Here's How the Montgomery County Democratic Party Wants You to Vote
Congressional redistricting, curbing police union powers and gambling expansion prove divisive as the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee offers its stand on 11 ballot questions.
Yes to same-sex marriage, in-state tuition for undocumented students and curbing the county police union’s negotiating power.
That’s Montgomery County Democratic party's message to voters as Marylanders headed to the polls for an Election Day some see as among the most momentous in state history.
But on two of the crucial questions set for the Nov. 6 ballot—congressional redistricting and whether to up the ante for Maryland’s gambling industry—party dissent torpedoed any guidance.
Party leaders, elected officials and roughly one-third of the party’s 330 representatives of Montgomery voting precincts hashed out the official party vision in a four-hour summit in Rockville in September that brought impassioned debate and at times exposed deep divides over the party’s policies.
Under rules of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, the precinct reps convene once every two years to craft the party platform that will be mailed to registered Democrats ahead of each election.
On Election Day 2012, Nov. 6, Montgomery County voters face a record number of ballot questions, 11 in all—seven statewide issues, three specific to Montgomery County, plus the renewal of a state appeals court judge.
Three of those statewide questions—the Maryland “Dream Act,” same-sex marriage and Gov. Martin O’Malley’s congressional redistricting plan—were put into law over the past two years, then sent for popular referendum after Republican-led petitions that easily amassed enough signatures, largely via online petition drives.
“People keep asking me, ‘Why are there so many questions on the ballot this year?’ … Questions 4, 5 and 6 are on the ballot because of Del. Neil Parrott and the Tea Party wing of the Republican party,” said Del. Anne Kaiser, head of the Montgomery delegation to Annapolis. “Our western Maryland colleague has found a way to make it very easy to get petitions on the ballot … thereby defeating democratically passed legislation. And I don’t think we should stand for one extremist undermining our agenda.”
The Central Committee formed a “ballot question advisory committee” this summer to research each issue and recommend the party’s stance.
More than 100 precinct reps heard the advisory committee’s positions as a slew of elected officials and party leaders lobbied for and against the issues, including County Executive Isiah Leggett, all nine members of the County Council and a dozen state delegates and senators.
EARLY ON, UNITY
The summit’s first major issues brought cheers and nearly unanimous support as the precinct reps endorsed the Maryland “Dream Act” and same-sex marriage.
The Dream Act—Question 4—would allow certain illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at state community colleges, and later, at a four-year state university. While a dozen other states have similar policies, Maryland is the first to put it to a popular vote.
And if Question 6—the Civil Marriage Protection Act—survives the Nov. 6 ballot, Maryland voters will be the nation’s first to endorse same-sex marriage.
“We have a chance to make special history. We have an incredible opportunity … to truly say we are moving this community, our state, forward,” Sen. Richard Madaleno, Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington told the precinct reps.
“Imagine what it’ll feel like to pick up that newspaper, or look at midnight online, on Nov. 7 and see that Maryland passed the Dream Act and marriage equality. … On behalf of my family, my husband, our children and the thousands and thousands of gay and lesbian couples that live in this state, thank you so much for supporting our families.”
The tenor turned tense when attention fell on Question B, a Montgomery-specific measure that would reign in the county police union’s bargaining powers.
According to a 1982 law, the Montgomery County police union must first approve any action by the police chief that has an “effect on employees.”
Leggett (D) and the County Council unanimously passed a measure this summer to eliminate so-called “effects bargaining,” saying that the drawn-out negotiations cripple the police department’s ability to reform and modernize. The measure would not infringe on collective bargaining for salary or benefits.
After a contentious hearing this summer, MCDCC’s advisory committee came down 7-6 in favor of preserving the union’s powers.
Leggett and half of the County Council presented it to the precinct reps as a clear-cut issue.
“No other police union in the state of Maryland has effects bargaining. No other county employee union has effects bargaining,” said Council President Roger Berliner. “…This was a gift by our council 30 years ago. And it was a bad idea.”
The precinct reps went against the advisory committee’s guidance, voting in favor of Question B by a 109-14 margin.
If Question B brought rancor but not a deep divide, the ballot question on the state’s proposed congressional redistricting plan seemed to expose both.
It took three votes—after which dozens of exasperated precinct reps left the meeting—before the party reached a decision.
Gov. O’Malley’s plan to redraw Maryland’s eight congressional districts according to the 2010 Census fanned partisan flames and upset minority advocates, but survived a court challenge that claimed the map violated the federal Voting Rights Act.
While party leaders and several elected officials called for the need to maintain or expand the Democrats’ 6-2 congressional advantage in Maryland, others countered that the map will prove unhealthy for the party long-term.
