Tag Archives: gun control

Maryland’s Nullification Craze

Sheriff CorleyBy Barry Rascovar / June 6, 2013

LET’S SEE IF I’ve got this straight:

—Garrett County’s elected sheriff (see photo) says he won’t enforce Maryland’s new gun registration law because he believes it is unconstitutional. In three other rural counties, elected leaders pass resolutions proclaiming defiance and denouncing the law.

—Baltimore’s City Council unanimously approves a bill requiring city building contractors to hire locally, even though the city solicitor says this is such a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution it is “legally indefensible.”

—Frederick County’s commissioners mock the state’s stormwater remediation fee — the so-called “rain tax” — by setting a penny-a-year charge on residents, thus netting $487 for watershed improvements. It’s their way of “complying” with the law.

In each case, rebellion is afoot, a form of modern-day nullification.

No court has ever upheld the legal theory of nullification, which essentially says if you don’t like a law you simply declare it null and void — the ultimate in libertarian individualism.

Under the guise of nullification, some Maryland politicians recently took it upon themselves to interpret the law the way they want it.

Sheriff Rob Corley announced he would decide for himself when he’ll enforce the state’s new gun law. The 14-year veteran of isolated Garrett County’s police department declared the law unconstitutional — apparently based on the fine legal training he received as an undergraduate at West Virginia’s Fairmont State College.

This raises the obvious question: What laws will Corley enforce? Does he get to pick and choose? Who made him arbiter?

The good news is Corley will play no role in carrying out the new gun registration law. The Maryland State Police can handle this chore without the sheriff’s offer of non-assistance, thank you.

The bad news is that citizens of Garrett County must be wondering what kind of sheriff they elected. He’s only going to enforce some of the laws? Since he’s the sheriff he must think he can make things up as he goes along. So much for a state legislature, governor and the courts.

Meanwhile in Baltimore City the nullification farce took a different tack. Instead of obeying the U.S. Constitution, City Council President Jack Young and his equally hapless colleagues passed a local hiring ordinance that snubs the Supreme Court. So what if this law is unconstitutional? We want a local hiring mandate!

Not one member had the integrity to disagree with this farce. Even the mayor ducked: She said the bill would become law without her signature. What a portrait of courage!

To rub in the insult, Council President Young submitted a bill seeking an “independent” legal adviser for the council. He didn’t like the city Law Department’s ruling so he wants to hire his own lawyer, whose job will depend on pleasing the Council president. Nice way to squander taxpayer dollars.

Finally in Frederick County, the tea party commissioners came as close as they dared to declare the “rain tax” null and void. One dissenting commissioner compared passage of a penny-a-year fee to a child throwing “a tantrum on the floor in the middle of a department store.”

That’s par for the course for the ring-leader, Commissioner Blaine Young, who wants to be governor. It was widely viewed as a political stunt, one of many by Young. Yet if this defiance persists Frederick is still obligated to finance $112 million worth of watershed cleanup. $487 a year won’t cut it. One day the cleanup bill will come due — only it will be much more expensive by then.

So nullification lives on in Maryland, from both the far left and the far right, in the urban core and the Appalachian mountains. The land of the free and the home of the brave!

O’Malley’s success echoes Mandel’s 1972 triumph

Monumental victories 4 decades apart show how MD’s politics, demographics have changed

By Barry Rascovar

April 11, 2013 / The Baltimore Sun

Forty-one years ago, Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel pulled off a series of staggering triumphs that The Sun compared to winning the Triple Crown: Maryland’s first gun-control law; a unique, state-run auto insurance agency; and a higher gasoline tax to support Baltimore’s first rapid rail line.

He achieved this in the face of ferocious opposition from the National Rifle Association and the insurance and trucking industries. It took Mr. Mandel’s enormous persuasive skills — including arm-twisting and deal-making — to win those monumental battles.

Fast-forward to this week’s legislative wrap-up. To quote Yogi Berra, it was “déjà vu all over again.” Despite intense resistance, Gov. Martin O’Malley captured his own Triple Crown: a more restrictive gun-control statute, a package of gasoline tax increases and abolition of the death penalty.

