One toke over the line? -- Gazette.Net


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Heather Mizeur says she’s running for governor, but her campaign looks more like a cultural movement testing liberalism’s outer limits.

If elected, she’ll be Maryland’s first woman governor, Maryland’s first lesbian governor, Maryland’s first governor elected from Montgomery County and the first governor elected directly from the House of Delegates.

Wow, that’s a lot of “firsts.” Also, she’ll be the first governor with an African-American Baptist minister lieutenant governor. Picture her inauguration where the lieutenant governor delivers the benediction.

Then there’s Mizeur’s campaign platform:

• She wants to raise Maryland’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage to $16.70.

• She wants to soak the rich by raising taxes on incomes over $500,000 and splitting the proceeds with everyone earning less.

• She wants a $15 billion school construction program funded by another one cent sales tax increase (levied at the local level).

• She wants to spend billions more on new light rail, bus rapid transit, mag lev and port expansion projects.

• She’s against slots, casinos and natural gas fracking.

• She wants a new $170 million-a-year state-funded child care program for low-income families, and

• She wants a $280 million-a-year state-funded, all-day pre-kindergarten program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Whew, and it’s only November. More’s sure to come. Here’s Mizeur’s latest bombshell; she wants to finance her $280 million-a-year pre-kindergarten program by legalizing and taxing marijuana.

Need a catchy name? How about “tokes for tots” or “tripping for tykes”? Anyway, here’s how it works: marijuana would be sold and taxed much like alcohol except users may only possess up to one ounce and may not imbibe in public. The tax would be $50 per ounce at the wholesale level with another 6 percent sales tax and 2 percent excise tax at the retail level. And that’s in addition to the actual cost of the darn stuff. Wow, talk about a bum trip. Mizeur admits to having smoked pot in the past but not while devising this plan.

Her marijuana tax would raise $157 million a year which would all go toward her pre-K “potty training” program.

Like most Montgomery County elected officials, Heather Mizeur came here from somewhere else. Born and raised in Blue Mound, Ill., to a Catholic, blue-collar, labor-union family, she was her high school valedictorian and graduated form the University of Illinois.

And, like many Montgomery residents, she headed to D.C. to work on Capitol Hill for a slew of congresspersons including then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry. In 2003 she was elected to the Takoma Park City Council, in 2004 she ran Kerry’s Maryland presidential campaign and in 2006 she was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. In 2008 she married her wife, Deborah, who often joins Heather on the campaign trail.

Mizeur’s legislative focus has been on health care, children’s issues, access to open government, anti-fracking and gay marriage. She’s also held several National Democratic Party posts.

In Annapolis Mizeur is not particularly well-liked by her Democratic colleagues, who view her as a self-centered lone wolf. Even her fellow gay colleagues think she hogged the limelight during the gay marriage wars.

But some of this criticism stems from Mizeur’s sticking to her principles while her fellow Dems did not. When Republican governor Bob Ehrlich proposed legalizing slots, all the legislature’s liberals were opposed on moral grounds. But when Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley introduced slots, most of the liberals “pivoted” from their moral objections. Only Mizeur and a handful of others placed ethics above party hypocrosy.

But, can Mizeur’s progressive resume and radical platform move her numbers in a Democratic primary where she’s polling only 5.2 percent and running a distant third behind Anthony Brown and Doug Gansler?

Can she gain ground given the early June 24 primary date, her being tied-down in next year’s 90-day legislative session (during which she’s barred from fundraising), the media’s focus on the Brown vs. Gansler heavyweight bout and polling showing that 78.7 percent of Dems never heard of her?

With few endorsements and little money how can she expand her base beyond liberal enclaves like Takoma Park, Charles Village, Bolton Hill and College Park? Yes, she’s getting rave reviews from the pro-gay press corps, but just because same-sex marriage passed in 2012 doesn’t mean those same votes are hers in 2014. Heck, even her fellow gay lawmakers aren’t endorsing her. And, if she’s counting on the women’s vote, she’s in for a big disappointment.

Yet, Mizeur’s campaign is important not because she might win but for whose votes she takes away, Brown’s or Gansler’s? If the frontrunners’ tilt narrows while Mizeur attracts 10 percent or 15 percent of the vote, her candidacy could determine the winner.

Conventional wisdom says Mizeur hurts Gansler because they’re both from Montgomery County, a gross misread of the Montgomery electorate which shuns parochialism and favorite sons (or daughters).

Truth is, Montgoery voters don’t care about state politics (MoCo’s 20 percent 2010 primary turnout was the state’s worst) and, when they do participate, usually vote for whomever the media tells them is the most liberal Democrat. And that would be either Brown or Mizeur.

On election day Maryland’s liberal Dems will be agonizing whether to vote for Maryland’s first black governor or Maryland’s first lesbian governor. And in that tug, every Mizeur vote is at Brown’s expense. Meanwhile, Mizeur’s new running mate, a popular P.G. County megachurch minister, drains away even more Brown votes.

Heather Mizeur probably won’t be sworn in as governor in 2015, but she may decide who is.

Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio.

His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is blairleeiv@gmail.com.