by E. Sebastian Arduengo
Since the rise of the tea party in 2010, conservative Republican Congressmen have come to Washington with the goal of dismantling government as we know it. In the last three years their biggest legislative accomplishment has been the sequester– a package of federal spending cuts that does very little to accomplish the tea partiers stated goal of reducing the federal deficit, but goes a long way towards gutting government programs millions of Americans depend on, like Head Start. At the 2013 ACS National Convention, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley offered a contrasting vision of a government that met the constitutional directive of providing for the general welfare.
O’Malley, who joked that he was far from the most accomplished jurist in his family (3 of his siblings are attorneys and his wife is a state court judge in Baltimore), told the audience that for all the questions facing Americans today, from creating jobs to making sure that greater freedom, opportunity, and justice are available for all, “a working and effective government is an indispensable and essential part of the answer.”
The governor decried the fact that citizen engagement is down, and court rulings like Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, embolden states around the country to pass restrictive voting laws in the guise of preventing “voter fraud.” At the same time, Republican controlled state legislatures have perfected the subtle art of choosing constituents for conservative incumbents, resulting in unbending ideologues being sent to Congress. The result, as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently put it is a “quiet closing of Washington,” A place with, “No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform.”
Gov. O’Malley contrasted the gridlock at the federal level to the progress being made in Maryland, where recognizing things like “equal rights, inclusion, diversity, an open society, respect for the dignity of every individual” are seen as making the state a “more innovative and creative place” that benefits all Marylanders.
The state legislature passed a version of the DREAM Act, allowing children who went to Maryland high schools, and whose parents pay Maryland taxes to go to Maryland schools at in-state tuition levels. Maryland ended the death penalty, following the recommendation of a non-partisan committee which found that capital punishment did not work, and couldn’t be administered without racial bias. And Maryland passed a marriage equality bill with a message “focused on human dignity and the idea that we all want the same thing for our kids: to live in a loving, stable, committed home protected equally under the law.”
Most importantly, while other states have moved to restrict access to the ballot box, Maryland has been working to expand it. The state lets citizens register to vote online. Same-day registration is available during early voting. Early voting is offered “on more days, at more locations, and for longer hours.” And, if all of that doesn’t encourage voting, the state made it easier for citizens to vote-by-mail thru absentee balloting. It’s an effort that’s been so popular that Maryland’s tea partiers did not even attempt to challenge them via a referendum.
All of these efforts, O’Malley said, “come back to the belief we share in our own responsibility to advance the common good” and whose success is measured by one fundamental question: Does it work? Early indications are that the answer will be a resounding yes.
See O’Malley’s speech here.