Raising the gas tax this session was more difficult, and unpopular, than in 1972, when a gallon of petrol cost 55 cents. Abolishing capital punishment required an enormous number of one-on-one discussions to convince lawmakers this ultimate penalty no longer made sense. It was the kind of determined dialogue Mr. Mandel thrived on.

Thanks to the Newtown school massacre in December, which coalesced public opinion behind firearms restrictions, this year’s gun-control battle in Annapolis was loud but less intense that the 1972 showdown.

Two governors celebrated monumental victories four decades apart. They did it in vastly different ways, though, reflecting a sea change in Maryland since the days of the Nixon-Agnew presidency.

Mr. Mandel’s power came from his unrivaled mastery of the General Assembly. He recruited a lobbying team of irregulars that included a railroad engineer from Cecil County (who kept rural legislators in line), two slick Baltimore attorneys (who dealt with the area’s old-style politicos) and a scion of a South Baltimore political machine. They were the governor’s hammer.

For important bills, Mr. Mandel added the genteel lobbying of his lieutenant governor, Blair Lee III (to woo Montgomery County compatriots); his secretary of state, Fred Wineland (a force in Prince George’s County politics) and the state’s first transportation secretary (and future governor), Harry Hughes.

Rural and suburban conservatives held far more power back then, making Mr. Mandel’s task harder than Mr. O’Malley’s. Sometimes he secured votes by backing a lawmaker’s pet project, generously dispensing race track passes, or dangling the prospect of patronage jobs.

During the 1972 session, entire county delegations would march off the House floor and up the marble stairs to the governor’s office for a reminder of what was at stake.

Mr. Mandel knew how to win over lawmakers. He also excelled at obfuscation — seemingly indicating support for a legislator’s wishes while never fully committing to the specifics. In 10 years as governor, he rarely suffered a defeat.

Mr. O’Malley hasn’t been as fortunate. He was deeply embarrassed by the General Assembly’s failure last year to pass the state budget on time. It took two special sessions to straighten out the mess, followed by a nasty referendum battle involving four O’Malley-passed bills.

The governor’s luck changed this year. He got big assists from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who stopped feuding and started cooperating. The veteran presiding officers were at the top of their game — revising unpopular aspects of the governor’s bills and then lining up the necessary votes.

Mr. O’Malley chipped in by staying at home and getting actively involved in lobbying. That differed from last year, when he spent much time campaigning out of state for President Barack Obama.

Sharp population changes in the past four decades provided Mr. O’Malley with a winning edge in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Legislative power now resides in the populous urban-inner suburbs where minorities and liberal voters dominate: Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the Baltimore region. It made his job much easier.

O’Malley and his allies (the NAACP, gun-control groups and the business community) used persuasive arguments, not arm-twisting. Then the governor locked in the support he needed by agreeing to help Prince George’s build a new hospital, Baltimore build new schools and Montgomery build a new Metro line. Obviously, the quid pro quo continues its role a useful political tool.

His victories this session mark a high point for Mr. O’Malley’s administration. He made it happen in his seventh year as governor through hard work, close cooperation with Messrs. Miller and Busch and an improved grasp of legislative dynamics.

It was an updated version of Mr. Mandel’s 1972 triumphs and sets Mr. O’Malley apart from most of his predecessors.

Barry Rascovar, a former deputy editorial page editor at The Sun, covered the 1972 General Assembly session for the paper and has been a commentator on state politics and government ever since. His email is brascovar@hotmail.com.

Looking back at the General Assembly

By Barry Rascovar / The Community Times / April 17, 2013

While we await this spring’s locust and stinkbug invasions, let’s be grateful for the disappearance of another pest — the Maryland General Assembly.

After deliberating for three months, state lawmakers finished their work having done little damage and possibly even some good.

Sure, the cost of gasoline jumps by four cents a gallon in July but we’re so used to seeing daily pump prices fluctuate that the extra tax bite could go largely unnoticed.

On the positive side, this tax increase paves the way for more bridge and state highway work and a new rapid rail line from Woodlawn to downtown.

