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November 5, 2012

Analyzing Ballot Questions

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The respective political cases have been made. Facts were argued, slickly produced ads have run, and all manner of distortions have been offered.


Now is the closing, the rubber-meets-the-road chance for the advocate to stand in the well and really sell the jury.


Judgment day is tomorrow; it's set forth in the Constitution. Tinkerers, particularly agenda-driven state politicians, have done their level best to alter and manipulate how Election Day 2012 will be realized.


Redistricting, supposedly designed to enhance representation, has instead dramatically altered election districts in a wanton and reckless fashion to enhance the power of the Democratic Party in Maryland.


The best part is that even many Democrats are embarrassed by this blatant power play. Sure, Democrats want to win elections. Some still want to win the old-fashioned way – with dignity.


Speaking of fair play, a group of bi-partisan voters banded together to press for a referendum on the issue of these manipulated congressional districts. Since the issue crossed political lines, rounding up signatures wasn't much of a heavy lift.


It's called Question 5 on the ballot. Everyone who believes in basic fairness should vote Against this question. The language is composed such that a yes vote affirms the redistricting map.


The other ballot questions are also very important. Questions 1 and 2 relate to a movement to restrict Orphans Court Judge positions in Baltimore and Prince George’s counties to lawyers admitted to the Maryland Bar. The only people who really believe that this makes sense are lawyers themselves, and isn't our society screwed up enough by lawyers?


The benefit of having lay people serve in these positions is that they bring their sense of fairness, compassion and common sense to the courtroom. All of the technical work for the Orphans Court is handled by the Registers of Wills and their staff anyway.


Cast a vote for the regular guy/gal, and vote No on Questions 1 & 2.


Question 3 comes to us thanks to former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson. Mr. Johnson was a crook, and we react to crooks in public office by enacting new laws to make it harder on future crooks in public office.


If you'd like to see political crooks removed from office once they are convicted of certain classes of crimes in office, then vote for Question 3. If you want to allow them to continue to serve while they defend their right to steal from you, vote No.


Question 4, also known as The Dream Act, allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition first at community colleges, then at a four-year public university or college in Maryland. In an effort to ease concerns, legislators stuck in provisions that require proof of high school graduation, tax filings and intent to file for residency. Intent, now there's some subjectivity being added to the law!


The most distasteful aspect of this very bad public policy is the fact that the time for an honorably discharged military veteran to qualify for the same in-state tuition rate was slightly extended. Vote No on Question 4 to support the thousands of immigrants who have done the right and proper thing by waiting in line and waiting their turn.


We've already covered Question 5. Remember, a No vote on Question 5 is a signal to an arrogant majority that we will not tolerate any more efforts to undermine basic electoral fairness.


Question 6 has caused some major soul-searching. After years of bouncing back and forth on the matter of same-sex marriage, it feels like time to side with equity in the section of law that deals with civil marriage. Having heard the strong arguments about Divine interpretation of the one man/one woman bond, the real issue we need to square ourselves with is whether we believe that homosexuality is inherent or a matter of choice.


If our internal "wiring" determines who we love, then extending the right to marry seems to make sense. The law extends necessary protections to religious institutions to protect their core theology, so no priest or pastor will be liable for refusing to perform a same-sex ceremony. Similarly, no religious group is required to extend goods, services or benefits to same sex couples.


Question 7 deals with the expansion of gambling. The bill adds a new casino location in Prince George’s County, likely at National Harbor, increases the number of slot machines, and allows for existing slots casinos to add table games. Republicans seem to be against it, Democrats seem to be for it. Setting aside the stupid political role reversal from the Ehrlich era when the GOP demanded gambling and Democrats thought it unconscionable, billionaire gambling venture owners are pouring tens of millions into advertising for and against. Union bosses are siding with their Democratic Party handlers, while commercials featuring individual teachers speak out against it.


This one is so easy it's embarrassing. Don't fall for the hype, either pro or con. So what if billionaire gaming license holders get richer? So what if the General Assembly and future governor's can't keep their paws out of the "guaranteed" education funding? Both of those two questions seem to be eternal truths, so why would we be surprised or allow that speculation to impact our voting patterns?


Here's the closing argument. Gamblers are going to gamble. Maybe that's a sad statement on the state of our social system, but it is a fundamental truth. If you think it's preferable to keep their gambling proceeds in Maryland, regardless of exactly how much ends up in the classroom, then vote for Question 7.


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