A lack of interest – or a lack of faith?

In news which wasn’t totally unexpected, the petition drives for both reinstating the death penalty and rescinding the onerous gun laws passed by Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly both fell short of the 18,579 signatures necessary to continue the process through the end of June.

It seems to me that each failed for a different reason.

In the case of the death penalty petition, which was backed by mdpetitions.com – a group that had previously been 3-for-3 in getting statewide petitions on the ballot – it seemed like there was a resigned resistance to their efforts given that all three of their previous referenda lost at the ballot box. Moreover, it wasn’t like we hadn’t already done without the death penalty for nearly eight years before SB276 passed, since the last Maryland execution occurred under Bob Ehrlich in 2005. With just five people remaining on Death Row in Maryland, those who believe in maintaining the ultimate penalty on the books probably figured that they would only delay the inevitable, as a future General Assembly could (and likely would) once again vote to drop the death penalty in a few years’ time.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that this was simply a change of statute and not a Constitutional amendment, so a General Assembly restored to its senses could bring the death penalty back. It’s likely we would have to go through the referendum process in reverse, though, as signatures would surely be gathered for a ballot question on the issue. And since the death penalty is pretty much a 50-50 issue according to the most recent Maryland Poll, legislators who vote to make it a ballot issue – as a Constitutional ban would have to be – could potentially see the initiative on the same docket as their re-election.

In order to kill the death penalty in Maryland once and for all, look for opponents to go the Constitutional route in the 2015 or 2016 session in order to secure more votes for the Democratic nominee for President here in Maryland in 2016. It won’t pass in 2014 because any Constitutional amendment proposed there goes before voters in the same year.

Conversely, mdpetitions.com took a pass on petitioning the SB281 gun bill to referendum, with the stated belief that our rights under the United States Constitution are not subject to a balloting. They opted to join the effort to fight the bill in court. Instead, a new competing entity called freestatepetitions.com took up that banner with just a few weeks to gather the signatures. So the fact they came within a few hundred signatures of the minimum tells me the passion was there, and the petition stood a fair chance of success if started earlier.

And while the idea of a referendum was supported with the thought of buying more time to fight the law in court, the fact the petition drive failed was immediately trumpeted by gun grabbers as proof their bill had overwhelming public support.

Similarly, those who worked to eliminate the only crime control method with a zero percent recidivism rate crowed about both their victory and how the 2012 election set things up. State Senator Jamie Raskin:

Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat who lead his chamber’s floor debate on repeal, said lawmakers were emboldened after voters upheld same-sex marriage and in-state tuition for immigrants who are in this country illegally when those laws were petitioned to referendum on last fall’s ballot. Friday’s announcement that organizers could not find enough votes to send the death penalty question to voters, Raskin said, further proves that Marylanders back the legislature.

“The defenders of the death penalty promised retaliation, but their bark was worse than their bite,” Raskin said. (Emphasis mine.)

The retaliation may yet come in 2014 despite this interim failure. Raskin may not feel the voters’ wrath in his relatively safe district, but those in swing districts may fall victim if they voted to spare convicted murderers capital punishment.

So once October 1 rolls around, those in the Black Guerrilla Family and other gangs who seem to be in control of Maryland’s prisons will have even less to fear because their actions won’t be subjected to the needle. Hopefully we won’t need the senseless murder of corrections personnel to prove that taking away that possibility was a short-sighted action.

In the meantime, though, we are left to wonder about one thing. What if either petition group had the financial muscle to pull a Rob Sobhani and pay people to gather petition signatures? With a financial incentive, to me there’s no doubt enough signatures would be gathered but everything in these failed drives was done in a volunteer fashion.

And since these groups now have a little bit of forced downtime, there’s a project I would love to speak to you about. Since Rick Pollitt wants to see a referendum before moving on an elected school board, and we can’t get help from Annapolis to otherwise make it happen, perhaps getting the signatures required to put it on the Wicomico County ballot next year will get things moving. Why should a board appointed by the Governor control a $180 million chunk of our tax dollars, with nearly $40 million of that directly coming out of local taxpayers’ pockets?

Just let me know; you know how to reach me.

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