The gun-control bill that passed contains the same sort of good news, bad news. It will be much tougher for budding criminals and unstable individuals to purchase a gun. Ammunition clips of more than 10 rounds will be banned along with most assault-style weapons.

Hunters won’t be impacted by the new law; anyone with a clean record can still buy an unlimited supply of firearms. But in seeking to crack down on the ability of ‘bad guys’ to buy heavy firepower weapons, the legislature restricted gun sales and put an arm of government – the State Police – in charge of determining whose applications get rejected.

New restrictions also make it costly to chat on your cell phone while driving. Delegates and senators gave police the right to fine drivers seen holding a cell phone to their ear. Only when stopped at a light or stalled in traffic will it be legal to do so.

Another bill approved by the General Assembly will make it easier to cast early ballots next year. There will be three or four new early-voting sites in Baltimore County, perhaps even one in Owings Mills. Two more days of early voting were added — for a total of eight — and these sites will be open 12 hours a day. Anything that makes voting convenient improves representative democracy. On this bill, lawmakers did us a big favor.

There’s also a chance Baltimore County will adopt the approach to school construction Baltimore City successfully advocated in the State House this year: A joint state-city funding program that permits outdated schools to be rapidly replaced over the next decade. Playing copycat would make sense for the county.

Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to reverse a misguided decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals regarding pit bulls, which it labeled “inherently dangerous.” This makes pit bull owners and even apartment operators who rent to tenants with these dogs vulnerable to liability lawsuits.

That could lead to heartbreak as pit bull owners and their children are forced to give up their animals or face eviction. It’s a situation that should have been fixed by legislators but the powerful trial lawyers won on this one — and the dog owners lost.

Barry Rascovar is a writer and communications consultant living in Reisterstown. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.

Gas tax unpopular yet necessary

By Barry Rascovar / The Community Times / April 3, 2013

No one likes it, which is why Marylanders haven’t seen a gas-tax increase in over 20 years. That’s about to change.

With final passage last Friday of a transportation revenue bill, state legislators set in motion a four-cent jump in gasoline prices come July. This will be followed by increases in later years so that by 2016 we’ll be paying 13 cents to 20 cents more per gallon.”

We’ve gotten used to sudden leaps in fuel prices. Those increases, though, fattened profits for Big Oil companies and OPEC nations. At least this time the money will stay in Maryland.

The revenue raised – $4.4 billion over six years – will revive the state’s depleted transportation construction program. That means more dollars for interstate improvements, bridge repairs and the Red Line mass-transit extension from Woodlawn to Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

This $2 billion rapid rail line will be the linchpin of Baltimore’s disorganized rapid rail system. The Red Line will give county residents on the west side – Randallstown homeowners take note – a quick, hassle-free way to travel into the city for business and pleasure.

Dundalk and Essex residents, meanwhile, will have a short drive to the Bayview rail terminus for downtown or westside commutes.

The big bonus is that this east-west transit line will tie together both the Light Rail Line and the existing Owings Mills-to-Johns Hopkins Medical Center Metro.

This means Owings Mills and Pikesville residents can commute by rail to their jobs at Social Security headquarters in Woodlawn or to the nearby Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It means city residents can hop on the Red Line, transfer to the Light Rail Line and wind up at work in Hunt Valley.

It means much easier travel options to Orioles and Ravens games, entertainment venues and downtown dining spots.

Without the gas-tax increase, none of this is possible. Maryland politicians consistently ran away from a gas-tax vote. This is the first time in two decades there has been enough support to pay for transportation improvements.

What made the difference?

Time was running out to prove to federal officials that Maryland would put up its share of the money to build the Red Line and the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. Without a commitment this year, both projects would have been shelved.

Legislators also weren’t about to vote to raise the gas tax in 2014, an election year. So this was Gov. Martin O’Malley’s last chance to solve the state’s worsening transportation situation before leaving office.

The price of progress is never easy to accept when it’s coming out of your own pocket. For now, this move is quite unpopular. The good news is that the benefits will become obvious in coming years.

Barry Rascovar is a writer and communications consultant living in Reisterstown. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.