Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Robocalls: What's The Fallout For The State GOP?

One aspect of the robocalls scandal which I have not yet explored pertains to the long-term implications for the state’s GOP. In other words, how long will those of us working for the cause of two-party competition in Maryland have to contend with the fallout from this scandal?
When news of the indictments broke, state GOP Chairman Alex Mooney issued the following statement: “The Maryland Republican Party believes in winning all voters. The out of touch Democrat agenda of reckless spending, higher taxes, redefining marriage and many other far left policy proposals gives all voters plenty of good reasons to get out and vote Republican.”
That wasn’t good enough for some in the media, including WBAL’s Jayne Miller. In a June 20th blog posting, she faults Alex Mooney and “the Republicans” for not taking responsibility for the robocall affair.
But I think Mr. Mooney’s response was spot-on.  "State Republicans” have no responsibility, not even in a generic sense, for the scandal. The blame belongs solely to the individuals who conceived and planned it.
The indictment makes it very clear that the idea for the robocalls was incubated and hatched by only a few individuals acting on behalf of a single candidate.  Save for a handful of senior Ehrlich campaign aides, no one in the outer rings of the campaign hierarchy knew anything about it. Nor did members of the GOP state central committee or any other GOP activists, candidates, or officeholders.
In 1998, a series of scurrilous mailers surfaced in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City accusing gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey of wanting to roll back the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s. I don’t recall any push by the media to assign the blame for this racially-charged stunt to “state Democrats.”
And, it is also worth mentioning that the two individuals indicted for the robocalls are not even Republicans. In fact, both are registered Democrats.  
This fact has gone curiously unreported by the members of the media covering the scandal. Perhaps it is not the magic shield for dodging all blame that some of my fellow Republicans want it to be. After all, these two Democratic pariahs were hired and paid by a Republican candidate’s campaign.  But their partisanship is certainly relevant when it comes to assigning responsibility for the scandal, and should therefore be part of the conversation.
So state Republicans, who picked up 40 legislative seats across Maryland last year, should resist pressure by the media and others to veer off message to respond to the misadventures of a few.  In the short-term, state Democrats have a juicy talking point with which to play.  But as long as Republicans talk about the future and the things that matter to voters – creating jobs, holding the line on taxes, and curbing tuition breaks for non-citizens – it will quickly fade.
In the end, the only lasting consequences for the robocall affair belong to those who caused it. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

But Did John Wayne Ever Play A Clown?

What a rough road it has been for fledgling presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-MN) so far.
First, Chris Wallace calls her a “flake” on, of all places, Fox News – inspiring the ideologically hostile media to launch a piranha-like assault on her. Then Tom Petty asks her to stop playing “American Girl” at her campaign rallies.
Then, things really got embarrassing for the three-term congresswoman.
At an appearance in Waterloo, Iowa, Bachmann seemed to confuse America’s all-time greatest movie hero with its all-time worst mass murderer.
Bachmann stated that John Wayne was from Waterloo, and that she shared his patriotic fervor. In reality, The Duke was born in Winterset, Iowa – 150 miles away.
Adding insult to injury, the media latched onto the fact that notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy once lived in Waterloo. Executed in 1994, Gacy murdered 33 young men and boys, burying most of them in the crawlspace under his house.
But as gaffes go, I think it is fairer to say that Bachmann confused two Iowa towns, and not Rooster Cogburn with Pogo the Clown.
Anyone who is up on his or her serial killer history knows that Gacy was born in Chicago. That is where he committed his crimes, and Illinois is where he was tried, convicted, and executed for them. He only lived in Waterloo for a very brief time.
Accusing Bachmann of confusing Good John with Bad John smacks of a media-driven contrivance. That said, when I saw the images of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy side by side in the Los Angeles Times today, I couldn’t help but laugh. From a pop culture standpoint, it doesn’t get weirder or more random than that.
I question whether Bachmann is qualified to be president, but I think this kind of orgiastic feeding frenzy on the part of the media will help her by making her a sympathetic character, if not a martyr, among conservatives.
That said, let’s hope that, if she discusses the heroes of the Korean War (which started 51 years ago this month), she doesn’t confuse Matthew Ridgway with Gary Ridgway.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Baltimore County GOP Chairman Candidate Al Mendelsohn Discusses His Candidacy

Recently I asked candidates for the chairmanship of the Baltimore County Central Committee to send me 300 word essays explaining why they’re running, what their goals are if they become chairman, and why each is the best candidate for the job.  I promised to post them here.

