Over the past two years, Maryland has enacted laws that represent a dramatic liberal shift, even for a state long dominated by Democrats.
Driving the progressive swing is Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the Maryland General Assembly, which now embraces legislation that it previously rejected. Emboldened by victories in statewide referendums, the governor and his allies have imposed tax increases, repealed the death penalty and approved a system to provide more than $1 billion in subsidies to a potential offshore wind farm.
Now, as the legislative session in Annapolis comes to an end, the state faces the question of whether Maryland is becoming a reliably liberal bastion like Massachusetts, California and Vermont.
Or has the state’s Democratic leadership moved too far to the left, potentially endangering incumbents at the polls in 2014?
Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) said the state has made historic breakthroughs, repairing long-standing social and moral injustices and taking necessary steps to protect the environment and reduce gun violence.
“It’s thrilling,” Raskin said. “We’ve had the death penalty for centuries. Gay people have been discriminated against forever. We’re vindicating people’s rights.”
But Republicans argue that Democratic leaders have alienated the electorate’s mainstream. Even as the General Assembly repealed the death penalty, a majority of state residents expressed support for executions in a Washington Post poll in February.
“We’re watching a huge overreach taking place,” said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil). “The legislature is out of step with the constituency.”
Even moderate Democrats have expressed objections to much of the legislation, which included a proposal to decriminalize marijuana. Then there are the tax increases — on gasoline and the incomes of residents earning more than $100,000.
All of it has been too much for Del. John L. Bohanan Jr. (D-St. Mary’s), a moderate whose constituents ask him, “What were you people thinking?”
“It was just the pace of having so many in such a short period of time. It tends to choke the system,” he said. “It’s a lot for a state that has been pretty pragmatic.”
Del. Kevin Kelly (Allegany), a Democrat who described himself as “centrist-right,” opposed the gun-control legislation, the repeal of the death penalty and other liberal legislation.
His party’s leaders, he said, have “hijacked the Democratic Party. It’s gone left, left, left.”
Maryland has long been dominated by the Democratic Party, even though voters have, on occasion, supported such Republicans as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush for president and Spiro Agnew and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who cast himself as a moderate, for governor.
Still, since the early 1980s, Maryland’s political dynamics have evolved as two of the state’s largest counties, Prince George’s and Montgomery, have grown and become more racially diverse, aligning them with Baltimore.