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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Is the Affordable Care Act on Life Support? Maybe.

Here's my quick take on this and why I think the Supreme Court will agree with DC Circuit Court of Appeals and strike a lethal blow to the Affordable Care Act. 

In short, section 1411 of the Affordable Care Act specifies that premium assistance can only be given to exchanges established by a State under section 1311. An exchange established by the Federal Secretary of Health and Human Services under section 1321 does not qualify according to the letter of the law. But when the IRS issued implementing regulations the agency interpreted "established by the State" to mean any exchange operating in the State.

That's the point of contention. Today, the DC court said the IRS overstepped its authority and violated the clear letter of the law. The 4th Circuit disagreed and said section 1401 is "ambiguous" and as such the IRS was free to interpret the true meaning and the courts should defer.

I really don't think that the 4th Circuit's "ambiguous" argument will pass muster in the Supreme Court. A 5 vote majority would likely decide that section 1411 was not ambiguous and not even in error as the wording is repeated in the Definitions section of the Affordable Care Act. So twice, Congress stipulated that subsidies were only available to those who enrolled in an exchange established by the State under section 1311.

If this is upheld by the Supreme Court then much of the Affordable Care Act and the attempt to reach near-universal coverage will essentially die. There are over two dozen states that never established exchanges and millions in those states would lose their subsidies and then their insurance. And there would be no bare bones, low cost alternatives available because of the minimum benefit standards established by the law.

It would be a nightmare, but a nightmare of Congress' making. All of the normal procedures for legislating were pushed aside in the push to enact the law after losing the filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. No amendments were allowed, no conference committee appointed, no opportunity to look for problematic language. I warned of this back in March of 2010 in a post titled "Why Process Matters" in which I wrote of the Affordable Care Act "It will face years of legal challenges and likely deeply entrenched public opposition. Worse, the manner in which the bill is being pushed may allow for errors or inconsistencies in the law that could weaken or undermine it in unanticipated ways. The normal process may cause delays and be fraught with obstacles, but it exists to protect the public and to promote sound legislation.

Suddenly the 2014 midterms take on a new meaning. If the Supreme Court does strike down the subsidies Obama may have to go to a GOP House and Senate to seek a legislative solution. I expect they extract a heavy price.

Below are key excerpts from the law with certain crucial sections highlighted.

The key comes down to the use of the word "State" in SEC. 1401. REFUNDABLE TAX CREDIT PROVIDING PREMIUM ASSISTANCE FOR COVERAGE UNDER A QUALIFIED HEALTH PLAN. Which explains, "Premium assistance amount.--The premium assistance amount determined under this subsection with respect to any coverage month is the amount equal to the lesser of-- `(A) the monthly premiums for such month for 1 or
                more qualified health plans offered in the individual
                market within a State which cover the taxpayer, the
                taxpayer's spouse, or any dependent (as defined in
                section 152) of the taxpayer and which were enrolled in
                through an EXCHANGE ESTABLISHED BY THE STATE under 1311

                of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

Section 1311 specifies all the ways in which a State can establish an exchange. At no point in Section 1311 is the Federal Exchange ever mentioned.

The Federal Exchange is first mentioned several sections later in SEC. 1321. STATE FLEXIBILITY IN OPERATION AND ENFORCEMENT OF EXCHANGES AND RELATED REQUIREMENTS.

Which reads:

Failure To Establish Exchange or Implement Requirements.--
            (1) In general.--If--
                    (A) a State is not an electing State under
                subsection (b); or
                    (B) the Secretary
                determines, on or before January 1, 2013, that an
                electing State--
                          (i) will not have any required Exchange
                      operational by January 1, 2014; or
                          (ii) has not taken the actions the Secretary
                      determines necessary to implement--
                                    (I) the other requirements set forth
                                in the standards under subsection (a);
                                    (II) the requirements set forth in
                                subtitles A and C and the amendments
                                made by such subtitles;
       THE SECRETARY SHALL (directly or through agreement with a not-
        for-profit entity) ESTABLISH and operate such Exchange within
        the State
and the Secretary shall take such actions as are
        necessary to implement such other requirement."