Al Mendelsohn is the first candidate to respond. Here is the unedited response he sent me.

“Thank you Richard for a asking for my platform and what I hope to accomplish as Chairman.

“The bylaws tell us, 'The Central Committee shall have as its principal obligation to provide the successful Republican candidates of the primary election with a party organization of such depth and capability to ensure the maximum effort on behalf of the Republican candidates in the general election.'

“The first thing we need to do communicate message: that the Republican Party is 'a choice not an echo' of the Democratic Party. We are the party of individual freedom and individual responsibility. We support the rule of law. This means that we oppose illegal immigration and we support hard time for hard criminals. We believe that families are the building blocks upon which our country is built and that no bureaucrat knows how to raise our children better than we do. We must never be afraid to say that America is unique and that we believe that government comes from the consent of the governed and that it is divine providence that has brought us here. We must also never be afraid to say that patriotism and respect for veterans is the right way to feel no matter if the popular media and culture tell us otherwise.

“Now, how do we communicate these messages?

      ·              We must have the money to register like-minded people. Please know that I will take a second place to nobody when it comes to fundraising.
      ·          We must recruit and train candidates for all winnable offices.
      ·          We must support and build local clubs with trained officers to recruit new members and train their members to strengthen their knowledge about improving their community. 
      ·              The Central Committee should have the infrastructure in place to allow the candidates to hit the ground running. This means that targeting must be in place early so campaigns will be able to enhance their chance of victory. 
      ·              Turnout is our mission. As Chairman of the Precincts and Elections Committee in the last cycle I designed a program that has been used as a model in several states and I hope to build on that work. Had we known the results of the study at the time, we would have picked-up one more seat on the County Council and won the County for Bob Ehrlich.
      ·          The Central Committee must be on the leading edge of political technology. Reaching our supporters in the way they like to be reached. This includes FaceBook, Twitter, email, apps, messages to cell phones or literature handed to people at their homes.
      ·          The Central Committee itself must be a fun atmosphere where people will look forward to come and achieving something with their friends.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In-State Tuition for Illegals Petition: 30 Percent of Signers are Democrats

The Sun’s Annie Linskey reported that nearly a third of signers of the petition to put the state’s new in-state tuition for illegal immigrants law on the ballot are Democrats.
I find this portion of Ms. Linskey’s article to be especially interesting:
“Republicans made up the majority of signers in all areas save one: Baltimore City, where 80 percent of voters are Democrats. There 56 percent of signers are Dems.

“There were also large numbers of Democrats signing in Baltimore County (39%) and in Prince George's County (38 percent).”
In a prior blog posting I predicted that the new law will go down by a broad, racially diverse coalition if it makes to the ballot (and I’m not entirely certain that it will...the ACLU has interjected itself into the matter). These numbers certainly hint at such an outcome.

Don't Blame You or Me...Blame The Guy Behind the Tree

I was interested in this item from Robert McCartney’s column from the Washington Post today.

“Schurick’s attorney, Peter Zeidenberg, suggested his side’s defense is to blame Henson. He said Schurick, a senior adviser of Ehrlich’s, only found out about the robocalls in late afternoon on Election Day and wasn’t able to vet them. ‘Mr. Schurick and the campaign relied on Mr. Henson’s expertise,’ Zeidenberg said. ‘They didn’t have an opportunity at 4:30 or 4:45 on Election Day to do test marketing.’”

Based on my experience working with him, I can easily believe Schurick did not know about the specifics of the call until the afternoon of Election Day.

Anyone who has ever worked with him can tell you his strengths lie in his creativity and experience rather than his organizational skills. Administrative tasks and routine follow-through activities often overwhelmed him.

Case in point: His State House voice mailbox – dubbed “The Black Hole of Annapolis” by some of us – was often filled with calls he never got around to returning.

I tend to be creatively oriented as well, so I make that point with empathy rather than judgment.

I also believe that the call wasn’t fully or properly vetted before it launched.

As I have written elsewhere, fielding the call makes no practical sense to even the most casual observer. The only reasonable explanation is that it was a strategic misfire resulting from the frenetic, last minute efforts of campaign aides more concerned about doing something instead of ensuring it was the right thing.

Still, I am not sure that the “we never got around to vetting it” excuse is going to work here.

