After the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, CNN hosted a Town Hall in regards to the gun debate. Robert Schentrup’s sister, Carmen, was among the victims, his question to Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL): “If a majority of Americans have long supported stricter gun control regulations, but our elected officials, who are supposed to represent the people have done nothing, does this mean that our democracy is broken?” Congressman Deutch’s response was, “Is our democracy broken? A little bit. A little bit, it is.” My response to this incredibly important question is—yes—our democracy is broken. Not a little broken, as the Congressman suggests, rather, our democracy has been positively squandered.
There is a population of individuals that will read the title of this column and say, “No way! Everything’s just fine.” However, our legal system continues to turn a blind eye to the many hundreds of millions of dollars used to set the agendas, priorities, and legislative influence of our politicians. There is a population of individuals that does not think our representative branch of government is broken—they chalk it up to others not agreeing with the approach our legislatures take, not taking into account our democracy is being manipulated by our elected officials. Finally, we have a population of individuals that simply let the idea of a broken democracy roll off their shoulders rhetorically stating, “What do you expect us to do about it?”
Money in Politics: James Madison, hailed as the “Father of the Constitution”, wrote in Federalist 52 that our legislative branches of state and federal government “ought to be dependent on the people alone”. Today, our legislative members are dependent on we the people, but not all people. Our legislative members are dependent on the donors. When we look at the numbers, the influence these major contributions have to campaigns yields a positive “return on investment” to those donors. The 2018 Maryland election is seeing a change in the fundraising rules. Prior to the rule change, a Maryland donor was limited to a maximum of $6000 total contributions to a candidate they wanted to support. Today, if a Maryland donor wanted to support ‘Candidate X’ for Governor, the donor could give the maximum individual donation of $6,000 to both the candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor; as well as any PACs supporting these candidates and any PACs opposing their opponents. Our system now allows the few to have more political influence than the many. There is a fundamental inequality. The primary idea of a representative democracy is equality. Madison again wrote in Federalist 57, our democracy is dependent on the people “not the rich more than the poor; not the learned more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune.”
Gerrymandering: Maryland’s Congressional Districts are awfully Gerrymandered. There is no obvious boundary that showcases an organic sense of community when looking at the district maps. Governor Hogan has raised concerns about this issue for years. As a Democrat running for office, I will be the first to say that the Democrats in Annapolis have blocked Gov. Hogan’s effort to reform our districts. To me, this is a tacet endorsement of politicians picking their voters, rather than the electorate picking their politicians. When we allow our politicians to draw districts to benefit them, we effectively leave Marylanders out to dry without effective representation. Whomever is a part of the political minority in these districts will continue to be under-represented until this critical factor in our broken democracy is fixed.
“Harry, how do we tackle this?”
The General Assembly in Maryland cannot control what comes out of the halls of Congress in Washington, but what we can do is build a firewall around the State of Maryland to protect our citizens, bring about a reform of equality, and give a functioning democracy back to the people. We need to get big money out of our elections—state and federal. We must write legislation to endorse publicly funded, small-dollar campaign funds to give citizens a more equal playing field in the election process. Furthermore, Democrats in Annapolis must align with Governor Hogan’s move towards fixing the issue of gerrymandering. Democrats have a firm grip on the majority in the House of Delegates and Senate, their vision for a better Maryland should be based on the citizens of this wonderful state, not the safety of their seats. The people will choose who represents them, not the other way around.
The reality of our democracy is that we live in an era where we still have 2nd-Class citizens. We have a political system that values some more than others. Change of this magnitude does not begin with our political establishment—it begins with us. There are many issues facing Maryland. Recent polls cite Health Care, Education, the Economy and Jobs as the top concerns for voters. Not to mention the environment, criminal justice reform, the opioid epidemic, housing, infrastructure, etc. Our broken democracy is not a top issue for voters in Maryland, but it is the first issue we need to address to move forward on what is right, and what will lead us to better communities, a better Maryland, and a better country—for all.
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