So there you have it. The law clearly says that subsidies are available to those enrolled in exchanges established by the State as the language regarding the federal exchange comes several sections later and refers to the Secretary establishing it...

The court is being presented with a case of the letter of the law v. the intent of the law. If a court thinks the letter is clear it will trump the intent.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Real Force Behind the Hobby Lobby Decison is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - Not Five Justices

I've been reading the majority opinion in the Hobby Lobby case and it's just fascinating. But the press coverage and talking head rhetoric is so hyperbolic, discussion of the majority's reasoning are all but absent. I wanted to understand it. What I've learned is that many folks have no idea what the case was really about or what the court was being asked to decide. Folks clearly have no knowledge of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which is the legislation at the heart of all of this.

I will not engage in any discussion of the impact of the ruling. And I'm certainly not saying it was a good decision or a bad decision. Please do not read anything into what I've written. As I said, I'm just exploring the logic behind the ruling.

First and foremost, a critical thing to understand at the outset is that sole proprietorships and general partnerships were already recognized as individuals and as individuals they could seek an exemption from contraceptive mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993.  Non-profit religious organization were also able to request exemptions. I've heard a lot of people say variations of "employers shouldn't be making health care decisions for employees." But that was already happening and was specifically allowed. It is estimated that approximately 30% of employees work for employers exempted from the contraceptive mandate. In fact, a lower court Judge argued that so many employers have been exempted from the mandate that the Obama Administration could not claim there was a compelling state interest in imposing the mandate.

Many talking heads are saying that in the Hobby Lobby case the court "again" decided that corporations were people with rights. But that's incorrect. In the Hobby Lobby case the majority didn't grant the contraceptive exemption based on corporations being "persons" with religious freedom under the RFRA. In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court acknowledged that corporations are fictitious persons. But in a closely held corporation where 5 or fewer people own the majority of the company the court majority ruled that when government compels the corporation to do something it is really compelling those 5 people to do something - there is no diffuse ownership. In that case, the RFRA protections apply. So the Hobby Lobby decision basically said that in closely held corporations the fictitious person gives way to actual persons. Remember, it's already established and accepted that individuals, sole proprietorships, and general partnerships can seek exemptions based on religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It just wasn't settled whether for-profit corporations could. Alito essentially bypassed that issue by saying that we're really dealing with individuals.

From the ruling: "A corporation, being a fictitious construct with no real existence in the context of a closely-held corporation, is too slight and gossamer a thing to put any weight upon as far as distinguishing burdens placed on it and burdens placed on its owners."

In other words, if individuals, sole proprietors, or general partnerships can seek an exemption then the owners of a closely held corporation could as well as they are little different from general partnerships.  In a general partnership and a closely held corporation - you are essentially dealing with individuals.

Justice Alito wrote in his opinion that he can't imagine there are any large corporations (many people owning the majority of stock) that would be able demonstrate eligibility for a religious exemption. Ownership of large corporations is so widely diffused that there is really no way to demonstrate that the "owners" are being asked to violate their beliefs. Alito also said that this was a narrow ruling and it would not open the door for corporations to seek exemptions from other services like immunizations or blood transfusions.

Justice Ginsburg argued in her dissent that the ruling was actually quite broad and it opened the door to all sorts of religious exemption claims. She also argued that for-profit corporations cannot claim religious exemptions because they are first and foremost organized for competition  and customers in the commercial market place and not for the primary purpose of serving their religious beliefs or serving fellow adherents to their religion. Interestingly, Justices Breyer and Kagan did not sign on to Justice Ginsburg's dissent, specifically the part where Ginsburg addressed the corporation question.

So that's pretty much it. This case was never really about the right to access to contraceptives, that wasn't the issue before the court. The case revolved around the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and whether its protections applied to corporations like the Hobby Lobby. As Paul Horowitz wrote in today's New York Times,
"The decision in Hobby Lobby was no shock to anyone familiar with the heavy weight that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act places on religious accommodation. The fate of the case was sealed 21 years ago — not by a slim majority of the court, but by virtually every member of Congress. "

The RFRA already established that folks could claim a religious exemption. And roughly 30% of all employees in the US were already exempt from the mandate. The majority of the court determined that that the owners of closely held corporations have the same protections as similar non-incorporated employers.