“Test marketing” obviously bad ideas is not necessary. The deficiencies of the robocalls as a campaign strategy would have quickly been revealed had campaign aides asked one question: “What exactly are these calls supposed to accomplish?”

Failing to ask it does not absolve them of the blame for approving it anyway. It only makes their decision seem more reckless.

I don’t think chalking the whole thing up to deferring to Henson’s “expertise” is credible, either.

Henson’s reputation for pulling these racially-divisive kinds of election stunts was well-established when they hired him. They knew exactly what they were getting. And, paying him made them responsible for his eventual successes or failures.

If you hire Charles Manson as your gardener, are you really going to be surprised if he winds up killing your neighbor?  And, don’t you bear some of the responsibility for it as well?

In any event, it is going to be interesting to watch how this robo-drama plays out in the criminal court, and the court of public opinion, in the months ahead.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Part of the Solution

As I blogged earlier, Baltimore County Republicans are preparing to pick a new chairman after several months of internal strife and discord. In keeping with my efforts to provide tough but constructive love to my fellow partisans, I extend the following offer to anyone that jumps in the chairman’s race.
Every indication is that my blog is fairly well read by members of the county’s Central Committee as well as by members of the political press. These are exactly the audiences a prospective chairman wants to reach.
Therefore, I invite every candidate who runs for chairman to provide me with a 300-word essay outlining why they want to be chairman, their top three priorities/strategies for growing the party, and the reason(s) why they are the best choice.  I will post them on my blog, unedited, as I receive them.
I know that some of the candidates who are contemplating a run are holding off making an announcement until current Chairman Tony Campbell makes his resignation official. This offer stands to them, and anyone else who decides to get in prior to that time, until a new chairman is selected.
Each of the candidates whose names have surfaced to date has the potential to be an effective chairman. I look forward to hearing their ideas and sharing them with each of you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Why The Robocall Scandal Matters"

For those of you not yet done with my opining about the robocall scandal and resulting indictments, here is an op-ed piece I wrote for the Baltimore Sun regarding the matter.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Schurick Doctrine: First Class

The most interesting facet of the robocall indictment pertains to what it calls the “Schurick Doctrine.”

The word “doctrine” causes me to flash back to the times I studied the presidency. Many presidents – Madison, Truman, Clinton, both Bushs – claimed to have one. Generally it refers to some defining principle of their foreign policy.

Paul Schurick is the only non-president I know of who claims to have a doctrine. But his has nothing to do with diplomacy.

According to the indictment, the Schurick Doctrine’s objective was to “promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration” among black voters. The doctrine was referenced in the voter suppression plan Julius Henson presented to the Ehrlich campaign in summer 2010.

It is also the subject of another document which the grand jury subpoenaed and Schurick failed to provide, resulting in arguably the most serious charge Schurick is facing: obstruction of justice.

When a report called me last week and referenced the Doctrine, I was a little confused. I had never heard that term before. 

But the phrase “confusion, emotionalism, and frustration” reminded me of something that happened during the 2002 campaign.

Anyone who knows Paul Schurick understands that he is a big believer in hiring his friends. So in 2002 Paul brought onboard the campaign a gentleman whose purpose he described as “throwing bags of shit” at the Kathleen Kennedy Townsend campaign. The gentleman in question was a conservative activist who occasionally dabbled in talk radio.

I am not going to use his name here, but might share it with anyone who wants to investigate the anecdote I am going to convey. I checked the Maryland Board of Election’s campaign expenditure database, and he is listed as having drawn a check from the Ehrlich campaign.

Schurick’s pal basically did for the campaign the same thing I was doing: Conceive and write materials aggressively criticizing the other side’s record. Every campaign has such people on staff. This is well within the rules of campaign conduct.

However, Schurick’s Wookie-like friend later engaged in some Election Day monkeyshines which later became the stuff of Ehrlich campaign lore.

It was raining on Election Day 2002, making for an especially bad commute for everyone. Things were especially bad for Schurick’s pal, who had not one, but two “breakdowns” in traffic that day.

The first vehicle mishap occurred in Montgomery County, right at the height of the early morning commute. His misfortune resulted in long backups by motorists whose commute to work, or the polls, was interrupted.    

That evening, “bad luck” struck this unfortunate motorist yet again.

This time, he happened to be on Charles Street in Baltimore City at the height of the evening rush hour. By the time of the second incident, the rain was really coming down, making for an especially miserable and disruptive commute.

