Blue State Politics: Referendum Wins in Maryland Make National Headlines
Victors attribute the wins to Democratic Party dominance, among other factors.
Capital News Service
A dominant state Democratic Party, a progressive electorate, a national trend toward socially liberal policies and the need for more revenue in tough economic times converged in Maryland to bring passage of same-sex marriage, in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants, expanded gambling and a gerrymandered political map, political observers say.
All of Maryland's ballot initiatives passed on election night.
"(Gov. Martin) O'Malley and the Democrats have complete control," said Blair Lee, political columnist at The Gazette newspapers. "The only (political) competition and conversation was among Democrats … the Republicans are almost now gone the way of the Whig Party in terms of influence and presence."
In Maryland, Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, the governor’s mansion, both U.S. Senate seats and seven of eight congressional seats.
Christopher Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a Rockville-based think tank, agreed that Tuesday night’s results emphasized one-party dominance in the state.
“In terms of Republicans and messaging, they need to have a very serious meeting and realize their messaging is not working, their leadership is not working,” he said.
Following in the footsteps of leaders like O’Malley might have been the deciding factor for many voters, said Laura Hussey, assistant political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“It’s only recently that we’ve seen Democratic leaders take strong stances on issues like the Dream Act,” Hussey said. “Eventually, some of their voters are going to follow behind them.”
Democratic dominance also contributed heavily to the easy passage of the new redistricting map, which Lee called “a disgrace.” The map, which was approved with 63.6 percent of the vote, played a huge role in ousting Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, he said.
“It just shows you how committed Maryland voters are to the Democratic Party,” Lee said. “Not only were they able to gerrymander a Republican out of office, but were able to get the voters to approve the most gerrymandered redistricting map in the country.”
Other political experts said Tuesday’s results were less about the Democratic Party and more about the electorate’s progressive tendencies, especially when considering the success of same-sex marriage and the Dream Act.
“Maryland is a more progressive state than any other,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Julie Erickson, former public policy director for the Baltimore Presbytery, agreed, and added that Tuesday’s results were about more than just partisan politics.
“Maryland is more fair-minded than other states,” Erickson said. “I don’t think people vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because the Democratic governor said to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ I think they voted for equal rights.”
The Dream Act, which will allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities provided they meet certain requirements, was approved by 58.3 percent of voters. Same-sex marriage passed narrowly with 51.8 percent of the vote.
These two issues especially spoke to people’s values, said Sean Johnson, director of legislative and political affairs at the Maryland State Education Association, which supported both questions.
“It wasn’t simply a matter of blue versus red,” Johnson said. “Citizens in general are saying now is the time to stand up for equality and fairness and what’s right.”
Many involved in the election also attributed the success of the progressive issues to the influence of young voters in the state. O’Malley visited the University of Maryland, College Park Monday, where he met with young people in favor of same-sex marriage.
“All of those young people, the generation, dare I say, after ours, look at those of us who are over 40 and wonder why we are even having a problem with this,” O’Malley said. “They understand that we need to treat people equally under the law and that that in no way infringes on the free practice of religion.”
The results in Maryland also reflect larger social movements across the country, said Edward Carmines, a political science professor and director of the Center on American Politics at Indiana University.
“This is the first election cycle where, not just Maryland, but a couple other states, too, where same-sex marriage was passed,” Carmines said. Voters also approved same-sex marriage in Maine and Washington, and rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
Others said Tuesday night’s results could help pave the way for similar measures across the country.
Christine Sierra, professor and director at the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute at the University of New Mexico, sees Maryland as "experimenting in democracy."
“Policies need to be passed at the state level before they can be passed into federal law,” she said.
The future of pro-immigration legislation could rest in Maryland, Sierra said.
"If you look at last night's results, the writing is on the wall," she said.
Sierra added the country needs to recognize the “dreamers.”
“They have to include undocumented young people that are, for all intents and purposes, American, for their experiences, cultural assimilation and their values,” she said.
Maryland’s support of gambling also mirrors a national trend in tough fiscal times, Carmines said. Many states, even those that historically avoided gambling, are facing economic pressure to find alternate sources of money to balance their budgets.
Voters approved Question 7, which allows for a casino to be built in Prince George’s County and expands table games to the state’s existing casinos, with 52 percent of the vote.
However, Eberly said he doesn’t think any broad conclusions can be drawn from its passage.
“It’s very difficult to get people to say no to free money,” Eberly said.
Capital News Service’s Julie Baughman, Hannah Morgan, Caitlin Johnston, Matthew Owings, Rachael Pacella, Sophie Petit and Clara Vaughn contributed to this report.