I thought of the Big Wheel as I watched the debacle surrounding the MDGOP’s attempt to repeal three laws passed by the legislature and placed on the ballot by opponents in accordance with the state’s referendum process.
In the case of three of these laws, the requisite number of signatures were gathered in part using the new MarylandPetitions.com tool (in the case of Question 7, regarding expanded gambling, it was placed on the ballot through legislative mandate).
Opponents used the MarylandPetitions.com tool to gather and delivered far more signatures than the 55,000 or so that were needed to get the state’s civil marriage equality law and the DREAM Act on the ballot. Indeed, opponents of the state’s gerrymandered congressional redistricting map narrowly and unexpectedly used the tool to add it to the ballot as well.
Opponents of the laws hailed MarylandPetitions.com as an exciting new resource which the political minority in Maryland can use to challenge the extreme agenda of a runaway political establishment in Annapolis.
But MarylandPetitions.com, of course, had its limitations. Getting a measure on the ballot means very little if no strategy exists for when it gets there.
And yet, unfortunately, that is what the opponents of the various referred laws did. They used MarylandPetitions.com very successfully, but eventually ran into the same constraints I did with my Big Wheel: You can take it up and down the driveway, but you’re going to need a bigger vehicle if you really want to get anywhere.
I find the Democrats' running the table on these three petition-driven ballot questions to be one of the biggest ignominies the state’s beleaguered GOP has ever experienced.
The state GOP had a case to make – especially about the DREAM Act, an example of the state expanding entitlements while taxpayers are being asked to contribute even more.
Indeed, opposition to the DREAM Act was visible during the signature gathering phase of the process. But no effective or coherent case for its repeal was ever articulated by its opponents during the ballot phase. Meanwhile, MDDEMS, unions, and other allies threw resources and messaging support behind reaffirming the law, which passed by a 58-42 percent margin.
Meanwhile, the state’s congressional redistricting map – ridiculed for its gerrymandered nature by federal judges, one of whom liked the shape of the torturous 3rd Congressional District to a pterodactyl – was a slam dunk, passing 63 – 37 percent. Former Baltimore County GOP Chairman Tony Campbell did his best to spread the word, and some reform-minded Montgomery County Democrats seized the mantle, but it is hard to get people to care about arcane process issues without the resources needed to educate them as to why they should.
As for marriage equality, which passed by a 52 – 48 percent margin, the issue breaks more along generational and secular-evangelical lines than it does party loyalties. Majorities affirmed the law in two GOP counties – Frederick and Anne Arundel - and Question 6 outpolled President Obama in several other GOP-leaning counties.
So by racing to get all these initiatives onto the ballot, did state GOP leaders bite off more than they could chew?
The MDGOP remains a cash-strapped organization – its annual Red White and Blue fundraising dinner last summer netted only $8,000 for the party coffers – and the party itself is rife with intramural rivalries. While the advent of the MarylandPetitions.com tool made the referendum process seem seductively simple, it is clear that the party did not have the resources, organization, or manpower to coordinate simultaneously three successful campaigns against the referred laws.
Nor, in the end, were they able to find reliable surrogates to do so.
But by proceeding full steam ahead with the doomed referendum campaigns, the MDGOP helped reaffirm, loudly and publicly, the MDDEMs primacy, the state’s own strong liberal leanings, and the minority party’s essential irrelevance in Maryland.
In other words, they made the situation worse than if they had not bothered with the referendum process at all.
Instead, party leaders should have forgotten about the map, treated marriage equality as a matter of conscience, and focused whatever time and resources it could to selling the case against the DREAM Act. A strong education campaign focusing on fiscal responsibility and the need for national immigration reform to occur first might have yielded a closer, less embarrassing result.
Unfortunately, state Republicans likely will not get a second chance to achieve a better result in the future using their new toy, as Governor O’Malley and state Democrats now speak openly about “reforming” the petitions process, presumably to prevent the use of Internet tools like MarylandPetitions.com ever again.
I don’t remember what happened to my Big Wheel, and I expect MarylandPetitions.com will achieve a similar fate. But one thing is clear: Maryland Republicans have another wave of self-assessment, accountability, and (hopefully) reform headed their way. Let’s hope it is a constructive experience, and let’s hope it makes the party stronger headed into 2014.