When the star-crossed motorist was telling us the story the next day in typical wink and a nod fashion, he took special delight in describing the honking he heard from commuters whose progress he had impeded.

Honking sounds like clear evidence of “confusion, emotionalism, and frustration” to me.

Now, I cannot say that Paul Schurick – or anyone else at the campaign, for that matter –
ordered this individual to do what he did.  But Schurick sure laughed his ass off, and took great pleasure in relaying the news to anyone who would listen.

So did sophomoric Election Day stunts like this evolve over time into a more grandiose and sinister voter suppression strategy? I have no idea.

Often it is said that a revolution starts at home. In this case, a doctrine might have begun with the misadventures of one mischievous commuter.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Schurick's Supporting Cast

Paul Schurick and Julius Henson have been indicted as part of the robocall affair, but they weren’t the only members of the Ehrlich team to have their fingerprints on the scandal.
According to the indictments:
·        The contract to hire Julius Henson’s company, Politics Today, Inc., was signed by campaign Senior Advisor Greg Massoni on behalf of the Ehrlich campaign on or around June 1, 2010.

·        Henson prepared a written election strategy for achieving the so-called “Schurick Doctrine” which aimed to achieve “voter suppression” in 472 majority black precincts. Henson presented his proposed strategy to Schurick, Political Director Bernie Marczyk (a Schurick crony who played Fred Flintstone to Schurick’s Mr. Slate), Communications Director Henry Fawell, and the redoubtable Greg Massoni.

·        On Election Day, Schurick communicated the information he received from Henson to Marczyk and Massoni via email and telephone.

·        Greg Massoni received a “test call” with the planned robocall message before the call was fielded.

·       After the Ehrlich for Maryland Committee received a subpoena, Greg Massoni provided to Schurick copies of documents pertaining to black voter registration figures and “messaging” which Julius Henson also had in his possession.
The picture painted here is of an insular clique of campaign aides whose relationships and sense of familiarity with each other was forged over time. One has to wonder if this sense of institutional complacency fed a group think dynamic which, in turn, contributed to the robocall train wreck.
Despite their experience (Schurick), talent (Fawell), and proximity (Massoni), none of the members of Ehrlich’s inner circle sounded the alarm. They collectively seemed to ignore the point now patently obvious to everyone: Not only was fielding the robocalls the wrong thing to do, it was a massively bad idea.

By switching off their better judgment, they failed their candidate.

Insult to Injury...

When you're a former governor, as well as the only Republican to have held that office in your state in the past 40 or so years, you know it's got to hurt when the people indicting your most senior aide misspell your name in their press release.

A Study in Statements

"Ehrlich had no comment on the state's investigation, but further disavowed knowledge of the calls and said his campaign ordered no robocalls from Henson.”
Patch Newspaper, December 23, 2010
Indictment document released June 16, 2011

"I believe in the rule of law. I believe in my friend and colleague, Paul Schurick. I hope a fair resolution is reached as quickly as possible for both Paul and Mr. Henson."
Ehrlich statement issued June 16, 2011

Paul Schurick: OUT

As many of you know by now, senior Bob Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick was indicted yesterday on six criminal counts related to last year’s so-called robocall scandal.

Prosecutors must like Schurick’s partner in crime, political hired gun Julius Henson, a little more. He only got indicted on five criminal counts.

It’s certainly been a tough year for Schurick.

In April his boss and political mentor William Donald Schaefer died. Not only was Schurick excluded from the lavish funeral pageantry which followed, this former Schaefer chief of staff was completely cut out of Mr. Do It Now’s will. That extra cash would really have helped him with his legal bills.

And now, just two months after Schaefer’s passing, Schurick has charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice dangling over his head.

But somewhere in between those two milestones, this Henry Gondorff of Maryland politics quietly experienced another setback.

Just last March, I blogged how Schurick had signed onto a strategic communications firm based in Washington called Capitol Management Initiatives. Schurick called himself the firm’s “of counsel” despite not being an attorney. His lengthy self-adulatory biography on the Capitol Management website referenced his “even-handed approach” and his ability to forge “nontraditional partnerships.”

Well, I guess hiring a political consultant who once called your candidate “a Nazi” constitutes a nontraditional partnership. But I digress.

So I checked back yesterday to see if Schurick’s bio had been amended to account for yesterday’s indictments. Only this time, there was no biography. Nor was Schurick’s name mentioned anywhere on the Capitol Management website.

