In deeply blue Maryland, activists say some lawmakers aren’t progressive enough


Surrounded by lawmakers, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signs legislation on Monday to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by July 2018. (AP Photo/Brian Witte) (Brian Witte/AP)

As the Maryland activists celebrated their successful fight to increase the minimum wage, they realized something: This was way too much work — especially in a strongly liberal state where there is wide support for economic and social change.

“In a state as progressive as Maryland, we frequently don’t see the progressiveness reflected in our elected officials,” said Gustavo Torres, president of CASA in Action, which advocates for immigrant communities. “We can face our greatest challenges from those who are supposed to be standing with us.”

On Monday, these activists announced the formation of Maryland Working Families, an offshoot of the New York-based Working Families Party that was key in rallying voters to elect New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The new group brings together Maryland labor groups, community activists, faith leaders, business owners and others. Charly Carter, the executive director, said she has three objectives: Educate and mobilize regular people to get involved with state politics, challenge elected officials who don’t properly represent their constituents and recruit progressive leaders who hold firm to their mission.

Over the past few years, Maryland lawmakers have repealed the death penalty, legalized same-sex marriage, decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, extended in-state tuition rates to undocumented college students and imposed some of the most strict gun control laws in the country. Many of those votes were close.

“We’ve passed some of the most socially progressive laws in the nation,” Carter said. “But progress on economic issues continues to be stymied.”

Increasing the minimum wage was a battle, even with the strong support of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who introduced legislation based largely on the recommendations of activists. Although the bill passed and was signed into law on Monday, it will take two years longer than planned to get to a minimum wage of $10.10. Tipped workers will not see an increase in their base pay, which is half the $7.25 federal minimum wage, and employers may pay a lower “training wage” to workers under the age of 20 for their first six months.

Meanwhile, Carter said, state lawmakers gave “lightning fast” approval to legislation that allows affluent residents to avoid taxes on a greater portion of the wealth they leave when they die.

A question-and-answer sheet distributed by the new group includes this question: “Are you like a left-wing Tea Party?” Maryland Working Families says no, because it is not their goal to obstruct the government process.

“But there is a lesson that progressives can learn from the Tea Party — that we have to be willing to elect candidates who are truly champions for our issues and who are willing to fight for what they believe in,” the answer states. “We want elected officials that champion issues... that are beneficial to the 99 percent, not just the top one percent.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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