cultural or educational ideas and values; and co-sponsor events aimed at creating and maintaining strong relationships.

In addition, Maryland has far more leverage than just a ceremonial sister-city relationship. The Gazette reported just last week that Russia is the #2 recipient of Maryland exports, and the fastest-growing market, “with exports from Maryland rising in the first half to $248 million, or about five times as high as they had been in the first half of 2012.” But the Metro Weekly reports that  it doesn’t look like the Governor wants to jump into the fray or, perhaps, harm Maryland’s economic interests (excerpt below):
METRO WEEKLY: In a statement to Metro Weekly, Peter Fosselman, the deputy secretary of state for Maryland, indicated that the state has no plans to sever ties with its sister city in Russia.

"This program, run through the Secretary of State’s Office, is really more about establishing connections from people to people, not from government to government," Fosselman said. "By strengthening relationships with others, we can educate people and share with them our values as they pertain to human rights."

Russia isn’t the only country with a frighteningly repressive atmosphere for LGBT people, but having the world’s negative attention turned on Russia of late is having a positive impact elsewhere. Late last week, the national police in Armenia withdrew a bill it had previously submitted to the Armenian government, banning any public promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships,” reports the LGBT-themed blog Towleroad.

No doubt these resolutions to sever sister-city ties are little more than symbolic, but together, all actions calling attention to repression add up. And it certainly doesn’t take more than a few minutes of time for someone in the Governor’s press office to issue a letter of concern to St. Petersburg and promote it in the press.


- Dan Furmansky

No comments:

Post a Comment