In effect, the folks at Capitol Management had reduced Schurick to “unperson” status – much like Lainey Lebow Sachs did during the Schaefer sendoff last April.

When the only professional recognition you're getting is coming from prosecutors, it is generally not a good thing.

It’s hard to say what Schurick is doing for money. The Baltimore Sun describes him as an “independent consultant.” I hope for his sake he banked some of the boatloads of cash Bob Ehrlich paid him during the campaign – though, in light of yesterday’s news and last year's results, I’d ask for a refund if I were Ehrlich.

Despite his role in the ill-conceived robocall scandal, I have always thought Schurick possesses some value-added abilities. It will be interested to see if this 54-year-old crisis communicator is able to reset his career in some capacity. One thing is certain, however – if that happens, it won’t be in Maryland.

Anyway, I have not had a chance to go through the indictment page by page. I plan to do that this weekend, and will likely have at least one follow-up entry up during the next few days.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Word About Bomb Throwers

So, I have gotten word from several sources that my use of the term "bomb thrower" to describe Baltimore County GOP Chairman candidate Tom Henry was regarded as controversial in some circles, and may have resulted in some bruised feelings on Mr. Henry's part.

Allow me to respond to this by clarifying two points.

1) The term "bomb thrower" was used by one of the people I informally polled about the GOP chairman's race. The individual in question is a veteran of the county's GOP Central Committee and a longtime observer of county politics. Another activist I spoke with made similar observations about Mr. Henry's activist style, but did not use the same term.

2) I made this point explicitly in my first posting, and reemphasize it here: I did NOT mean "bomb thrower" as an epithet or in any pejorative context. I meant it, and the terms I use to describe the other candidates, to indicate different styles.

Bomb throwers often play an important role in politics. One can argue that the Declaration of Independence was the biggest example of political bomb throwing in American history.

I take the term to refer to individuals who use occasional shock tactics to make a point, or to engage an entrenched political establishment.

As some of you might have noticed, I myself am no stranger to occasional bomb throwing. And, I actually has a soft spot for those who stir the pot or upend the existing political order.

So, I intended no slight to Mr. Henry whatsoever. I actually think we have three decent candidates lining up for the chairman's post. My characterizing their styles differently or suggesting a few others who I'd like to see join the race was not meant to impugn any of the respective skills of those who are running.

Like most Baltimore County GOPers (in my case, by birth rather than by current residence), I am just happy to see the party turn the page.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tony Campbell: OUT

Last night, embattled Baltimore County GOP Chairman Tony Campbell did something I did not expect him to do: resign.

Campbell, whose tenure as chairman has been highlighted by gaffes and controversy, has dared his critics in the party to impeach him in the past. I expected this kind of obstinacy to continue.

I also expected the Central Committee’s remaining members – six have stepped down since Campbell took over – to find creative ways to bypass Campbell’s influence, just as Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie did when coping with another in-over-his-head GOP chairman.

But in the end, that wasn’t necessary. After yet another fractious Central Committee showdown, Campbell quietly agreed to take his ball and head home.  

A party chairman should always serve as an agent of unity for the party he serves. Campbell could not do that. He deserves some credit for belatedly recognizing that fact, and for putting his ego aside and doing the right thing.

So, now that the Campbell era has ended for Baltimore County Republicans, who is the best person to take the party forward?

I surveyed a few activists, and they all seem to agree that the race to succeed Campbell comes down to three names: Al Mendelsohn, Tom Henry, and Steve Kolbe. Each potential chairman’s strengths – and weaknesses – can be summarized in a single term.

For Mendelsohn, that word is “veteran.” Mendelsohn is a longtime, sometimes shoot from the hip party activist who ran unsuccessfully for party chairman twice before. People who know him say he has matured in recent years. His biggest selling point is his experience. But will that experience make him sensitive to new opportunities or limit his focus?

Tom Henry was described as a “bomb thrower.” Every party needs a bomb thrower now and again, especially when dealing with an entrenched majority party.

Yet county Republicans did respectably during the last election cycle, doubling their representation on the County Council and fielding a County Executive candidate who won five out of seven councilmanic districts. Would county Republicans be better served by a bomb thrower who challenges the majority, or someone willing to offer programmatic alternatives on budget, taxes, and other matters?

Steve Kolbe is the “businessman.” His supporters tout his Main Street savvy. Indeed, most of the people I surveyed were leaning towards Kolbe as the strongest candidate.

