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Monday, March 1, 2010:

The Agenda

Gay marriage decision politics not-as-usual

Aaron.jpgTopics other than same-sex marriage will return to the fore in Annapolis early this week. A major hearing is scheduled Monday on bill to make votes and other actions by the General Assembly more accessible to the public. And on Wednesday, controversial changes to student privacy laws to help police better combat gangs in classrooms will be on tap.

But by Thursday, same-sex marriage could again take center stage when a House committee is scheduled to take up a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. With a couple days' perspective, it's worth considering why Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) decision last week to direct state agencies to begin recognizing same-sex marriages struck such a nerve and why it will likely continue to be a hot-button issue heading into November.

Gansler mug.jpgIn a longer analysis that appears in Monday's paper, I write that to the casual observer, Gansler's decision may have seemed right in line with a state recently ranked as having the nation's largest percentage of left-leaning voters. But in reality, it violated the way Maryland politics has come to really work.

Even though Democrats hold a 2-to-1 advantage among voters and dominate both houses of the General Assembly, lawmakers in Annapolis are overall a more conservative lot than their counterparts in other deep-blue states. Powerful Democrats in the legislature hold on to their jobs for decades by moving slowly, not setting trends. Geography, religion and culture play moderating roles that limit some of the electorate's most progressive elements.

In short: Gansler's decision to press ahead on gay rights not only got ahead of the curve but jumped the cautious political track on which Maryland lawmakers remain most comfortable.

Gansler insisted that his decision was not playing politics and was right, given that the state has respected less-scrupulous contracts than out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses. Gansler's critics, however, insist that he intended to circumvent the legislature.

Thumbnail image for Ehrlich head turned.jpgOver the weekend, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) charged that Gansler's decision was out of touch with what most Marylanders value.

And in an election year with the seats of not only Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) but all 188 state legislators up for grabs, Gansler's decision exerts new pressure on Democrats with tenuous holds on the state's more conservative districts. The state's Republican Party has made clear that a primary focus in November will be to pick off five seats to break the Senate's filibuster-proof majority. At least some of those Senate Democrats are likely to face committee votes on same-sex bills in coming weeks.

Although a similar measure failed in the House, a bill to ban recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages remains active in the Senate. That bill has 10 co-sponsors -- five Republicans, and five Democrats. Three of those -- including Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), the lead sponsor, -- represent fairly conservative districts. The other two -- Sens. Anthony C. Muse (D) and Douglas J.J. Peters (D) -- hail from Prince George's.

Thumbnail image for Miller mug.jpgSenate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) says he's not sure how much debate Stone's measure would get, saying he considered the House as having already dealt with it.

We'll see how voters deal with in November.

-- Aaron C. Davis


News You Should Know -- The Weekend Roundup

Iraq becomes flash point in not-yet-official governor's race
Thumbnail image for O'Malley Iraq-thumb.jpg"Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who is gearing up to run again, on Saturday knocked Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) for the timing of a trip he has taken to Iraq," reports The Post's John Wagner. "Ehrlich, speaking on the weekly radio show he co-hosts with his wife, said governors should stay in state capitals during legislative sessions. 'It's a decision I would not make,' Ehrlich told his listeners on Baltimore's WBAL." An O'Malley spokesman later said Ehrlich had reached a "new low" in seeking press attention. Meanwhile, Politics Daily notes that a recent Rasmussen Reports poll has O'Malley maintaining a lead over Ehrlich.

State Senate passes $5,000 job tax credit bill
Thumbnail image for Maryland Senate.jpg"The Maryland Senate on Friday unanimously passed a measure that offers a $5,000 tax credit to companies for workers they hire off the unemployment rolls," writes The Post's Wagner. "Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) had included a $3,000-per-worker tax credit in his legislative agenda as part of a focus on job creation this legislative session. O'Malley's budget caps the availability of the credit at $20 million. Republicans have questioned whether the credit will be sufficient to spur hiring by companies struggling to turn a profit. But all 14 GOP members of the Senate joined their 33 Democratic colleagues in voting for the measure Friday. A similar measure has yet to clear the House of Delegates."

Md. Senate lifts Montgomery schools penalty; part of a trend?
"A bill that would waive a $23 million penalty levied against Montgomery County public schools passed with overwhelming support in the Maryland Senate on Friday," writes The Post's Michael Birnbaum. "The fine has been hanging over the state's largest school system for months." Meanwhile, Julie Bykowicz of The Baltimore Sun takes a broader view in Monday's paper, writing: "For decades, Maryland lawmakers have built up public education through spending requirements that they've imposed on themselves and on local governments. But this year, more seriously than ever, the General Assembly is looking for ways to nip at school funding. There's broad agreement among lawmakers that the depth and length of the national economic downturn means the time has come to review this previously untouchable part of the budget -- which accounts for about 20 percent of state spending."

Prince George's schools budget takes a hit
Prince George's schools.jpg"The Prince George's Board of Education on Saturday eliminated hundreds of jobs, approved lengthy furloughs, slashed bus service and expanded class sizes for all but the youngest students under a budget for the 2010-11 school year," reports The Post's Michael Birnbaum. "Unlike in Montgomery County, which passed a schools budget earlier this month that largely maintains services while warning of potential cuts in coming months, the budget in Prince George's County cuts deeply into every area of education."

Week Ahead

Monday: Several competing bills on open government get a full vetting by the House Rules Committee. All the chamber's committee chairs are expected to attend, and some are scheduled to testify.

Swaim-Staley.JPGTuesday: The full Senate expected to vote on confirming O'Malley's transportation secretary, Beverley K. Swaim-Staley, after two delays; House Judiciary plans a lengthy hearing on several proposed changes to the way the state prosecutes gang crimes.

Wednesday: House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) is scheduled to testify on his bill to increase coordination between schools and police to curb gang influences in classrooms; the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee will hear Republican bills to cut the budget.

Ben Barnes.jpgNorm Stone.jpgThursday: A bill by Del. Benjamin S. Barnes (D-Prince George's) to legalize same-sex marriage will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee; a bill by Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County) that would prohibit Maryland from recognizing same-sex marriages performed out of state gets a hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

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Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each weekday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And Look Ahead, Unspun, News Makers, and Week in Review keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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By Aaron C. Davis  |  March 1, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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Comments

Very insightful discussion of the gay marriage question and of the Maryland Democratic party. It's clear that elected Dems want somebody, anybody but them to take the leap on gay marriage, but the courts have been unwilling to do their work for them.

The real pro-liberty policy would be to get government out of marriage altogether and have the stae recognize any sort of marriage among two (or more) consenting adults, but that would never fly. Maryland Democrats are not liberals, they are statists.

Posted by: member8 | March 2, 2010 2:29 AM | Report abuse

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