Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ben Kramer and the Issue of Domestic Violence

By Eric Luedtke.

In politics there are issues on which it is OK to be on either side and issues in which it is not. Domestic violence is not an issue on which it is OK to be on the fence. It is a profound social ill that tears apart families, damages its victims both physically and mentally, and can result in horrific acts of violence. So any politician worth their salt will be on only one side of the issue: do everything possible to stop it. That’s something I appreciate as a husband, a father, and as a teacher who has seen firsthand the effects of domestic violence on students I’ve taught.

Which is why I remain baffled by Ben Kramer’s support for a bill in the General Assembly that would have made it possible for accused perpetrators of domestic violence to have their records expunged if there was not enough evidence to warrant a protective order. Baffled because, quite frankly, Kramer’s entire family tends to be very much politically astute. And I’ve waited to see how Kramer would deal with it in the County Council election. That last question has now been answered, as the mailing Adam posted from the Kramer campaign shows him with a number of prominent women in the county, including former chair of Maryland NOW Duchy Trachtenberg (although I think it’s probably another political misstep that the people in the mailing are, for lack of a better word, monochromatic, given the diversity of the population of District 4).

Now to be up front about it, I’m not a supporter of Kramer’s. I’ve endorsed Nancy Navarro because I believe she’ll be the best person to help protect the public services that underlay the wealth and success of Montgomery County , including our public schools. That said, my vote has always been for Navarro, rather than against Kramer. But Kramer’s position on this issue raises some questions for me, both about his political common sense and his position on domestic violence itself.

I suppose one could argue that it’s a complex issue, that there is the possibility that a person could be wrongly accused of domestic violence, but I think that argument’s a red herring. The consequences of protecting perpetrators who may actually have committed such a crime are far more severe than that of a court record of an accusation lying in a back room somewhere. And I suppose it could be excused if this were part of the normal backroom Annapolis deal-making, as in, “My colleague on such and such committee asked me to co-sponsor.” But, well, there’s video, sent to me by a friend in the women's movement:

I showed this to some friends over the weekend, and their responses were interesting. One called him prosecutorial, another said he simply seemed aggressive. A third pointed out that he was being pretty hostile to people testifying who deserved at least a modicum of respect because they were, in the end, only doing what they thought necessary to end domestic violence.

All that aside, there’s a fairly simple question which Delegate Kramer has yet to answer during the course of the campaign: Why does he think it necessary that the law should lean towards protecting those accused of committing domestic violence instead of the victims of it? I think his constituents in District 19, his potential constituents in Council District 4, and victims of domestic violence across Maryland deserve an answer.

Editor’s Note: Eric Luedtke is a board member of MCEA, a former blogger on Free State Politics and a resident of District 4.