At this point, I don’t really have a preference among these three. But I do hope that the central committee will do two things before they make their selection.

First, I hope they recruit a few more candidates into the race. Former Delegate and County Executive nominee Ken Holt would be a great choice, as would former Councilman Doug Riley. Even if neither of these individuals is interested, they represent the experience and level of ability the new chairman should possess.

I also hope Baltimore County Republicans will keep the chairman’s race from becoming a choice between white men. Central Committee Member Hillary Foster Pennington represents the kind of woman who would make a strong candidate. She’s young, has hands-on campaign experience, and is a marketing professional as well as a wife and a mother. Her relevant real-life experience would be a breath of fresh air.

Second, I hope the Central Committee will hold a full-fledged interview process. Candidates should each make a formal presentation on their ideas to foster two-party competition in Maryland. In the end, the Central Committee should choose the winning candidate based on their ideas and not simply on charisma or personal relationships.

I look forward to watching this process play out. Baltimore County Republicans have an opportunity to hit the reset button after a fractious couple of months. They need to make the most of it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Same Book...Different Car?

Recently I happened across this article from the Washington Times in which former Governor Bob Ehrlich, my old boss, is profiled.

In the article, Ehrlich discusses his plans to publish a new book highlighting his thoughts for improving the GOP’s electoral fortunes. He also shares news about his law firm career, his thoughts on contemporary politics and political issues, and his accomplishments as governor.

In reading the article, I got the distinct sense I’d read it before. Turns out, I have.

On March 27, 2007,’s Brendan Mintier published a piece covering the same basic topics. Unfortunately the Wall Street Journal’s website does not allow you to search for recent articles older than two years. But this blog entry references and quotes a good part of it.

The only major difference pertains to Ehrlich’s book. Mintier has the title at Not Your Father's Republican Party, a reference to the famous Oldsmobile line.

The Times’ Joseph Weber has it as Turn This Car Around: The Roadmap to Saving the American Dream.

Well, at least they kept the car theme.

I wish the former Governor the best with his promised book. I will certainly read it. Still, I find the timing of this article curious, perhaps even a little random. Until the book is actually published, I fail to see the value of promoting it.

Anyway, I hope that the next time someone photographs Ehrlich, the picture frames behind him are straight, not crooked. Ehrlich’s press guru, the redoubtable Greg Massoni, must have overlooked that. That’s understandable. I hear he’s been dealing with certain distractions during the past few weeks.

The Case Against Maryland's DREAM Act

When the 2011 session of the Maryland General Assembly convened in January, it looked like the issue that would dominate the session, and the balance of the 2012 election cycle in Maryland, would be gay marriage.

Well, the legislative push to legalize same-sex marriage failed, and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants has replaced it as the marquee issue dominating the political landscape.

Organizers of a petition drive to repeal Maryland’s recently-passed DREAM Act have announced that they collected nearly 62,500 signatures – three times more than the amount needed to meet the first deadline.

Just to put things in perspective, in order to put the DREAM Act on the 2012 state ballot, petition organizers only needed to submit 55,736 signatures to the State Board of Elections by the end of June.

Petition organizers originally predicted they’d submit about 100,000 signatures by the June 30th deadline. Buoyed by the Internet, they now seem on track to shatter that goal.

As was the case with gay marriage, immigration is one of those issues generating a lot of emotion. That passion sometimes translates into hyperbolic claims.

Democratic State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20), who supported the DREAM Act, noted that the, “Supreme Court held in 1982 that the states have a constitutional obligation to provide undocumented immigrant children with an equal public education.” Raskin, a law professor, fails to add that the case he cited only applies to K-12 education.

Predictably the state’s political and media establishment is solidly behind the DREAM Act.

Political supporters note that the young illegal immigrants who would benefit from the measure should not be blamed for the decisions of their parents, and that expanding education translates into long-term economic benefits for the state. "How do you calculate the advantage of someone getting a college education?" asked Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr.

Media supporters parrot the same points while questioning the motives of the law’s opponents.

In its May 11th editorial, the Washington Post ascribes opposition to the law to the fact that “many Republicans” believe that “illegal immigrants can and should be made to leave the country, and that federal, state and local governments can hasten that process by taking legislative and administrative steps that make life impossible for them.”