The real issue here is not the ruling of 5 Justices, the real issue is a very broad piece of legislation enacted in 1993 - the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.  In my book, American Government and Popular Discontent, I write that Congress has increasingly come to rely on broadly written legislation. They do so because specificity creates openings for dissent and division. As a result of broad and ambiguous laws it often falls on the courts to determine what the law actually means.

Many of the folks who voted for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act are still in Congress (There is even an e-mail in which Elena Kagan, while working for President Clinton 1999, celebrated the act). Some are now saying they never intended it to be so broadly applied. Sorry, but that just doesn't fly. When you vote for an ambiguous law, when you opt to skip specificity just to ensure passage and avoid controversy, you must accept some responsibility when a court is called upon to provide that specificity.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Despite Headline, Pew Poll Does Not Show a Polarized America

In my first book with Steven Schier, American Government and Popular Discontent, I wrote extensively about the ongoing claims that the American public is deeply polarized. I disputed arguments offered by political scientists like Alan Abramowitz, author of The Disappearing Center, and found support for the claims of mass moderation overshadowed by elite polarization offered by Morris Fiorina in Disconnect.
I am currently writing a new book on the impact of ideology and polarization on American politics and have been picking through a new survey from Pew. According to Pew the study finds "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades. These trends manifest themselves in myriad ways, both in politics and in everyday life."
But, despite the headlines, the study doesn't really show that America is polarized. Rather it shows that a decidedly small group of ideological activists on the left and right are incredibly polarized and have each laid claim to one of the two major parties.
Here are some quick reactions which I think undermine the premise of polarization. In reality, the Pew poll confirms that WE ARE NOT a deeply polarized nation coming apart at the seams. Rather a small group of committed ideologues are working hard to pull us apart.

1.) True ideologues have increased by 11 percentage points in 20 years from 10% in 1994 to their present level of 21% - that’s hardly earth shattering. The scary headline being that they've doubled in size but the calm down and breath take away is that they are but 1/5 of the electorate.

Growing Minority Holds Consistent Ideological Views

2). And it is among the most ideological voters that Pew finds people unhappy with family members marrying outside of the party and having few friends in the other party.
But among most of the rest (the majority), we don’t care who our family members marry, we don’t care about our friends’ partisanship, and we like compromise.

Guess Who’s Coming? Ideological Differences in Views of  Family Member Marrying Different Race, Gun Owner
3) It’s among the most ideological that compromise is dismissed as selling out. The rest of us like compromise.

Compromise in the Eye of the Beholder

4) On the issue of geographic polarization or Red State v Blue State, the study found that liberals like communities where everything is close together while conservative live wide open spaces - that puts a new spin on the big sort. Dear God! We're coming apart at the seams! 
So, are we moving so we can be around like minded people or is it really that liberals and conservatives like different physical environments?
5) Do we want to live near people with similar views? With the exception of the small subset of "True Conservatives," the vast majority of everyone else doesn't care.
Ideological “Silos”

6) With regard to the amenities provided by a community, liberals and conservatives largely agreed that they want to live near family, with good schools, and access to the great outdoors.
Where do they differ? Liberals care more about having access to museums... Can we as a nation ever get past this divide?
Liberals, Conservatives Agree on Importance of Living Near Family, Good Schools and the Outdoors
7) The study does confirm that the most ideological are the most likely to vote and the most like to contribute money - so a minority of ideologues dominates American politics.
Voting, Donations Linked to Negative Views of the Other Party
8) Those in the middle outnumber those on the wings. But they do not participate and do not make use of their numerical advantage. American politics is polarized not because the people are polarized, but because the vast and vital center has ceded all control to the small and malignant wings.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Very Quick Thoughts on MD Dem Gubernatorial Debate

And the winner is…. Doug Gansler.

