Some Bipartisan Cheer for the New Year

Commentary by Ron Miller

Commentary by Ron Miller Happy New Year! Thanks for allowing me a brief hiatus during the holidays. The time spent with family and church was most welcome, and I made significant progress on my book.

2010 is an election year - sorry to take the bloom of the New Year's rose so abruptly! - and I'm going to kick it off by praising some Democrats. Yes, you read that right. I'm sure those who want to portray me as a wild-eyed partisan are frantically flipping through their opposition research playbooks right now wondering how to respond!

The first praiseworthy Democrats on my list are Maryland General Assembly Delegates Saqib Ali (D-Gaithersburg) and Heather Mizeur (D-Takoma Park) and Senator Nancy King (D-Montgomery), all of whom are sponsoring bills or requesting action in the upcoming general session to make Maryland government more transparent.

Delegate Ali fired the first salvo by announcing he will introduce the Legislative Sunshine Act, which will require the business of legislative committees to be posted online. Why is this significant?

Right now, the average voter cannot get quick and convenient access to the proceedings of the legislative committees which work on bills before they're brought to the floor of the House of Delegates or State Senate. This means legislators can vote one way in committee for their own purposes, and vote another way on the floor as a show for their constituents.

These committees can water down or neuter legislation and the voters would never know who was responsible. A lot of important business is transacted in committees, and it is largely hidden from public view. The Senate posts committee votes in their journal, published online well after the votes have been cast, and the House doesn't put its committee votes online at all.

Having tried to find out how certain legislators voted in committee on certain bills, I can vouch for the Byzantine nature of such an effort. They can claim the information is publicly available, but they make it practically impossible to find. This bill would bring not just the final committee votes, but also the votes on motions and amendments during committee meetings, out into the light of day.

Not to be outdone, Delegate Heather Mizeur plans to introduce a bill that requires not only online committee votes, but also free Internet access to near-real-time floor votes. At present, only lawmakers, some state workers, lobbyists and news outlets willing to pay $800 a year have access to the online legislative tracking system she proposes to open to the public online.

She also recommends that committee actions be publicized one day in advance, and that the public be allowed to sign up online to testify for or against a bill, and then watch the proceedings online.

Finally, she wants the sun to shine on the actions of the Board of Public Works, comprised of the governor, comptroller and treasurer, because of the significant budgetary decisions they make while the General Assembly is out of session.

Last year, for example, it was the Board of Public Works that approved over $1 billion in budget cuts and reallocations to keep the budget in balance despite lower-than-expected renevue projections. Very little public scrutiny or review took place, certainly not at the same level as the deliberative process in the General Assembly.

Finally, Senator Nancy King recently wrote to State Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller to ask that committee votes be placed online in a more timely fashion than they are at present.

Since Democrats have controlled the Maryland government dating back to pre-Civil War days, there has been no motivation on the part of our elected officials to be open and transparent, and the cronyism, corruption and power games played in the halls of the State House dishonor the will of the people.

I'm certain that Republican proposals for similar reforms would have been rejected by the General Assembly leadership simply because of the political party behind them, if that hasn't already happened in the past. I commend these Democratic Party legislators for striving to make Annapolis more accountable to the people, and they deserve bipartisan support.

Since I'm on a roll, I may as well praise another Democrat, former Calvert County delegate and former state Secretary of Veterans Affairs George W. Owings III. George is a friend of mine and, as a former Marine, a fellow veteran, so I know him to be an honest and forthright individual who is more concerned with doing the right thing than playing games.

He is announcing his candidacy for governor of Maryland today, posing a primary challenge to incumbent Martin O'Malley. It is unusual for someone to challenge a sitting member of their own party, regardless of the office in question, so George is taking the risk of alienating his fellow Democrats for whom the party means more than what makes the most sense for the people of Maryland.

George has his finger on the pulse of the everyday Marylander, and he doesn't have to pretend he knows their plight - he comes from them, not to them. He knows people are hurting and angry about O'Malley's fiscal malpractice and his reckless tax-and-spend policies that have put people out of work by crippling small and family-owned businesses, and driving employers and the entrepreneurs that own them away from the state.

He wants to get serious about the state's long-term fiscal health and not enact annual stopgap and half-step measures, or whine about needing more federal stimulus money as O'Malley did recently.

As a Marylander, I am encouraged to see men of integrity like George and Larry Hogan, another friend of mine who is seeking the GOP nomination, enter into the fray to take on our celebrity wannabe governor and his failed policies.

I'm particularly pleased to see George cut through the garbage being put out by his own party about how wonderful O'Malley has been for the state. Such spin is an insult to those of us who have lost jobs over the past few years, and whose families have suffered for it. They should get out more and see what's really happening out here and, if they've done that and are still cranking out such drivel, they should be ashamed of themselves.

Ron Miller, of Huntingtown, is a military veteran, conservative writer and activist, former and current candidate for the District 27 Maryland Senate seat, communications director for the Calvert County Republican Party, and executive director of Regular Folks United, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.  Ron is a regular contributor to, American Thinker, and You can also follow Ron on his website, as well as Twitter and Facebook.

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