November 6, 2014
"If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost,
for this is a game where principles are the stake."
--Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Taylor, June 4, 1798
“We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.”
-- Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address
First of all, thank you for your tremendous support and encouragement throughout the 2014 campaign, and a special shout-out to the Montgomery County Young Democrats and to dozens of friends and constituents who joined me on the road to campaign for four colleagues in close races—Senators John Astle (Annapolis), James Brochin (Towson), Jim Mathias (Ocean City and Salisbury), and Ron Young (Frederick). All four of these Senators won by very close margins (51-48.8, 51.6-48.2, 51.6-48.3 and 50.7-49.1) and I know our work was much appreciated everywhere we went. Thanks also to all of the great District 20 people—like Mary Silva, Barbara Griffith, Ed Kimmel, Linda Kolko and Fran Daniel who volunteered big chunks of time and energy to electing my beloved friend Senator Brian Frosh our new Attorney General. These are smashing and important victories that bode well for our state. Congratulations to all the great Democrats who won here in Montgomery County, and to my friend Jill Ortman-Fouse, our impassioned new Board of Education Member, and many thanks to Shebra Evans, who also ran an excellent and classy campaign for school board.
Thanks to my sensational colleagues Delegate Sheila Hixson, Delegate-Elect David Moon, and Delegate-Elect Will Smith, for their inspiring campaigns and for making District 20 a powerhouse for turning out the vote block-by-block. We were blessed by the magnificent (and volunteer) organizing skills of Alice Wilkerson, who coordinated our team effort.
Winning election to represent the extraordinary communities of Silver Spring and Takoma Park for a third time is an honor that I can hardly express to you, and I only feel badly that the larger events of the election have obscured my overwhelming gratitude for your solidarity and support. Please accept my profound appreciation, gratitude, and affection, which I tried to communicate on Election Night to the many wonderful people who joined us at Vicino’s restaurant for a joyful celebration that turned bittersweet as the night went on.
After thinking about the breathtaking events of the last few days—in Maryland and across the country, I wanted to write you to make three points.
First, the victory of Governor-Elect Hogan over Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown is not a repudiation in any way of the tremendous social progress we have made in Maryland over the eight years. It was no part of the Hogan campaign to try to repeal marriage equality, nullify the Dream Act, get rid of the minimum wage hike, reinstate the death penalty, re-disenfranchise tens of thousands of ex-felons, overturn our assault weapon ban, abolish our medical marijuana program, abolish the homestead exemption for personal bankruptcy, void the state law imposing ignition interlock devices on repeat convicted drunk drivers, or repeal any number of strong environmental and consumer laws.
These changes are bedrock now; Hogan’s campaign shrewdly did not go after them; and if necessary I will fight like hell to defend them in the General Assembly where no force is larger than progressive Democrats. Some of these laws were not only enacted by the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor O’Malley but directly upheld by the voters at the polls in 2012 (marriage equality and the Dream Act). Thus, the political upset that shook Maryland Tuesday night was not the return in any way of a right-wing social agenda; on the contrary, it was overwhelmingly about one issue and one issue only: taxes.
Second, no one loves taxes, especially in a time that combines great economic stress for a lot of Marylanders with deepening cynicism about the prospects of effective government. Taxes have become the symbol of everything we hate about government and the economy, even if the things that taxes pay for—roads and transit, schools and law enforcement, public health and public safety, the physical and social infrastructure—are essential to our way of life.
I think that progressive Democrats should not be afraid to have a thorough-going policy discussion and debate about the fairness, complexity and burdens of tax policy in our state. Many taxes we have are regressive and there are lots of special-interest loopholes and booby traps that undermine public confidence in the coherence, fairness and progressivity of the tax system overall. Now is not the time to enter into specifics, but suffice it to say that, if there is any policy mandate in the gubernatorial election, surely it is to have a serious analysis of our sprawling tax policies and the effects they have on economic activity, personal decision-making, and fairness to people in every walk of life in our state. Although I do not serve on a fiscal policy committee, I will pay very close attention to any proposals for tax reform offered by my colleagues (Democrat or Republican) or by the new Governor, and will contribute not only whatever insights and ideas that I have to share but also the boundless wisdom of my constituents, several of whom are leading economic and fiscal policy experts. Delegate Sheila Hixson is, of course, an important leader on these issues and offers as well an abundance of insight and expertise.
Finally, the appearance of divided government in Annapolis—which is now the mirror image of Washington where Republicans control the legislative bodies and the Democrats control the executive—does not have to mean that government comes crashing to a halt. It just forces us to be more creative, mindful, and thoughtful in our work.