Doug Gansler was the clear winner in the first televised Democratic gubernatorial debate - though that was not so evident during the opening minutes. Gansler’s opening statement seemed to be little more that boilerplate sloganeering and then he got off to a slow start on the first question concerning MD’s failed health exchange. Gansler needs to walk a fine line on the exchange - he can’t be seen as criticizing the Affordable Care Act, but he needs to criticize its failed implementation in MD. He found that fine line tonight. The 2014 midterms are shaping up to be bad news for Democrats nationally owing to ongoing unpopularity of health reform, Gansler essentially accused Brown of handing the GOP a path to victory by botching the implementation. On the second question, concerning marijuana legalization, Mizeur offered the best direct response, but it was Brown’s misstep that stood out. Brown’s pivot away from marijuana decriminalization and attempt to paint Gansler as hostile to the rights of racial minorities owing to his support of the death penalty came across as simultaneously low and an overreach. On the question of taxes, Brown promised a Blue Ribbon Panel and attacked Gansler’s support of a corporate tax rate cut. Gansler swung right back, reminding voters that the O’Malley/Brown team have presided over numerous tax increases and that leading Democrats in the state - including Steny Hoyer - support lowering the corporate tax rate.

Heather Mizeur started out strong, but them seemed to fade into the background - almost entirely because the moderator, David Gregory, did such a bad job moderating. Gregory turned the debate into the Gansler/Brown point/counterpoint show. I think being constantly excluded from exchanges threw Mizeur off of her game. Her strongest moment was the discussion of qualifications and her work to pass bipartisan family planning legislation. She helped her campaign, but the impact of the debate will be muted because of Gregory’s failure as a moderator. Mizeur very effectively reminded voters of the gender wage gap in America. Gregory seemed to think that since women earn on average 15% less than men that Mizeur should receive 15% less debate time than either Gansler or Brown. Let's close that gap next time.

Brown stumbled right out of the gate. He started with a very strong bit about his family biography that never really led into a policy discussion or governing philosophy. Most of the evening he seemed more interested in getting in clearly rehearsed attacks on Gansler (the death penalty, the beach party, the reprimand) than in discussing his plans for the state. In his closing statement he promised, “I have a plan,” and all I could think was, then why didn’t you discuss it? I think the worst moment of the debate was Brown's very clumsy pivot to the death penalty and racial bias in response to the marijuana legalization question. Was he really trying to insinuate that Gansler was hostile to issues of racial bias in the justice system? It was a bad moment in a bad night for Brown. But there were no lethal blows either received or self-inflicted.

In all, I see no game changing moment, though Gansler certainly helped his cause Brown's weak performance wasn't deadly and Mizeur was denied the breakout moment that she needs. Brown needs to do much better at the second debate. Mizeur needs to make sure no other moderator shuts her out the way Gregory did. Gansler needs to be ready for a much better prepared Brown.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

For Gansler and Brown it's All About Being Disliked Less

There is a great graphic included with the released of the new St. Mary's College Maryland Poll. It tracks candidate support from the first statewide poll taken in October of 2013 up though the college's just released poll.

Anthony Brown is the sitting, two-term LT. Governor. He has been running for this nomination for the past year. He has raked in the endorsement of every high profile Democrat in Maryland, multiple special interest groups, and Bill Clinton. And yet, his level of support has fallen by nearly 14 percentage points since October.

Doug Gansler is the sitting, two-term Attorney General. He scared away any competition in 2010 and was reelected with better than 90% of the vote. He's been running for the nomination since his first election as Attorney General (he often joked AG actually meant aspiring governor). He officially declared his candidacy back in September. Since then, his support has fallen by over 10 percentage points.

Heather Mizeur was a little known and very progressive delegate from Montgomery County when she announced that she was going to join the race as well. Few in the press took her seriously at the time, but she has run a clean and rather uplifting campaign. Her level of support has increased by 2.5 percentage points. Though she's still in the single digits, Mizeur is the only candidate gaining ground. She still has a lot of ground to make up, but it's a lot easier to gain on an opponent when that opponent is falling.

