Madaleno rips Arora for indecision on same-sex marriage bill
Comments expose acrimony within Montgomery delegation
Hard feelings stemming from the General Assembly's consideration of same-sex marriage this year surfaced at a Committee for Montgomery meeting Monday.
While discussing the overall and individual performance of the Montgomery County delegation during the 90-day legislative session, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. singled out Del. Sam Arora for wavering on his previous support of the bill only days before a key committee vote.
"I think Sam Arora distinguished himself as someone not to be trusted, and I don't think he will have a long career in the House of Delegates," said Madaleno (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington, the Senate's only openly homosexual member.
The stinging remark raised eyebrows among the roughly 30 civic and business leaders at the meeting and was the most blunt public criticism of Arora (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring since he waffled on his support of the bill leading up to the close vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
Although Arora eventually would vote in favor of the measure in committee and pledged to do so if it had reached the House floor, his indecision enraged marriage equality advocates who contributed to his campaign last fall. Arora said he favored letting voters decide the issue in a referendum.
The bill passed the Senate by a 25-21 vote, but ran into surprising resistance in the House. After narrowly clearing the Judiciary Committee, the bill apparently fell two votes shy of passage by the full chamber. The vote was sent back to committee rather than being defeated on the House floor.
But even six weeks after its failure, emotions run high from the fractious debate, as evidenced by Madaleno's comments.
Arora was not in attendance at the meeting and declined to respond directly, but sent an emailed statement to The Gazette playing down the importance of his role on the bill.
"Every day I'm honored to work for the people of my district by working to protect education funding and make our communities safer," he wrote in the statement. "With all due respect to Senator Madeleno [sic], I'm finding the folks in my community are less concerned about Annapolis politics and more concerned with issues like caring for our seniors and improving Pepco."
However, Madaleno said Arora's trustworthiness was damaged, perhaps irreparably, and added that he owes it to his constituents and campaign supporters to explain his vacillation.
"When you co-sponsor a bill where the lead sponsor is the majority leader from your county who worked very hard to get you elected and you change your mind on the day of the vote, you damage, potentially fatally damage, your credibility," he said, referencing the bill's lead sponsor, House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg.
Going forward, that could impact Arora's ability to get things done for his district, Madaleno said.
"For me, I will always have a doubt when he makes a commitment on any issue whether or not I can trust that commitment," he said.
Not everyone agreed.
Del. Kathleen M. Dumais said Arora handled the matter appropriately by discussing his dilemma with committee and chamber leaders.
"That gave us all the opportunity to talk him through [it]," she said. "I think that gives him credibility as opposed to not."
Dumais (D-Dist. 15) of Bethesda, who is vice chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, believes Arora eventually has to tell constituents what led him to reconsider his stance. But she noted that such re-evaluation is not uncommon, particularly on emotionally charged issues.
"When we sit in committee and listen to hours of hours of hours of testimony on these tough issues, it gives you a different perspective than when you're out on the campaign trail and these things sound wonderful," she said.
Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville, who is one of seven openly gay House members and was at the Committee for Montgomery meeting, said Arora reaffirmed his support to her two days before the Judiciary Committee vote, so she was surprised to learn that he was wavering.
"I think it's definitely true that Sam hurt his reputation within the legislature and potentially within his district," she said, noting that her parents and other family members and friends supportive of the bill who live in Arora's district felt betrayed. "The sense was, What is he going to back out on next?' His word was damaged."
Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Dist. 19) of Derwood said that while he can understand Madaleno's emotional connection to the bill's failure, his comments crossed the lines of decorum.
"I do think that Sen. Madaleno saying that in a public forum was inappropriate and unnecessary," he said. "I can understand that Sen. Madaleno has a perspective based on a particular issue, but I don't think that it is accurate or reflective of Del. Arora's abilities or potential in the legislature."
Having to deal with such a controversial issue in his first year was hard on Arora and other freshman Judiciary members, Kramer said.
Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Dist. 24) of Mitchellville, who was also an original sponsor of the bill, skipped a scheduled committee vote on the bill and later decided to withdraw her support after being inundated with calls and letters from constituents.
For Arora, one issue won't make or break his legislative arc, Kramer said.
"I certainly think it's something that Sam can overcome," Kramer said. "It was an important issue and I think he struggled with it. He came back and embraced it again, and I think for the most part it's time for people to move on."