O’Malley’s environmental agenda has repeatedly agitated farmers, fishermen, developers and drillers in his nearly five years as governor. Still, the relationship between the former big-city mayor and residents of Maryland’s more conservative countryside has remained mostly cordial.
At least, that is, until now.
“We’re at war. Simply, at war,” Senate Minority Whip E. J. Pipkin (Queen Anne’s) told more than 50 rural — and mostly Republican — lawmakers who gathered last week in the back of an Annapolis restaurant to plot a counteroffensive.
O’Malley has long been unabashedly liberal in his environmentalism and a strong proponent of smart-growth policies. But severalof his initiatives — some of them years in the making — have converged near the policy finish line in recent weeks, riling a broad swath of the state’s rural Republicans, independents and even some conservative Democrats who view his administration’s efforts as government overreach.
The governor has invoked a 37-year-old law to withhold state funding from local governments that fail to curb sprawl. He has proposed a ban on most new septic systems, which critics say will choke off rural development. And he has continued to push for a Chesapeake Bay cleanup that counties warn will cost billions of dollars and untold jobs.
The face-off has opened a new front for O’Malley in advance of a high-stakes General Assembly session that will test his power to eke out wins on controversial measures, including same-sex marriage, costly offshore wind development and higher taxes for transportation.
It also comes as O’Malley is busy preparing for a trade mission to India next month and splitting his time between the governor’s mansion and national fundraising efforts to help elect Democratic governors elsewhere.
“From Annapolis, he’s dictating how communities across the state should develop, and it’s wrong. It’s arrogant,” said Thomas Browning, a Frederick County farmer who attended last week’s meeting.
Alluding to O’Malley’s perceived national ambitions, Pipkin said opponents would seek to “get the word out. . . . He’s at war with rural Maryland,” Pipkin said.
“Does it really help the governor in his future aspirations . . . to be so abusive to the rural parts of his own state? You tell me: What is the Iowa caucus going to say?”
O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said Pipkin’s criticism is misguided.
“The governor, unlike politicians that Pipkin may know, doesn’t make decisions on Maryland’s growth based on politics,” Guillory said. “He is basing his decisions on what is best for Maryland now and in the future.”
The goal of O’Malley’s efforts, she added, is the opposite of what Pipkin and others contend. “These efforts are aimed at reducing sprawl, improving the quality of the bay and protecting the rural areas in Maryland — how is that war?” she asked.