Art Callaham: Can we compromise?

April 29, 2012|By ART CALLAHAM

Several weeks ago, a local columnist excused the poor performance of some members of our delegation to the Maryland General Assembly by presenting the idea that the implementation of “one man, one vote” legal opinions (and follow on legislation) in both houses of legislatures across America had co-opted the individual authority and power of some legislators. 

Specifically, that columnist’s premise, as I understood it, intimated that changing the reach of Maryland state senators from county-specific to district-specific (size and geography based upon population) weakened or strengthened individual state senators’ capability to influence legislative outcomes. In our case, as a rural county, this change, according to the columnist, weakened our local senators’ capabilities.

As I recall, the example used was this: In the old days (before 1966), the Senate of Maryland had one senator per county. Therefore, it was one vs. one, Washington County vs. say Montgomery County in legislative conflict within the Maryland Senate — an even match. And today, it’s Washington County with one senator and Montgomery County with eight in a similar vote. Please excuse our senator; we’re destined to always lose.

I don’t see it that way. Sure, there will always be conflicts between rural and urban. And, of course, “size matters,” particularly when the conflict is between the majority’s interests and the minority’s interests. But hey, that’s why we are, as a state and nation, a representative democracy, a republic. Aren’t we? 

In my opinion, most legislative arguments revolve around political agendas pitting Democrats vs. Republicans or conservatives vs. liberals or whatever political or ideological bent you wish to consider vs. another bent; not county vs. county. (By the way, Washington County is represented today by three Maryland state senators. That’s not quite eight, but it’s arguably better than one).

I, for one, have been mildly critical of the ineffectiveness of some of our state legislators, but my criticism mostly surrounds the lack of compromise and not losing geographic county-vs.-county squabbles. 

For a macro example, consider that a legislator from our area has a meaningful bill with statewide ramifications before the General Assembly (there have been several). Do all of the legislators from a large population county gang up on “little old” Washington County to defeat the bill? No. Rather, does our local legislators’ lack of willingness to compromise create the gang-up effect? Well, I don’t know. It just seems odd that good legislation promoted by one of our local representatives often languishes for want of a majority for approval.

Is it “right” for good legislation to be held up or fail because of ideological or party differences? No. Yet, it is “good politics” (and remember that “politics” is simply “the peoples’ business”) to consider compromise when one’s personal/party political view or ideology bumps up against another’s personal/party political view or ideology.

If there’s no chance for compromise, then more often than not even good legislation fails. My point is simply that some legislators can’t seem to look beyond personal, political or ideological views and therefore won’t compromise for the common good, or even for the good of those they represent.

My own personal Judeo-Christian upbringing (I hear my mom and grandmother in my ear now as I write this) reminds me that compromise is often bad. “Never compromise your values, son; never compromise your faith; never compromise on doing the ‘right’ thing.” You’ve heard that same thing I’m sure. But if there is absolutely no compromise, then nothing ever gets done, particularly for minority interests. Such is the reality of politics.

One of my good friends, a legislator and a solid conservative Republican, related his view concerning operating within the minority party. “Art,” he said, “You, and most people, don’t realize that over 95 percent of the legislation passed each year in Annapolis is agreeable to members on both sides of the aisle (Republicans and Democrats). That leaves 5 percent that I usually disagree with, so generally I’ll vote against that 5 percent.

“However, if I can leverage something good for my constituents within the 5 percent, getting the something good into the 95 percent, I will. I’m always looking for ways to help the people I represent.”

Now that is compromise. Don’t let the 5 percent get in the way of the 95 percent.

Sure, everyone has to “stand for something” or like Aaron Tippin’s song, “you’ll fall for anything.” But in the world of partisan politics, when you fall you don’t want to take the good for the people you represent along with you.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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