Most years in Maryland, getting voters excited — or at least dimly aware — of those obscure policy choices they will find at the bottom of the ballot amounts to little more than yard signs and mailers extolling them to “Vote Yes” or “Vote No.”
But this year, two of the measures are aglow with star power. The fights over allowing same-sex marriage and expanding gambling are shaping up as a kind of red-carpet rumble.
Copperfield, a Las Vegas magician, has weighed in with a robo-call in favor of Question 7, which would pave the way for a new casino in Prince George’s County and generate additional revenue for public schools. Etheridge is offering the green room visit to “six lucky winners,” asking that they include a $25 donation to Marylanders for Marriage Equality when they enter.
Adam Lambert, Susan Sarandon and Ed Norton also have stepped up on the yes side of Question 6, the same-sex marriage measure. Two Baltimore Ravens have lined up on opposite sides of the issue, even as former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his wife donated $100,000 this week to the pro-side.
The Washington Redskins, meanwhile, came out as pro-casino.
“I can’t think of another time when you’ve seen something like this in local politics here,” said Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary’s College. “Maryland has always been a very comfortable, very well-off state, but without a lot of sexy appeal on issues.”
The only high-profile measure before voters this year that has not drawn a celebrity endorsement parade is the Maryland Dream Act, which would grant in-state tuition rates to certain undocumented immigrants.
A-list endorsers are common to voters in places where the person in the next voting booth might actually be a movie star. The list of opponents to California’s Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of gay couples to marry in 2008, read like the Malibu white pages. And when the New York legislature debated legalizing gay nuptials last year, Julianne Moore was among those who recorded promotional videos, as were Larry King and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream icons Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.
The glitterati are playing a role in Maryland this year, Eberly said, because the issues have national implications. The same-sex marriage debate is being waged state by state across the country, and a celebrity-industrial complex has emerged, mostly on the pro-gay-marriage side. And the expansion of slots and table games has ramifications beyond local borders as states increasingly compete for gambling dollars.
“They’re coming here because there are folks beyond the borders of Maryland who have a vested interest in how Marylanders decide these issues,” Eberly said.
In her e-mail solicitation, Etheridge, who is a lesbian, says she got involved because of her connection to Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who is also gay.