Meanwhile, "No Preference" has become a voter favorite. Mr. Preference was trailing LT. Gov. Brown by nearly 8 points in October, but has since surged 21 points to become the unmistakable leader in the race.

This is a sad state of affairs folks. We have two rather well known and established candidates in Brown and Gansler - and yet, the more they campaign and the more people learn about them the less people seem to like them.

Gansler has been hounding Brown on the failure of the MD health exchange, continually questioning his leadership skills and qualifications to office. Though the leadership in the Maryland General Assembly effectively whitewashed any meaningful investigation, it's clear the matter has harmed Brown. Brown often responds to Gansler's criticisms by dismissing the Attorney General as reckless and unprepared. Gansler has been dogged by early scandals concerning his treatment of state troopers assigned to drive him and owing to his presence at a graduation party where underage drinking was taking place. Many believe that at least one of those "scandals" was fed to the press by the Brown campaign and it's clear that they have harmed Gansler.

In recent days, Brown and Gansler have accelerated the war of words. The graphic above explains why. It's clear that voters don't like either man - so now, each is simply trying to become the one that voters dislike less. How inspiring. It's a sad state of affairs.

But Gansler and Brown had better watch out. They're each doing such an effective job convincing the public to reject the other that by Primary Day on June 24th they may just discover that they were so busy tearing each other down they didn't notice how effectively they were building Mizeur up.

* I would've offered a similar assessment of the GOP race, but there was no October poll of GOP voters.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New Poll Confirms No One Cares About the MD Gubernatorial Race

The inaugural Maryland Poll from St. Mary's College of Maryland surveyed the political landscape heading into the 2014 primary election and found that most Marylanders have absolutely no preference when it comes to the candidates for governor.

The poll is in line with prior polls for Gonzales Research, The Baltimore Sun, and The Washington Post. Much like those polls, the Maryland Poll finds a very unsettled race for the GOP nomination and a Democratic race where the favorite, the sitting two term lieutenant governor, is being beaten by "No Preference" by a 2 to 1 margin.

The 2014 primary is two months away and yet most voters appear to have no firm commitments to the candidates.

No firm commitments

Specifically, the poll finds Anthony Brown with 27% support, followed by Douglas Gansler at 11% and Heather Mizeur at 8%. But fully 54% expressed no preference.

In a three-way race, Brown is close to the 34% that would be sufficient to win a closely matched election. But much like the other candidates, he has been unable to expand his base of support even after a year of campaigning and advertising.

Gansler has been hammering away at Brown on the issue of Maryland's failed health exchange, but with 11% support the issue does not appear to be helping him.

Mizeur has been generating a lot of coverage and interest of late owing to her unapologetically progressive campaign. She has embraced a living wage, physician-assisted suicide, a moratorium on fracking, legalization of marijuana, and host of other progressive wish list items. Yet she's made no noticeable progress in winning over potential voters.

Brown's to lose 

The Democratic primary remains Brown's to lose and it's likely that the upcoming debates will present the final opportunities for either Gansler or Mizeur to change that reality.

Interestingly, Gansler seems to have shifted his strategy. Early on, he presented himself as a centrist, pro-business Democrat. Recently, he has de-emphasized those qualities and instead focused on more progressive policy issues. This was a mistake.

In a three way race with two candidates already chasing the progressive vote, the smart move is to target the voters that the other two are ignoring. Gansler needs to pivot back to the center. His only path to victory requires Brown and Mizeur to split the progressive vote while Gansler goes for the moderate and conservative Democrats still in the party.

GOP's disastrous situation 

On the Republican side the poll finds a disastrous situation for the state's permanent minority party.

More than two-thirds of Maryland Republican voters have no preference. Larry Hogan claims the support of 16%, followed by David Craig at 7.8%. Neither Ron George nor Charles Lollar were able to crack 4%.

Maryland is a very tough nut for Republicans to crack. Democrats enjoy a 2 to 1 voter registration advantage and Republicans are rarely ever able to overcome the Democrats' advantages in the state's population centers.

