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Maryland Senate Is a Liberal Wet Dream: Guns, Gays & Get High

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on March 29, 2013

At a time when many state legislatures are lurching to the right, the Maryland Senate is now the most unflinchingly liberal body in the nation. They’ll tell you where to stick your transvaginal probes and offer you only the Right-to-Werrrk.

Thirteen months ago, the Maryland Senate passed a bill to make same-sex marriage legal (which was upheld by voters on Election Day), and in just the last month, the body’s 47 elected senators — 33 Dems and 14 GOP — have okayed laws to abolish the death penalty, decriminalize personal amounts of marijuana, control the flow of guns and develop an offshore wind project.

maryland flag

Here’s why liberals elsewhere might be jealous of Maryland:

MD Senate backs decriminalizing small amounts of pot (3/19/13)

A bill that would make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense passed the Maryland Senate Tuesday on a 30-16 vote.

The legislation, crafted to avoid handing out jail terms for possession of small amounts of marijuana, would remove any criminal component to the prohibion of marijuana possession when a person is caught with 10 grams or less. The maximum fine would be a $100 fine. The current maximum is a 90-day jail term.

The bill still has to pass the Maryland House of Delegates, which enjoys a similar 98-43 Democratic advantage, before making its way to the desk of Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who may run for president in 2016. There are currently three separate pro-marijuana bills being considered in Maryland’s state legislature; this is the first to be passed. The other two involve medical marijuana and a complete decriminalization.

• Md. Senate passes gun control bill (2/28/13)

The Senate’s 28-19 vote in support of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill came after more than 12 hours of often-emotional debate Wednesday and Thursday. Supporters said the proposal — which would ban the sale of assault-type rifles and require a license to purchase a handgun — would save lives.

“You can get a gun quicker than you can get an apple or an orange in my community,” said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat. “It’s an outrage, and we need to do something about it.”

The measure now awaits consideration by the House of Delegates. A federal appeals court last week upheld a key provision of Maryland’s gun reform laws, which the legislature seeks to expand even further by banning assault weapons and requiring gun buyers to submit to fingerprinting.

MD Senate votes to repeal death penalty (3/6/13)

Maryland became the 18th state to make this move …

Two Republicans — Sens. Edward R. Reilly of Anne Arundel County and Allan H. Kittleman of Howard County — joined 25 Democrats in supporting repeal. Ten Democrats and 10 Republicans opposed the legislation. [The vote was 27-20.]

The Senate has been viewed by repeal proponents as a tougher challenge than the House. In 2009, the last year O’Malley pushed to end capital punishment, the effort ended in a compromise that narrowed the circumstances under which the death penalty could be sought.

The House of Delegates passed the legislation by an 82-56 margin on March 15. Eighty Democrats and two Republicans voted for the bill, and Governor O’Malley will sign the bill when the Assembly session ends. But it’s not over yet: “Death penalty supporters could petition it to the 2014 ballot and leave the question to Maryland voters,” the Baltimore Sun reported. “If that happens, the law would be put on hold until after the election.”

• Md. Senate passes bill for offshore wind project (3/8/13)

The measure that passed 30-15 has been a priority for Gov. Martin O’Malley, who pushed unsuccessfully for the bill for two years before finally finding success with a scaled-back proposal. The bill was already passed this session by the House of Delegates, which will only have to sign off on several small changes the Senate made before sending it off to O’Malley to sign.

Environmental groups cheered the vote. Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, described it as a significant victory for clean energy.

Note from ThinkProgress: “The new law is the first of its kind requiring direct subsidies from ratepayers, and was made politically palatable by a 2013 poll showing 72 percent of Maryland residents would be willing to pay $2 more per month for their electricity bills to develop an offshore wind industry.”

Maryland Senate passes gay marriage bill (2/23/12)

You know all about this one already … so let’s move along.

The only piece of liberal legislation that has failed recently in the Maryland Senate is a minimum wage increase, which did not pass out of committee on an 8-3 vote earlier this week. Womp woooomp.

Martin O'Malley, Michael Busch, Thomas V. Mike Miller
Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, flanked by House Speaker Michael Busch, left, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.; AP Photo/Brian Witte

What gives here? Why is Maryland able to go so hard to the left at a time when most other states are veering to the right? The obvious answer is a liberal super-majority in both chambers of the General Assembly and a Progressive governor who is actively setting a liberal agenda.

But, despite voting this majority and governor into office, the residents of Maryland don’t consider themselves to be overly liberal, according to a recent Gallup survey. Maryland isn’t in the top 10 among state where residents identify their ideology as liberal. In fact, Maryland is the fourth most “moderate” state in the union, with 38.3% considering themselves middle of the road.

maryland ideology gallup

Yet, and this is important, there seems to be no real outrage from Maryland residents about this lib’rul agenda. There are no significant shouts for recalls of these politicians, no big Tea Party protests to speak of.

Is it because these are rational, common sense measures? Perhaps its residents just understand that after Newtown, it’s time to reform our gun laws; maybe they just know that marijuana is not a harmful drug and shouldn’t be treated as such because of a legacy classification; conceivably they know that loving couples should be allowed to marry, and that we need to start putting into place alternative energy solutions, and that the death penalty is an antiquated form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Every state is different, obviously, and every state’s residents will vote for the men and women who will enact the policies they’d like to see. You won’t see this in “red states,” surely. But similarly moderate and left-leaning states, of which there are plenty, should look to Maryland as an example of what voters might see as practical legislating when others see it as liberal takeover.

Slade Sohmer is editor-in-chief of HyperVocal and co-host of SiriusXM’s daily “Politics Powered By Twitter” show. Tweet him at @SladeHV.

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