Sunday, November 11, 2012

The GOP and Questions 4 - 6: What Happened?

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, everyone on my block wanted a Big Wheel – plastic, orange-reddish, low-riding, three wheel vehicles built specifically to appeal to boys. These were popular toys during the Evel Knieval era, where every boy fancied himself a daredevil.

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 tool (in the case of Question 7, regarding expanded gambling, it was placed on the ballot through legislative mandate).

Opponents used the 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 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, 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 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?

Well, duh.

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 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 ever again.

I don’t remember what happened to my Big Wheel, and I expect 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.  


  1. I dont understand how redistricting won, but I can understand why the Dream Act passed as well as the gay marriage passed.

    There are alot of hoops to jump through to get the tuition break (even tho, its not much of a break) and in that, it seems fair enough.

    With the gay marriage referendum, how many people do you know who are gay? How many family members do you have that are gay? And that isnt a party specific situation. Its a matter of civil rights. And besides, if you are straight, this law wont affect you AT ALL.

  2. Republicans continue to delude themselves that somehow Maryland isn't really a Democratic state through and through, that somehow, if they just could take these matters to the people, the true voice of Marylanders would be heard.

    After all, the people on the radio all think just like we do, right? And all the people we talk to, they think just like we do, right? So all we have to do is bypass that liberal commie legislature, and the truth shall set us free, right? After all, aren't the majority of local offices held by Republicans?

    Guess what? That is not right. There is a reason that state government is dominated by Democrats. Maryland is a Democratic state. Believe it or not, these things that Republicans hate so much, the Dream Act, congressional districts, gay marriage, are actually the will of the people.

    In short, the Maryland Legislature enacts laws that reflect the will of the people. The Legislature isn't some rogue body careening off to the left, the will of the electorate be damned. In our representative Democracy, they do just what they are supposed to do. They reflect the will of the people who elected them.

    And no amount of tilting at referenda windmills will change that.

  3. While I disagree with your view of the Dream Act, you have hit the nail on the head once again with a great opinion piece.

    Not only were these laws passed by the General Assembly, each one now has - thanks to the petition process and in part to - the stamp of approval by a majority of Marylanders who cared to vote.

    While marching along their "righteous" path towards repealing what they believe to be several pieces of bad legislation, it’s amazing that the consequences of failure never occurred to the sponsors. Yet, off they went, willy-nilly, seeking victory in every direction possible with what appears to be no thought towards how they would accomplish any of it.

    Every assumption made by the sponsors about how the voting would conclude turned out to be as wrong as Karl Rove on election night. But, at least he had a plan and some resources going in.

    While healthy debate on these issues is wonderful, not only are the referendum sponsors wrong on these issues (To varying degrees.), now they're on the wrong side of history AND the future as far as the eye can see. And, they gave all Maryland voters the opportunity to say so.

    So, all I can add is a heartfelt thank you.

  4. The MDGOP will never get it because they continually lock themselves into their own little bubble of "blog casts" and talk radio on WBAL on Saturday mornings and listen only to themselves where they all agree, until they lose. Then they start the finger pointing among themselves. Just look at the "experts" who get the local media attention: Vatz, Newgent, Blair Lee, Pat McDonough, even the Ehrlichs. What have the ever been right about? They might sound like they're making good points when heard inside the MDGOP bubble, but outside that bubble it's just sounds like more of the lame bromides and wrong predictions, which it is.

    We'll hear the same talk but get the same results when Craig runs for governor against Brown. I'll call that election for Brown right now.

  5. The only fact that matters is the MDGOP got their a$$ kicked this cycle. Those that saw it coming tried to get a good candidate in place of Bartlett and what did they get for their forsight? They were attacked for not being "loyal". This alone shows how out of touch and how inexperienced the MDGOP leadership has become. Do you need more proof? Just look at their failures to GOTV and raise funds. These efforts were complete failures. Ambrose ran on a platform of brining new life to the party and her ability to GOTV. Who is she kidding? She has divided the party by her actions and when given the opportunity to prove herself she failed. On this front alone she shoud resign. The leadership also failed to defeat the three laws you address above. The only one to pass, gambling, would have failed if not for the support of highly respected party leaders. This would have cost the state revenue and much needed jobs. It appears "old School" won when "new Blood" failed again and again. As this party stands today, they've given the state to the DEMS and we have little chance of winning anything in the near future. From the DEMS perspective Richard, they just kicked your a$$.

  6. Anon @ 11/15/12 @ 17:24

    You posted two anti-Nicolee rants on my site saying much the same thing, and I decided to let the more substantive one through and comment accordingly.

    First, when did Ambrose say she could personally GOTV in Maryland? I covered the National Committeewoman's race perhaps more closely than anyone, and do not remember her making any such comment. What I do remember her saying is that she would transform the Committeewoman's position from a ceremonial into a working job. Through her fundraising activities and organizing four "Super Saturdays" efforts during the fall, she clearly did just that. GOTV efforts have never been the sole responsibility of any single party official. By any reasonable measure, Ambrose did everything she could be expected to do in a highly unfavorable state in a highly unfavorable year for Republicans.

    Second, you raised the issue of Question 7 and the "respected party leaders" from the "old school" who got it passed. Lawrence Scott, son of one of those "respected party leaders," was paid by the pro-MGM forces, and his mother and Michael Steele may have been paid as well. Further, by supporting Question 7, these "party leaders" worked against the 37 state legislators who opposed it during the session and about half a dozen county central committees who advocated for its defeat. And, while supporting Question 7, these leaders freely spouted the same talking points being used by the Democrats. The leaders you reference were, in fact, nothing more than the best Republicans the bill's Democratic advocates could buy.

    Third, you referred to Ambrose as a "fraud" in your other posting. My definition of a political fraud is someone who makes up endorsements when running for party office, lies about the amount of money they raised when they served as party chairman, goes to a gas tax rally then denies it was a gas tax rally - all evidence to the contrary, and sends out a "voter guide" intended to deceive GOP voters into falsely believing she is speaking with the imprimateur of the entire state GOP. So, if it's a fraud you're looking for, I would direct you to the apparently still bitten woman Ambrose defeated.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog.