Ending with a whimper

It really wasn’t noticed because not many people made a big enough deal of it, but for the third time in two years a referendum petition drive failed to meet the initial hurdle of gathering about 18,500 signatures by May 31. MDPetitions.com could not get enough interest in repealing the “bathroom bill,” formally known as the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014. Thus it will take effect October 1, and the first abuse of the new law and resulting confrontation will probably take place by the 3rd of that month.

MDPetitions.com has now struck out on both the transgender bill and an effort to overturn a bill terminating the death penalty which passed in 2013. A separate group, Free State Petitions, attempted to petition an onerous gun control measure to referendum last year, but also fell short.

In this year’s version, there was a late push to gather enough signatures – netting about 6,000 – but it fell short with 17,575, according to Delegate Neil Parrott, who heads MDPetitions.com.

So many people did so much and we are very grateful for your enthusiastic support. It is difficult to come this close and then fall short, and yet we know that it was only through this effort that people became aware of the effects of this bill. The press certainly was not spreading the word. YOU did that.

Our goal at Mdpetitions.com is to listen to you and to give you a voice in your government.  People overwhelmingly asked us to petition the “Bathroom Bill”, and we did. Most people did not even know about the bill, let alone how it will impact our safety and privacy. However, when people heard about this issue, the most common response was, “Seriously?” … and they were very willing to sign. Our biggest disappointment is that word spread too slowly to make this first deadline.

In looking at county-by-county totals, it’s apparent the Eastern Shore didn’t do all that well in gathering signatures, as the nine counties only accounted for 1,079 signatures between them – Dorchester and Somerset were lowest with 40 apiece. Leading the way was Parrott’s home county of Washington with 3,688. In a nutshell, that seems to signify the problem as word indeed spread slowly.

With that failure, it appears we will only have one statewide issue on the November ballot. In 2013 the General Assembly passed a “lockbox” requirement for the Transportation Trust Fund – unfortunately, the lock is simply a 3/5 majority of both houses. It would make more of a difference if Republicans got up to the 57 in the House and 19 in the Senate which would make them more than a 2/5 minority in those respective bodies, but otherwise the lock is pretty weak.

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.

Aren’t we thrilled?

You know, it’s hard to come home after a nice evening and discuss bad news, but there it was on the table: Martin O’Malley finished the damage of the “90 days of terror” by signing the last of the approved bills from this year’s “very productive” General Assembly session. If it were any more productive we’d be a banana republic.

Of all the bills signed, though, it appears that just two will be subjects of a petition drive to referendum: the death penalty repeal and the gun law. The death penalty repeal is “officially” sanctioned by mdpetitions.com  while the gun law is being challenged by another group, with the petition there at freestatepetitions.com.

Regardless who begins the effort, though, the rules are the same: by June 30 there needs to be valid signatures equal to 3% of the number of those who voted in the 2010 gubernatorial election (just under 56,000) with 1/3 of those required by May 31 – the end of this month. Both drives got sort of a late start.

Unfortunately, having seen the 2012 petition drives all defeated at the ballot box, the question is whether there is enough interest in seeing another potential wipeout at the 2014 election. Granted, the demographics of the vote may be more favorable to those who would like to overturn these issues but so far both petitions seem to be having tough sledding. Moreover, failure to get enough signatures for either or both petitions will probably embolden Democrats to pass even more egregious legislation – it’s bad enough we can’t petition appropriations bills and may have an even higher hurdle to overcome in the future.

There’s also the argument about the gun bill being brought to referendum because it’s placing our God-given rights to a vote. One thing a referendum would do though is delay the enactment of the bill, so there is a point to consider.

Still, it was a sad day for the formerly Free State yesterday, and I hope in 18 months we will wipe the smiles off their faces after the people take back their state.

That’s a sentiment shared by Maryland’s GOP, as Chair Diana Waterman admitted the following:

Cracking down on crime is clearly not part of Martin O’Malley’s presidential resume. Together with the Democrats in Annapolis, O’Malley has shamefully politicized the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut in order to advance his radical agenda and political aspirations. This legislation will do nothing to curb the effects of gun violence in Maryland, but instead only makes it even more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

While other Governors like Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and their legislatures are working to reform state government, Martin O’Malley, Mike Miller, Mike Busch, and the Democrat legislators in Annapolis have wasted the people’s time and money by imposing higher taxes, promoting government dependency, and assaulting the Second Amendment.

Elections have consequences. Whether it was an uninspiring top of the ticket, underperformance in filling out the ballot card, or not being effective in promoting a conservative message to the state’s voters, the 2010 election which should have been a slam dunk in t least restoring the GOP to a player in Maryland politics was, instead, a lost opportunity. In part, this led to the demise of our 2012 initiatives to roll back the welcome mat to illegal aliens and to maintain the common meaning of marriage.

Instead, we pretty much have to try again in 2014 to reinvent the wheel. Granted, there is potential at the top of the ticket for a young and dynamic presence, but the true test will be whether we can contest every race this time around. Hopefully the regressive nature of the O’Malley regime and the prominence he’s already given Anthony Brown as a hand-picked successor – and, in turn, Brown’s defense of the O’Malley record – will give the MDGOP something to build upon. A referendum drive or two won’t hurt the cause.