I, for one, do not feel that it is either desirable or feasible to simply round up 11 million illegal immigrants and deport them. But that really isn’t the point.  The real question is whether or not the DREAM Act is as fair to state taxpayers and students as it is to the illegal immigrants it serves.

In my view, the answer is no.

The version of the DREAM Act passed by the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Governor O’Malley establishes criteria which illegal immigrants must follow to qualify for in-state tuition benefits. This represents a tactical retreat on the part of the bill’s sponsors, who had advocated for legislation with fewer restrictions in the past.

In the end, they accepted the law’s provision requiring illegal immigrants to matriculate at community colleges first in order to bypass concerns that they would otherwise be competing with citizens for a finite number of admissions slots at the elite University of Maryland College Park. 

Anyone who has watched politics in Annapolis knows that laws passed in a watered down form to guarantee their passage are later quietly restored to their original provisions by their sponsors.

When state legislators passed the state’s seat belt law, it was crafted in a way to ensure that you could only be ticketed if police pulled you over for something else. But several years later, the law was revised to guarantee so-called “primary enforcement.”

Last year the legislature passed a law banned using wireless products while driving without a hands-free device. That law is also limited to so-called “secondary enforcement.” However, this year its legislative supporters began pushing for primary enforcement of the law.

I have no doubt that, eventually, they will get it. 

And, I have no doubt that liberal supporters of Maryland’s DREAM Act will achieve their long-stated goal of costly, unfettered, taxpayer-subsidized access to all the state’s colleges and universities for everyone regardless of their citizenship status – unless the citizens of Maryland intervene.

Speaking of cost, determining the exact budgetary impact of the law depends largely upon who you ask.

GOP Delegate Pat McDonough (R-7), a longtime activist on immigration-related issues, estimates the annual cost to taxpayers of the DREAM Act to be as high as $64 million. That certainly seems plausible, but I’d like to see McDonough’s numbers validated by a third party source before I am willing to accept their veracity.

In contrast, the state’s fiscal analysis estimated the law’s initial total cost to be about $6 million from FYs 14-16. That number factors in enrollment increases for only one school: Montgomery County Community College.

However, Casa of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group which strongly supported the DREAM Act, estimates that students across the state will take advantage of the new law, potentially doubling or tripling its projected cost.

Indeed, the state’s Department of Legislative Services concedes that they “don’t have a very good grasp” of what the law’s cost ultimately will be.  Factor in a future attempt by the law’s legislative supporters to expand its scope, or an influx of illegal immigrants into Maryland from other states in order to take advantage of the new law, and the DREAM Act’s ultimate cost is anyone’s guess.

The law’s supporters couch the law’s necessity in terms of fairness. Opponents need to do the same thing.

Is it fair for Maryland citizens to bear the cost of another mandate imposed upon them from Annapolis during a time of budgetary limitations? Should they pick up the cost of tuition breaks for illegal immigrants while they are also being asked to pay higher taxes, fees and tolls? Is it fair to offer tuition breaks to illegal immigrants while there are citizens qualified to receive academic aid but have not because of budgetary cut?

Consider the hypothetical case of a student in West Virginia. Her outstanding academic record would make her a great addition to the University of Maryland College Park.  But, through no fault of her own, she happens to live in a state with a less prestigious public university. Is it really fair to make her pay the out-of-state tuition rate to go to UMCP?

The answer is: Yes, it is. And, it is equally fair to ask the state’s illegal immigrants to become citizens before they reap the benefits of Maryland residency.

I do not want to expel illegal immigrants. I want them to become citizens. Our national policy should be to get the illegal immigrants who are here quickly naturalized and (in cases where they are not) paying taxes, and to secure the borders using the best technology available.

For that to happen, the federal government needs to lead first. For states like Maryland to step in and liberally hand out amenities reserved for citizens in the meantime creates disincentives to naturalization while diluting traditional notions of what it means to be a citizen.

With respect to the DREAM Act, I think this is a rare instance of the state’s ruling Democratic establishment both overreaching and misinterpreting the mood of Maryland’s electorate. In its zeal to curry favor with Hispanic voters and Takoma Park-style liberals, they have succeeded in alienating everyone else.

If the DREAM Act makes it to the 2012 ballot, it will be overwhelmingly rejected by a broad, racially diverse cross-section of voters. In the meantime, I hope people on both sides of the issue can keep insults to a minimum.

We have an opportunity to lead a constructive national debate on an issue which Washington has repeatedly failed to address. Let’s take it.