The phrase "war on rural Maryland" was repeated again and again Monday night at a legislative public forum at South Hagerstown High School as the Washington County delegation commiserated with constituents about state policies seen as unfair to rural areas.
"The governor of this state is so prejudiced (against) Western Maryland in general, it's ridiculous, and I'd like something to be done about it," said Oscar Evans of Sharpsburg.
Evans was one of five people to speak at the forum, which drew about 15 people, a smaller crowd than in previous years when the forum was held on Saturday mornings.
Gun control, tuition discounts and other benefits for illegal immigrants, and unemployment issues were among the other main topics discussed by those who spoke at the forum.
After hearing from citizens, each delegation member spoke briefly, with several agreeing with Evans that an anti-rural bias exists in state government.
Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, listed several proposed policies that he views as bad for rural counties: a gas tax that would subsidize mass transit in urban areas, a ban on new septic systems, costly requirements for water and sewer improvements to protect watersheds, and PlanMaryland, a proposed statewide comprehensive plan that he said "basically takes our system of local zoning and replaces it with the governor and his unelected bureaucrats in Baltimore, making land-use decisions that should be made by our local county commissioners."
"It is, ladies and gentlemen, a war on rural Maryland," Shank concluded.
On the issue of gun control, David McGaha of Hagerstown encouraged the delegation to support changing Maryland law on permits to carry concealed weapons to say the state "shall issue" permits instead of "may issue" them, and to put county sheriffs in charge of issuing the permits.
McGaha called the current permit approval process "capricious and arbitrary."
Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, and Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, both said they support the change to "shall issue."
Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said in past discussions, there had been concern among Second Amendment advocates that putting sheriffs in charge of issuing permits would be undesirable because it would allow "activist" sheriffs in other counties to turn down many or all requests.
James Coyle of Maugansville spoke out against state spending on programs that benefit undocumented immigrants. Coyle said he often hears from legal citizens who say they have applied for assistance from government agencies and have been turned town for lack of funds.
"When we're spending a billion dollars a year on illegals, people who are citizens can't get help from our government," Coyle said, calling aid for illegal immigrants "a misplaced sense of compassion."
On the other hand, Washington County resident James Devine spoke out in favor of providing in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants.
"What you're doing (by opposing that measure) is denying them the chance to continue their education, and the child's being punished for the sins of the parents," Devine said.
Devine also spoke about several other issues, including the difficulty of filing for unemployment benefits in Maryland, rising vehicle registration fees, and his desire that Maryland charge sales tax on Internet purchases.
"You're losing millions and millions of dollars every year, and, you know, you're putting it on the taxpayer instead of where the taxes should be," he said.
Devine also invoked rhetoric from the "Occupy" movement as he criticized the Republican party.
"The top 1 percent richest people in the world, they only control the money," Devine said. "The economy (is) the way it is because of those people, and I think the party that you represent — the majority of you represent — are the ones that are helping those people control what is actually being done in society."
Of the seven legislators at the forum, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, was the only Democrat. The six Republicans were Shank, Hough, Parrott, Serafini, Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany.