In Annapolis, Democrats and the media are exchanging high-fives and chest bumps over the raft of far-left legislation passed by this year’s General Assembly. Born-again Progressive Mike Miller, the Senate president, is calling it “The Age of Aquarius.” Others call it Sodom and Gomorrah.
But this year’s session is merely the capstone to seven years under the O’Malley administration. Seen as a continuum, the breadth of “progressive” legislation is truly stunning:
Gay marriage, death-penalty repeal, strict gun control, medical marijuana, in-state tuition and driver’s licenses for illegals, septic-tank ban and state control of local land use, offshore windmill farms (but a de facto ban on natural-gas fracking and exporting), felons’ voting rights and permission to work at casinos, teachers’ mandatory union dues, relaxing election laws including Election Day registration and online absentee ballots, and Obamacare exchanges and taxes.
But several of the most ballyhooed liberal “wins” are merely symbolic gestures.
Maryland hasn’t had a death penalty since 2006, when the courts struck down the lethal-injection protocol, which O’Malley and Democratic lawmakers never subsequently rectified.
Then, in 2009, the legislature gutted Maryland’s capital-punishment statute by imposing a near impossible evidence standard. So, this year’s repeal simply conforms the law to political reality.
Likewise, O’Malley’s offshore renewable energy windmills bill is so watered down, it’s financially impractical. The bill’s main purpose is to boost O’Malley’s presidential bid by burnishing his environmental résumé.
Nor is Maryland likely to become a medical marijuana venue. Doc pot distribution is limited to major hospitals, which will be reluctant to risk their federal funding by violating the federal ban against marijuana.
Maryland’s new gun-control law is a cultural victory for non-gun owners against gun owners, but it won’t save one life or take one gun out of the hands of one criminal. Instead, illegal firearms, like illegal drugs, will simply become more expensive.
Liberals are fond of proclaiming that they are “on the right side of history.” But most of this year’s legislation is the product of old-fashioned political deals and payoffs, not idealism.
The biggest reason so many liberal agenda items passed this year is that Senate President Mike Miller finally got his gambling expansion. Last year, Miller held the state budget hostage and sent the Assembly into special sessions when his casinos and table games bill died in the House. O’Malley got behind Miller’s gambling bill after Miller threatened him that, otherwise, he’d trash the last two years of O’Malley’s term (and his presidential ambitions).
Once gambling expansion become law, Miller released O’Malley’s windmills bills, death penalty repeal, etc., although it involved switching senators between various committees and adding minority business set-asides to the windmills bill to buy off the Black Caucus.
Likewise, the gas-tax bill only passed because legislative leaders paid off Baltimore city with massive state funding for school construction and Prince George’s County with more education and hospital state aid. So much for “the right side of history.”
One statehouse curiosity is that the Senate, once the more conservative (less liberal?) chamber, is now more liberal than the House. That’s because Democrats gained two Senate seats but lost six House seats in the 2010 elections.
As a result, leftist bills that flew out of the Senate (gay marriage, gun control, gas tax, gambling expansion, decriminalizing pot) got bogged down in the House. Meanwhile, in the Senate (where 24 votes is a majority), the $10 minimum wage (25 sponsors) and the transgender rights (23 sponsors) bills are pending. And a bill forcing apartment owners to accept Section 8 voucher tenants only lost by one Senate vote.
Miller, who once dictated to the Senate, is now being dictated to by a coalition of blacks and white liberals. So Miller, whose sole concern is retaining his presidency, is throwing in with the lefties before they dump him for one of their own.
But the most profound moment of this year’s session was when an amendment to the death-penalty repeal bill was offered, preserving capital punishment solely for mass murderers of school children. Liberal lawmakers killed the amendment. Conclusion: compassion for mass murderers while we fingerprint law-abiding gun owners.
You have to go back 100 years in Maryland history to the so-called “Progressive Era” to find an equivalent to today’s “O’Malley Era.”
But there’s one big difference: The Progressive Era reformers wrested control from the railroads, coal companies, utilities and political machine to better the lives of working people by improving working conditions, public education, elections and legislative ethics.
Today’s “progressives” are, instead, championing big government and the Democratic Party. Under O’Malley, they’ve increased 37 different taxes and fees, adding $3.1 billion a year to Marylanders’ tax burden. And almost all of it (sales tax, gas tax, tolls) is a regressive hit on working families, the folks the liberals claim to care about.
Likewise, legalizing slots and casinos is a shameful pestilence on vulnerable Marylanders that would make yesterday’s progressives cringe. But huge new tax and gambling revenues are the fuel that grows state government, which is what today’s liberals are really all about.
Blair Lee is CEO of the Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in Business Gazette. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.