Many of my favorite legislative experiences in my first two terms of office have been introducing bills with Republican colleagues, making common cause across party lines to advance the many deep values that we share. For example, in 2008 I teamed up with then-Republican Senator Alex Mooney (who, amazingly won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from West Virginia on Tuesday, but that’s another story!) to introduce legislation requiring Maryland government to immediately post on-line all public expenditures over $25,000. The legislation was given little chance of success at the start because some people thought that it might reveal “embarrassing spending,” but that was precisely the point! In the end, no one wanted to vote against it, and it passed unanimously, striking a significant victory for public transparency and accountability.
Recently, I have been working closely with my friend and colleague on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Senator Chris Shank, a thoughtful conservative Republican from Washington County, on the protection of civil liberties against Big Brother and the reform of the criminal justice process. Chris and I share a passion for protecting people against Orwellian invasions of their privacy and civil rights in the Internet age. Last year, working with the ACLU, we introduced and cosponsored a package of four civil liberties bills for the new age, three of which passed: SB 698 and SB 924 require state and local law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before accessing our email accounts, cell phone data and cell phone tracking information and SB 699 establishes parameters for law enforcement in their use of automated license plate tracking data. In January we plan to introduce a bill against abusive civil asset forfeiture laws, a procedure by which police seize money and assets, including cars and houses, often from completely innocent people, and convert them into law enforcement priorities, including structural and lifestyle improvements at police stations. Check out this recent eye-popping Washington Post series on this issue.
I also had the pleasure of working hand-in-hand with conservative Republican David Brinkley, a Senator from Western Maryland, to introduce and pass our strong medical marijuana law for seriously ill people which should be up and running in 2015. A fellow cancer survivor, David spoke passionately on the floor about the fundamental right of people to access medicine they need and not have government stand in the way. (Alas, David was defeated in his primary by a Tea Party Republican Delegate Michael Hough) Similarly, when I was leading the floor fight for the transgender civil rights bill, it was a Republican Senator who agreed to the crucial language for the definition that permitted us to pass the bill.
It goes without saying that I have cherished my work with my Democratic colleagues, like Senator Frosh who now leaves the Senate to go enforce so many of the laws we drafted together; like exiting Delegates Tom Hucker, our soon-to-be new County Councilman, and Heather Mizeur; and Senator Rich Madaleno, with whom I worked day and night for a long time to pass marriage equality. But I feel a special pride about collaborating with Republican Senators because so much of American politics today is organized to thwart trans-partisan thinking and action.
This is an old danger. George Washington warned that the “spirit of party” can “distract” and “enfeeble” government, “agitate the community,” and “kindle the animosity of one part against another.” He wasn’t naïve, of course: he recognized that partisan spirit is totally “inseparable from our nature.” But Washington, along with Jefferson and Adams, wanted us to remember exactly what a party is. The word comes from the French word “partie,” which means simply a “part.” Each party is just a part of the political whole.
Doubtless we can benefit from vigorous party competition as we benefit from vigorous business competition, but we should never allow partisan feeling to tear asunder the basic bonds of social affection and union among the people. Parties can be constructive; they channel passions, organize conflict, clarify the public agenda, and crystallize choices. But, taken too far, partisanship can lead to division, hatred, even civil war. No “part” of society should ever pretend to speak for the whole, much less demonize people in other groups.
In his first Inaugural Address, Jefferson advanced the sentiment that we should never allow party to divide us: “We are all Republicans,” he said, “We are all Federalists.” At his first Inaugural, Lincoln struck the same chord even at a time of severe discord: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Senator Barack Obama first caught America’s attention at the 2004 Democratic Convention when he too challenged the habits of partisan division: “There are neither red states nor blue states,” he said, “but only the United States of America.”
None of this means that there are no significant differences of political outlook and principle. Obviously there are. But we should never allow our partisan goggles to obscure our vision of the fact that we share with many of our “opponents” in politics important values and perspectives. There are Republicans today asking profoundly important questions about the wastefulness of our criminal justice practices, the dangers of foreign empire, and the overreach of government surveillance policies. There are libertarians pointing out the perils of the War on Drugs, the high costs of corporate welfare, and the shocking distortions caused by corporate political spending in campaigns. And there are superb Green Party activists--like former Takoma Park City Councilman Dan Robinson, who just ran a spirited and impressive race for Delegate in District 20--who have a lot to teach us about promoting small business, renewable energy and strong environmental policy. Progressive politics invites us to ask the best ideas from everyone. There is always space for progress.
Forgive the length of this letter, but the changeover in the U.S. Senate, the loss in Kentucky of my wonderful former student Alison Lundergan Grimes, and the defeat of Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman, have left me a bit philosophical this week and force all of us to reach for our highest selves in public life to take on the big issues we face. I appreciate your confidence and everything you do to make Silver Spring and Takoma Park the magical places they are. Onward. . .
All best wishes,
p.s. I received 24,796 votes on Tuesday for 98.67% of the vote! But when I first ran eight years ago and my name recognition was 6%, you were with me, and I will never forget that. I will always treasure your friendship and solidarity.