For a Republican to win, the nominee would need several things to break his or her way.

·       The Democratic party must be divided after the primary. That could certainly happen this year.

·       The Democratic electorate must lack passion for the party's nominee. That could certainly happen this year.

·       It must be a good year for Republicans nationally (like in 1994, 2002, or 2010). That could certainly happen this year.

Beyond those three ingredients, a Republican candidate also needs a unified and passionate Republican party and an electorate frustrated with the direction of the state. Neither of those two ingredients are present.

Not enough dissatisfaction

With regard to the direction of the state: Though the poll found a plurality of 46% agreeing that the state is going in the wrong direction, another 41% said it was going in the right direction. That margin is not sufficient for a Republican to overcome the Democrats' built in advantages.

Keep in mind, Bob Ehrlich had an approval rating above 50% when he lost the 2006 election by 6 percentage points.

A clear majority of poll respondents supported increasing the minimum wage and reported that the Affordable Care Act either helped their families or had no effect on them, a slim majority supported decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, and pluralities supported affirmative action, the fracking moratorium and gun control.

In a particularly interesting finding, the survey asked respondents how they were registered and then later asked what party they consider themselves to be a member of. The voter registration numbers essentially match state records - 53% Democrat, 28% Republican, and 18.5% Independent or other.

When asked how they see themselves, the breakdown was 44% Democrat, 25% Republican, and 31% Independent or other. The breakdown shows that there is an opportunity for the GOP in the state, but only if the party can broaden its appeal and only if party activists accept that the party cannot win without attracting Independent voters.

No frontrunners in GOP

Several months ago, as I was arguing that David Craig represented the GOP's best chance at reclaiming the governor's mansion, many Republican activists challenged my assertion. Both privately and via social media these activists suggested a much stronger candidate existed and would soon enter the race and energize the party. They were referring to Larry Hogan.

Well, Hogan's in the race and he is the "frontrunner." But in a race where 64% of potential primary voters have no preference, there are no frontrunners. Hogan has not lit the fire that many were expecting.

Likewise, Craig has not run the experienced, well managed campaign that I was expecting. Craig sought to shore up the GOP base by taking a distinct right turn (thereby harming his ability to win in November) and Hogan has adopted a play it safe strategy by skipping forum after forum (thereby harming his credibility).

And no GOP candidate has any real success raising money. All four candidates combined could barely reach $1 million - meanwhile, Gansler and Brown are each sitting on multiple millions.

As things stand today, it's hard to see the GOP reclaiming the keys to Government House. 

*Though I am an Associate Professor at St. Mary's College, I had no involvement in the development, execution, or analysis of the poll results.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

In District Maryland's 29B, Voters Need to Re-Elect John Bohanan

I have never formally endorsed a candidate in any election - until now. I have decided to weigh in on the race for District 29B in St. Mary's county - my county. In recent editions of the Enterprise and the County Times (our local papers) several members of my community have written letters urging voters to “kick Del. John Bohanan to the curb” in November - a distinct possibility given the changing political composition of the county. The letter writers typically cherry pick one or two votes, out of the thousands that Bohanan has cast, and present them as proof that he does not represent the views of St. Mary’s county voters. The most commonly cited examples are his votes to legalize same sex marriage and his vote to approve the recent increase in the gas tax.
Del. Bohanan was narrowly reelected in 2010 and Republicans now outnumber Democrats in St. Mary’s county, but I believe that voters would be sorry if Bohanan were defeated. The simple truth is that Bohanan is the only member of the St. Mary’s delegation who has any real influence in Annapolis. He is the chair of the powerful Spending and Affordability committee and sits on the Appropriations committee. His seniority and committee assignments allow him to “deliver the goods” to St. Mary’s county. Were he to be defeated, he would be replaced by a freshman Republican. I don’t particularly care if I’m represented by a Republican or a Democrat, I just want a representative with integrity and the power to be a forceful representative of my community. Were a Republican, such as candidate Deb Rey, to replace Bohanan she would go to Annapolis as a member of a minority party that is outnumbered by a 2-to-1 margin in the Assembly. A party with virtually no influence in the General Assembly. She would have no seniority, no prime committee assignments, and no chance of ever chairing a committee - in other words she would have no leverage and little to no ability to ensure that St. Mary’s county had a voice that was heard in Annapolis. St. Mary’s county is one of the fastest growing counties in the state and we cannot afford to be voiceless.

