Under the law, undocumented immigrants who can prove that they have attended Maryland high schools for at least three years and that their parents or guardians have begun paying taxes were to have been allowed to begin courses this fall at community colleges at in-state rates. The measure was approved in the closing hours of this year’s legislative session after years of failed attempts.
Opponents of the immigrant tuition bill celebrated Thursday, calling the news from the Maryland State Board of Elections a chance to turn back an expensive liberal ideology promoted by the Democratic-controlled legislature.
“This is a great benefit to every citizen of the state,” said Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), the leader of the petition drive. “The liberal leadership of the General Assembly rammed this through, even with 20 Democrats voting against it. It’s taken the hard work of volunteers across the state to make sure voters will have the final say.”
Elections officials have yet to certify the outcome, and court challenges are likely. But the petition’s success, combined with the House of Delegates’ decision this spring not to approve same-sex marriage, suggests that Maryland is not as socially liberal as its reputation and overwhelming Democratic political structure would suggest.
Conservatives owe part of their success to a first-of-its kind online tool used to connect with like-minded opponents and to avoid the clerical errors that routinely doom signature-gathering drives in Maryland. Signatures can be rejected if they do not match voter rolls, so the tool printed a Maryland voter’s name and information exactly as it is listed in registration records. A petition signer only needed to sign his name as printed and mail it to the petition campaign.
The success of the Internet petition appears poised to have a profound effect beyond the referendum at hand.
“This issue of illegal immigration tapped into a zeitgeist. With the economy, it was ripe to be the first referendum to succeed in 20 years,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College. “But the way it was done, this will have a major impact, too. Maryland Republicans can now use this as an alternative means to have influence . . . and as a result, same-sex marriage is likely dead in the General Assembly for the near future.”
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage died in the House in April. But a same-sex marriage bill passed in New York last month, and proponents have said they would use that momentum to make the issue a major part of the legislative session in Maryland when the assembly reconvenes in January. But Eberly and others said that may be less likely if the issue appears destined for a referendum, where many same-sex marriage efforts around the country have failed.