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What I Learned at the Maryland Business for Responsive Government Discussion on the 2011 Maryland General Assembly Legislative Session

–Richard E. Vatz On Thursday afternoon, April 14, 2011, I moderated a discussion for the Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG), a nominally nonpartisan organization. The exchange related to the business issues adjudicated by the 2011 Maryland General Assembly. The MBRG through its excellent president, Kim Burns, arranged to have as participants the Honorable Michael Busch (Speaker of the Maryland House), the Honorable Nancy Jacobs (Senator) and the honorable, but not so titled, Len Lazarick, editor of MarylandReporter.com.

I am always impressed by politicians who participate in public discussions far from election day (Sen. Jacobs) and particularly when the discussion is held by those who are not ideologically attuned to the politician’s points of view and also at a date far from their election day (Speaker Busch).

The questions posed for discussion included the following, which evolved into many additional conversations on other issues as well: 1. Is the Maryland State Budget a Responsible One? 2. Are You Impressed/Dismayed by the Pension Reforms? 3. What Are the Economic and Political Ramifications Regarding the Passage of an Immediate Increase in the Alcohol Tax from 6 to 9 Percent? 4. What Does Maryland’s Passing of In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants Portend Concerning the Rule of Law in Maryland? The panel discussion held no great surprises, as Speaker Busch, Sen. Jacobs and Mr. Lazarick all were quite knowledgeable regarding their positions, and Mr. Lazarick served as a disinterested — although I have always suspected he had more conservatism in him than liberalism — and fair and well-prepared discussant.

The discussion on the budget in general involved whether for major issues the can had been kicked down the road again by Democrats and whether the Assembly had saved the governor from himself by disallowing some of his more expensive initiatives, such as wind energy. For those of us in opposition to the alcohol tax and in-state tuition for illegals, there were no new facts brought up that would dissuade us from these positions. The alcohol tax jump was debated as to whether it was equitable and fair to have such an increase for one industry; it will not be surprising, dear reader, when you guess who took which position.

There was no bashing of Governor Martin O’Malley, and the tone and civility were as impressive as in any debate in which I have been involved. Each participant allowed the others to express themselves fully and, again, there was not a hint of personal rancor. Personally, this was an undilutedly enjoyable event: I genuinely personally like all of the participants, regardless of some of their liberal-based premises, and interacting with the impressive organization MBRG and particularly members Ellen Sauerbrey and Gov. Marvin Mandel was satisfying beyond words. At Towson I have to search the campus for a fellow conservative.

All in all, this debate was exemplary of what political debate in a democracy can be: an honest and respectful but not insipid exchange of political views on consequential topics by representatives who are prepared and honest.

Professor Vatz is a professor at Towson University






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