Legislative Report: We Killed HB 348
By Liz Matory
On Thursday, February 16th, the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on HB 348, an attempt by Democrat Delegate Al Carr (LD18) to force staggered elections for the Montgomery County Council via a state constitutional amendment. The amendment would have placed a question on the 2018 ballot statewide to allow our county to then vote on staggered elections.
But, after Term Limits and Campaign Finance, a group of concerned citizens began a rapid response effort to stop Del. Carr’s amendment. During his testimony, when asked why he proposed the bill, Carr responded, “It’s just something that Delegate Carr thinks up at night.” (Really!)
He admitted that although no constituent had approached him about the bill, he just thought it would be a good idea to get people to vote, citing the staggered elections of the School Board and the Town Council of Kensington (on which he had previously served). He also referred to Cecil County as a model for staggered elections on voter participation. Mind you, in 2015 the population of Cecil was 102,382 while Montgomery was 1.04 million. (Not a fair comparison).
I forgot to mention that when the county council addressed this issue last November, they voted 5 to 3 against it. In the end Councilmember Hans Reimer voted against it as well, after being persuaded by Councilmember Nancy Floreen. However, Carr referred to the vote as a “split decision.” (I can’t make this stuff up!)
During my testimony against the constitutional amendment, I asked, “Why now?” We just voted (70% of the voters!) for term limits in November. I thought that the timing was very suspicious. If no one in the county wanted them in the first place, why would someone in the State House push to change our constitution, if not for questionable (or political) reasons?
What was his motive? How do we know that it has nothing to do with term limits? With staggered elections, any of the delegates could run for council and keep their seats in the House (like Delegates Ana Gutierrez and Kumar Barve did when they ran for Congress in 2016 – how convenient). Over the next few days, voters including former Term Limit folks, Young Republicans, and party activists contacted the members of the Ways and Means and the entire State delegation from Montgomery (which, of course, is 100% Democrat).
This activism took every single member off guard. By the time the amendment was moved back to the county’s Economic Matters standing committee on Thursday, February 23rd, the opposition was heard loud and clear! So much so that during the first 15 minutes of the 22-minute hearing (that they did not allow for oral testimony), every single member of the subcommittee took time to address the “vitriolic nature” of the emails that they received from Montgomery County voters.
Delegate Kirill Reznik (LD 39), who began the ranting, abstained from voting on the matter because he didn’t want to “encourage” that sort of behavior. He accused voters of being conspiracy theorists, and hostile. Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher (LD 18) expressed shock to receive such emails from people he knew and “saw at Chipotle.” He said he was used to receiving these emails from other parts of the state on hot button issues such as the 2nd Amendment and social issues, but he was shocked that people in Montgomery County would be that way, stating that we had better values than that.
Delegate Ariana Kelly, Subcommittee Chair, agreed with “everything that was said,” but wanted to focus on the substance of the amendment. During their brief discussion of the actual amendment, they cited virtually every “con” that voters had identified: the timing, the lack of constituent support and confusion of the voters, adding that it should be a local matter along with the non-supportive views of the county council and executive.
Fast forward to the opening of Friday’s Montgomery County Delegation meeting: Delegate Al Carr had withdrawn the bill.
Quick lessons: Remain watchful. Because of the nature of our representation in this county, the electeds are not used to receiving opposition from anyone. They are their own echo chamber (I almost typed ego chamber). Even with the Trump “Resistance Movement,” they are absolutely, positively afraid of the 70% Term Limit Voting Block.
I personally know that they use the legislative session before the gubernatorial to push projects that they want to highlight for their primaries. So this is the perfect time to keep at them. Whether it’s the Sanctuary State Bill (Hearing on Tuesday, February 28th) or the Voter ID and Citizen Bills later in the week, there is plenty of partisan legislation that deserves your attention.
They are halfway through the 2017 Legislative Session. Visit mgaleg.Maryland.gov to find more information on what our legislators are doing (or not doing) for our state.
But for now, great group effort, Liberty Lovers.