Tuesday, January 09, 2007

We Rambled, O'Malley Listened

Governor-Elect Martin O'Malley and Lieutenant Governor-Elect Anthony Brown held a town meeting in an overheated filled-to-the-rafters auditorium at Einstein High School and received several standing ovations from the crowd which didn't seem to mourn the passing of the Ehrlich Administration. Always a class act, County Executive Ike Leggett served as emcee and won points with your gentle reviewer by demanding civility and protecting the right of everyone to be heard even when he disagreed with the speaker.

O'Malley and Brown are alarmingly charming. Maryland probably has the best looking and sounding gubernatorial team in the country. O'Malley is quite glib, readily deflecting questioners with responses that often made the audience laugh. He often pleaded for time, explaining that the transition period is tough and that he would soon submit a budget and later a supplementary budget. He also called on the federal government to pull its weight. As O'Malley soon takes office, Maryland will soon see the mettle behind the charm.

The interest group with the strongest presence was the anti-ICC crowd. They were passionate and out in force. O'Malley promised to listen but did not promise to commission a new study of the ICC or backtrack on his promise to build the controversial highway. I doubt he will unless the ICC blows an impossibly big hole in his budget plans. It would represent a major policy reversal for O'Malley and cost him too much in credibility. Moreover, the ICC remains broadly popular even if intensely disliked by some. When one person spoke in favor of the ICC, he received more crowd support than I expected.

O'Malley and Brown could answer only respond to a small fraction of the 100 or so people who lined up to make a comment and ask a question. As County Exec. Leggett laughingly explained about the turnout and the willingness to step up to the mike, "this is Montgomery County." While many people expressed themselves quite well, others rambled at great length without much focus. One somewhat entertaining bizarre low point was the woman who told O'Malley that she didn't vote for him (!) or Leggett (!) but then requested a meeting after speaking on a number of unrelated topics.

Immigration opponents were also outspoken even though many in the crowd clearly found their remarks about immigrants sponging on state services highly offensive. O'Malley, who has labelled his pre-inauguration listening tour "One Maryland", responded well by stating that is people should not be forced to live on the margins of society regardless of their immigration status even if he supported greater federal enforcement of federal immigration law.

Discrimination was not popular with this crowd which responded with enthusiastic applause for an eloquent black immigrant woman who detailed her passionate love for this country along with her deep distress at the problems her sons have had with the police. People also responded with warm applause to a transgendered Silver Spring woman who called for protection against discrimination based on gender identity to be written into state law.

Speakers did manage to discuss a number of other issues, including:

COLAs for state-funded caregivers of the disabled.
Sidewalks in Bethesda.
Pay increases and new equipment for state police.
Health care for uninsured Marylanders.
A Comprehensive transportation vision.
Inclusion of minority groups, such as Vietnamese Americans, in the political process.
Fixing the voting machines.
Protecting the environment.

One issue that received suprisingly little discussion was the Purple Line. One person said in passing that they wanted it built. Another expressed support for axing the ICC but then building the Purple Line underground instead of as light rail. I'd say that maybe people are Purple Lined out after the Silverman and Riemer campaigns except that lots of speakers didn't make to the mike, including a representative from "Save the Trail". The pro-Purple Line ACT was handing out flyers in the lobby.

O'Malley and Brown didn't rush out the door when the event ended. I know this because I discovered I left my umbrella at the event and arrived back at Einstein about 40 minutes later to pick it up just as they were finally walking out the door. I suspect that they had their hands full. As the will as they start having to make some very tough choices when they submit their budget to legislature right after taking office.