"The Magic and Machinations of One Party Rule”
By Delegate Michael A. McDermott
No matter what side you come down on the issue of same sex marriage in Maryland, you should be offended by the process through which the O’Malley-Brown Gay Marriage Bill (HB-438) passed through the House of Delegates.
We can start with a governor who changed his mind on the issue. Who first pushed for Civil Unions…who then agreed that “the people” should be allowed to vote by referendum…who then made same sex “marriage” a primary legislative focus for 2012. It’s funny as I recall those Eastern Shore democratic legislators telling us how the governor’s focus was going to be on, “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!”…I just didn’t realize they were talking about wedding planners.
Consider the title of the bill: “Civil Marriage Protection Act”. Titles are intentionally crafted in Annapolis to disguise their intent. After all, when you want to change the definition of marriage, which has been in place since the beginning of time, you start by telling the people you simply wish to “protect” marriage. What kind of caldron produces this stuff?
The committee process in the House was something to behold as well. All of the previous same sex wedding bills have been assigned to the Judiciary Committee, until now. For the first time, in a highly irregular move, the bill was put forward to two committees: Judiciary and Health and Government Operations. The reason was simple: after all their machinations and arm twisting last session, they now lacked the votes to get a favorable vote from the Judiciary members. So, they went committee shopping and found one that would serve their purpose.
Historically, in the rare instances when two committees are utilized for a bill hearing, one of the committees is assigned as “primary” and the other as “secondary”. In this case, Judiciary was the primary committee of record. For voting purposes, the primary committee should vote first before the issue is moved to the secondary committee members. If the vote fails in the primary, it should not move to the secondary. In the case of the O’Malley-Brown Same Sex Marriage Bill, the committee votes were joined together in order to garner the number of votes necessary to claim a “favorable” vote. The fact is, the Judiciary Committee voted “No”, while Health and Government Operations voted “Yes”. The HGO vote was all on partisan lines which is exactly what the Speaker was counting on in the end. They say this has been done before, but no one can remember the last time it was done this way. That speaks volumes.
The combined committees also reviewed amendments offered on the bill with all of them being rejected. Some votes were closer than others. There was an effort to put the issue before the voters as a referendum which had bi-partisan support, but fell short of the votes needed. Following this meeting and voting session, the bill was moved to the House where it was laid over for a day to allow for others to offer amendments.
On Friday morning, a joint meeting of the committees was held to review amendments offered on the bill. I was told there were 200 amendments at the desk waiting for this bill. While many were no doubt duplicitous, the committees would normally review and vet each amendment to determine if it should be adopted into the bill. Our joint meeting lasted about thirty seconds and we were all told that any amendments would be offered and debated on the floor of the House. The rush was on and the fix was in. This action was one of the biggest downfalls of the process, but the next action was even worse.
All bills deserve a free and fair debate. Monumental legislation that seeks to change historic references and definitions should not be rushed. When we came into session on Friday afternoon, the bill was only on Second Reader. This is the time in the process where amendments can be offered to a House Bill by any member from the floor. Normally, these amendments are offered to the respective committee where they can be reviewed, vetted, and debated. There is great reluctance to amend a bill on the floor since that vetting process has not occurred and members are understandably skeptical. I have seen amendments made or questions asked on bills that resulted in a bill being Special Ordered until the matter could be thoroughly addressed and vetted by the assigned committee.
As this bill was debated and amendments offered on Second Reader in the House, there were some clear issues with some of the amendments being offered. Interestingly enough, one of the amendments which had been rejected in committee was offered again on the floor by Delegate Wade Kach (a Baltimore County Republican who did a 180 after a midnight meeting with the governor and decided to vote “Yes” on the bill). Magically now, the amendment was said to be “favorable” by the committee. Of course, this was not true as the same amendment had been rejected. Apparently being part of the deal, the amendment to delay the effective date of the bill to Jan. 1, 2013 was then agreed to by the House.
A second amendment was more troubling. It was a more complicated, technical amendment regarding judicial severability of the bill. It was offered by Delegate Tiffany Alston, a Prince Georges County Democrat who is currently under indictment for election financial fraud. She was originally against the bill and voted against it in committee. Out of the blue, she advised that if her amendment was passed, she would vote in favor of the bill. Her amendment, which she never even spoke of in committee, was said to be “supported by the committee”. It passed and what followed immediately was a significant exodus from the chamber of senior democrats…they knew it was over and they had her vote.
In the fog of war and the battles on the floor of the State House, rumors and scuttlebutt abound. Many are born out of speculation, many based upon practical experience, and many because they are simply true. Two republicans voted with the democrats on this bill. Both had previously said they would not do so. Both, it seems, met privately with the governor in the days before the bill went to the floor. It was said by many that “jobs” were on the table…commission appointments…board appointments…one can only speculate. Weighing out what constitutes thirty pieces of silver in this economy can be tough.
On the Democratic side of the House, Delegate Alston has criminal charges pending to be resolved after session. The case against her was said to be very strong, but was also rumored to have been filed by a governor appointed State’s Attorney following her strong opposition to the Same Sex Marriage bill offered last session. She too had a reported private meeting with the Governor the day before. Another aging Democrat from Baltimore City was rumored to have sold out for a relative who is seeking better state employment opportunities. Only time will tell, but I will leave it to the citizens to do the math.
Come to think of it…maybe this is a jobs bill after all!
On Friday, I again had the opportunity to witness two sunrises and two sunsets in one calendar day…all from my seat on the House floor. Second Readers take place on one day and are followed, generally, on the proceeding day as a Third Reader. However, wishing to plow, ram, shove, this bill through in one day required the magical waiving of the Speaker’s Mace to create another Legislative daybreak…complete with the Pledge of Allegiance and official Prayer of the Day. This was the same tactic utilized to pass the Alcohol Tax last session.
So what normally would have and should have taken a few days to perform with due diligence was forced out of the House within just a few hours. The result on the board for all to see was a vote count showing 71 “Yes” and 67 “No”. It seems now that even this was an illusion.
Following the vote, there was a press release which indicated the count was “72-67”, but that is not what appeared on the voting board. The tally board indicated “71” so something has happened to the count that has not been reflected in actions taken on the floor. Delegate Bahanon (Democrat from St. Mary’s County) would appear to be that extra vote, although he was missing in action on the final count.
It is said you need “71” to pass anything in the House of Delegates, but good leadership is not based on vote total of 71. We are a house divided which cannot stand. It is for this very purpose that consensus must be sought and developed among the people whom we purport to represent. Our leadership has assured us that we will remain divided and, as we move forward, issues will arise which find their Genesis of division in these very votes. It is not “courageous” leadership that squeaks a bill through via machinations, rather it is partisan witchcraft.
I cannot know for certain about jobs promised, or not…I cannot know for certain about other situations which may bring comfort to some for a green vote…but I do know that this issue will only serve to further divide our state at a time when we can ill afford that same division. There will be a referendum of the people (the second one against this governor and the democratic machine) on the definition of “marriage” once the Senate takes their “courageous” vote. Of this we can be sure. There is another vote of which we can be sure as well. It is the one which will occur in November of 2014 when those who put their green vote up on the board will have to answer to those whose place setting they hold in trust.
Keep a watchful eye out for bills that seek to change the referendum process in Maryland to make it tougher on those gathering signatures. Surely this will be tried.
People of Maryland, take back your state!