“Many, many ordinary voters are going to be appalled when they find out what district they’re in,” said Margaret Greene, chair of precinct 7-18 in the 16th legislative district. “This is kind of a really disgraceful map.”
“We have a historic opportunity [for] a fair redistricting process,” said another precinct rep. “If we can’t do it here in Montgomery County—the home of good government in Maryland—then we are a disgrace.”
Rejecting the map, said County Councilman Phil Andrews, will not affect the 2012 election, and Democrats will be able to draw a better map in time for the 2014 election.
“Is this going to continue to be the party of reform, or is it going to be the party of deform?” he said, gesturing toward a drawing of the new 3rd Congressional District, which includes a hodge-podge of communities from Baltimore to Montgomery County. “When I show this map to most people, they can’t believe it. They can’t believe that a congressional district that looks like blood spatter from a crime scene is what was produced for this state. This is a gerrymander that is not defensible to the public.”
Most of Montgomery’s Annapolis delegation urged support for O’Malley’s plan. It keeps 70 percent of Marylanders in the same district as the 2002 election, they said, and keeps Maryland as a Democratic stronghold.
“Redistricting is a partisan exercise, and it has gone on all over the country, and I don’t think we should cede any ground in the state of Maryland,” said Sen. Rob Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown. “There’s a lot at stake nationally. We need to get 25 seats to turn this Congress back to Democratic. Other states—Republican red states—they’re doing this, and they’re doing it with great fervor. We need to make sure we have seven Democratic seats for the foreseeable future… and there’s not many other ways to do it than what we have. The map’s not pretty, but we’ve got to do it.”
The advisory committee had come down against the map 11-1. The precinct reps rejected the advisory committee 56-64.
But when a subsequent vote was called to support the redistricting plan, that failed 46-56. And when a third vote was called for the party to take no position on the redistricting, it appeared to also fall short, and a quarter of the precinct reps walked out of the meeting amid confusion and frustration. But once the no-position vote was tallied, it came in 40 for and 26 against.
The party summit had stretched past the four-hour mark by the time it took up Question 7, which asks voters whether to allow table games such as poker and black jack in Maryland’s casinos five casinos, and whether to allow a sixth casino in Prince George’s County.
MCDCC opposed the 2008 referendum that brought gambling to Maryland. And this time around, the advisory committee voted 9-1 to oppose its expansion.
The executive director of the state Democratic party, along with Leggett and most of the Montgomery delegation, called for the precinct representatives’ support on gambling expansion, saying it will create 5,000 jobs and pump $200 million into the state’s education coffers.
“This is putting money where our mouth is,” said Del. Sheila Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, citing Maryland schools’ No. 1 national ranking four years running.
Those arguments failed to sway the precinct reps. They voted 49-42 to oppose Question 7.
MAKING IT OFFICIAL
A few minutes after the precinct reps’ final vote, two dozen of the Central Committee’s leaders convened to formalize the party platform. Under party rules, the Central Committee can negate the wishes of the precinct reps, but it results in the party taking no position on that issue.
The Central Committee affirmed 10 of the precinct reps’ votes then annulled their anti-gambling vote under the premise that enough of the reps had left after the redistricting debate that the narrow margin on gambling might have turned out differently.
THE REST OF THE BALLOT
Earlier in the night, the precinct reps endorsed the November ballot’s other six questions with little or no opposition:
*Questions 1 and 2: Require judges in the orphans’ courts for Prince George’s and Baltimore counties, respectively, to have practiced law in Maryland before taking the bench.
*Question 3: Remove elected officials from public office when they are found guilty or plead no contest to a criminal charge, rather than waiting until sentencing. The state Senate and House had passed the law unanimously. “I think it should help restore the public trust,” said Del. Anne Kaiser, head of Montgomery delegation.
*Renewing Stuart R. Berger for 10 more years on the state Court of Appeals, the state’s second-highest court.
*Ballot Question A would amend the Montgomery County Charter so that officials can circumvent the county’s “merit system” in order to recruit and hire people with severe mental disabilities. Under the current system, the county can only bring on disabled persons as interns for two years before becoming “stuck” under the merit system, said Councilman Phil Andrews. Amending the charter will allow the County Council to craft legislation on the specifics of a new system. Andrews called it “the next step in being a model community.”
*Ballot Question C asks whether to repeal Damascus’ liquor prohibition, and authorize beer and light wine in hotels and restaurants. A round of laughter went up as it was explained that the measure would only allow alcohol to be consumed while seated.
“It may be archaic, but it’s their area,” said Harold Diamond, chairman of the ballot advisory committee.
No precinct reps from Damascus were present, so the party voted to take no position on the issue.