I gave her somewhat short notice, but this week’s guest came through like the trooper she is and provided me with an enlightening TQT chapter. She’s Elizabeth Myers of MD Legislative Watch, a group I was happy to do a little volunteer work for during the recently-completed General Assembly session. I had the pleasure of meeting her at MDCAN in January as well.
monoblogue: My interviewee today is Elizabeth Myers of MD Legislative Watch, a group which tried to make sense of this year’s General Assembly session. I believe this is the first year you have undertaken this venture, is that correct? What have you learned from the experience?
Myers: Yes, this is the first year (and) I learned quite a bit. First, this year before an election year saw the oppression of liberties and extraction of wealth from the people of Maryland at its peak. Of course, having a governor with eyes on the White House does not help matters and likely made this session one of the worst.
Second, I learned that some politicians respond to being called out publicly for not responding to e-mails.
Third, Assembly members don’t have consistent answers on how bond bills get into the budget – one Delegate voted for the operating budget because she wanted a “bond bill” for a pet project – these “bond bills” are in the capital budget, though. Bond bills in Maryland are similar to earmarks at the federal level. In order for one to find out how his or her Delegate voted on bond bills, one must hound the Delegate and county delegation chair since the delegations meet to prioritize the bond bill requests; that prioritization list is sent on for inclusion in the capital budget. While a Delegate may vote against the capital budget, (the question is) did he/she vote for the prioritization list?
Most Assembly members don’t receive emails from the people on bills that don’t make the news. For instance, many people sent emails about the proposed regulation of process servers, a bill which may have forced some of the smaller firms out of the industry. Delegate Smigiel said that when committee members receive a dozen or so emails about a bill, they start asking questions and pay attention. Emailing the committees is a very powerful and easy method of participating in and influencing the legislative process – once the bills are on the floor, it’s very hard to kill them.
Finally, it was confirmed that often, the rhetoric of most Republicans doesn’t match their actions – they vote for bills that increase the size and scope of government. Voting for bills that increase the size and scope of government, yet voting against the operating budget, is disingenuous. In Maryland, Republicans can vote their conscience – if the vote is to increase the size and scope of government, that is his or her conscience.
monoblogue: Having worked as part of the MDLW team and read a few of the bills, ones to which I was assigned, I know you tried to approach this from a pro-liberty perspective. How would you define your philosophy on this for my readers?
Myers: My perspective in this project is one of a Constitutionalist. We, the people, confer select powers to the government. We retain the rest. From the Maryland Declaration of Rights, Article 45: “This enumeration of Rights shall not be construed to impair or deny others retained by the People.”
I highly recommend the Institute on the Constitution – they teach courses on the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions and the proper role of the jury. The Maryland Constitution and the U.S. Constitution are not perfect documents, which is why both of them leave room for amendment.
monoblogue: And where did you get the idea to do such a study in Maryland? Was it based on something done in another state, or did you just decide to start this because you were fed up with the process?
Myers: Pure “fed up.” I got an email on October 1 about all of the new laws that were in effect that day and the idea was born. Originally, the idea was to recruit some volunteers to read legislation and alert those with mailing lists – when no one with a mailing list responded, the website was started.
I’ve long said that while most citizens are focused on one or two stories, few are watching what the other hand is doing. That is the focus of MLW – show the other bills that affect most Marylanders and extract our wealth, oppress our natural rights, or both. Tyranny does not typically march in wearing stormtrooper uniforms; tyranny creeps and creeps until it’s accepted as normal. We can’t fight some of the big stuff but we can fight much of the creeping tyranny – it’s the only way to reverse the tide.
monoblogue: I also noticed you did a triage of sorts on the bills, immediately eliminating the bond bills, for example. But what was the most egregiously bad bill to be introduced in this session? And what was the worst one which passed?
Myers: The easy answer is SB281 – begging government to exercise an inalienable, God-given right. However, more telling was HB1499, the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013. This act decreased transparency in candidate campaign finance reporting and enabled public campaign financing at the county level. This act was approved unanimously by the House of Delegates and only two Senators voted against it.
On the triage, that was born out of necessity – 1,500 bills were introduced in 2 weeks. There is no way I could ask people to read all of those in a short period of time, so I prioritized bills. This project was in its first year so I flew by the seat of my pants.
monoblogue: I also noticed you were a staple on local radio programs, such as Doug Gill’s WBAL show on Friday nights. Did you see the media as helpful to the cause?
Myers: Doug was exceptionally supportive and I’m so grateful for his time and the opportunity. As the Maryland Statehouse Examiner, Doug’s been fighting this fight for many years and he wanted to shed light on the legislation in Annapolis. By doing so, my website stats on Friday were better than those from most of the week. The aim of the project and my time on Doug’s show was to alert people to the legislation that might otherwise fly under the radar. Bills that increase regulations and fees on small businesses, bills that oppress liberties, and the few bills that reiterate our rights and interpose on unconstitutional federal legislation (e.g. anti-indefinite detention and anti-drone).
Through the session, it’s estimated that the website facilitated 15,000 – 22,000 emails to committee members about legislation. Many Assembly members complained about the volume of emails they received. I hope we were a good part of that.
monoblogue: Finally, now that the session is just about over, to where will you turn your activist energies during the next few months? And can we expect MD Legislative Watch 2.0, the sequel, next year?
Myers: I will continue the project. I and a few friends will meet, discuss lessons learned, how we can improve and automate things, and we’ll be back stronger next year. I’m undecided on my activist energies for the coming months but it is likely they will be directed at a more local level.
monoblogue: I appreciate the time, particularly since I gave you such short notice. Thanks, and I hope this keeps you in mind for new volunteers next year.
Myers: Michael, I appreciate your activism and very much appreciate your volunteer time on and promotion of the (MDLW) project. Your monoblogue Accountability Project is wonderful; at a minimum, this is something that all Marylanders should read before they vote.
Obviously my goal in doing the mAP was for voters to learn how their legislators represented them and soon I will start working on the 2013 version. But speaking of seat of the pants, I haven’t nailed down my guest for next week. Be assured I’m working on him.