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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.