Clearly, Del. Bohanan is not the only representative of St. Mary's County in Annapolis and this endorsement is not intended as a slight to Sen. Roy Dyson, Del. Johnny Wood (29A) or Del. Tony O'Donnell (29C). Rather I am making an endorsement based on the best interest of St. Mary's county. District 29 encompasses both St. Mary's and Calvert counties. To many, the counties may seem indistinguishable, but the reality is the two counties are different and may well have differing agendas. Sen. Dyson and Del. O'Donnell represent both counties, as such they must always balance the needs of the two counties. In an era of limited funds and competition for resources I see that as an important distinction. As to Del. Wood, he is retiring. His seat will be filled by a freshman member with little to no influence. This makes the reelection of John Bohanan that much more important. Were Bohanan to be defeated, then both of St. Mary's dedicated districts - 29A and 29B - would be represented by relatively weak members of the Assembly. To me, that's not acceptable.
Am I making this endorsement based solely on Del. Bohanan's power and influence? Of course not. Neither would matter if I didn't respect him and his judgment. Have I agreed with every vote that Del. Bohanan has cast? Of course not. And when I have disagreed, he has heard from me. But that’s the nature of our system of government, a system where we elect a person to speak on behalf of a community. It is not the job of those we elect to simply serve as a megaphone or as a mirror reflecting the views of the voters - if that were the case our founders would have simply opted for a direct democracy. Instead, they chose a system in which we elect representatives and they are expected to use their best judgment and to make decisions they believe represent what is best for a community - even when a majority of voters may disagree. Though I have disagreed with some of his votes, I have never doubted that Del. Bohanan was motivated by what he believed to be in the best interest of St. Mary’s county.
I supported his votes in favor of same sex marriage and increasing the gas tax - though both were unpopular in St. Mary's county. In the case of same sex marriage, Maryland overwhelmingly endorsed the law in a referendum in 2012 and voters, as well as state and federal courts, have been tearing down the discriminatory barriers faced by same sex couples in other states. As to the gas tax, typically I oppose most excise taxes as they tend to be regressive and have a disproportionate impact on poor and working class people. But Maryland is in desperate need of infrastructure improvements, and as a fast growing county, St. Mary's is in particular need. Those improvements will benefit everyone, but cannot happen without sufficient funds. Perhaps of greater import, in the months before MD increased the gas tax, the Virginia legislature approved a plan to spend $3.1 billion dollars upgrading the state's infrastructure in an effort to attract businesses and residents. Though VA eliminated the gas tax, they actually increased everyone's taxes by hiking the sales tax to pay for the plan. Maryland could not afford to stand idly by in the face of such state competition. In both of these cases, Bohanan knew two things, 1) that his votes would be opposed by a majority of his constituents, and 2) that even in the face of that opposition, they were the right votes to cast. That's political courage.
I vehemently opposed some of Bohanan's votes - his decision to support Governor O'Malley's gerrymandered monstrosity masquerading as a redistricting map was one. His recent vote to increase the state minimum wage - an increase that I believe will harm youth and unskilled workers, especially in Baltimore City, Western MD, and the counties on the lower Eastern Shore - is another. I could name more, but such disagreements do not negate all of the good he has done for St. Mary's county. And after all, his job is not to simply reflect the policy wishes of me or any other single voter, rather his job is to represent what he believes to be in the best interest of my community. Something he does quite effectively.
Voters will have a choice to make in 2014, they can vote to deprive St. Mary’s of any meaningful and dedicated voice in the General Assembly, or, they can reelect John Bohanan and ensure that the needs of our county are heard loud and clear. To me, that’s an easy choice to make.