State GOP can be the voice of reason

February 17, 2013|By TIM ROWLAND

As bad as November was for Republicans nationally, for the Maryland GOP it was much worse. This isn’t really news in a state that’s liberal enough to be known as “the California of the East.” But even so, Maryland voters staked out new ground on the left, leaving little doubt that espousing extreme, conservative principles here is a wind-spitting proposition at best.

Like it or not, and it surely does not, the state GOP needs to acknowledge that the people of Maryland don’t mind immigrants all that much, are sympathetic to gay rights and really don’t care if liberals redraw congressional districts to favor their own.

Moving forward, the GOP can’t pretend that the majority of Marylanders want to preserve Second Amendment rights in crystalline form, cling to the death penalty or abandon the difficult task of restoring historic fisheries to the Chesapeake Bay.

The problem isn’t — as is so often stated — that people simply don’t understand the conservative message. The problem is that they do. And they vote accordingly.

Still, the state GOP must sergeant on. But it will have to do so without party chair Alex Mooney, who is leaving the job after an unexceptional couple of years.

Mooney doesn’t see his time as party chair as a failure, of course. He believes the ill-advised petitions against immigrants, gays and redistricting were in reality wins, because the petition drives energized the base.

This is like claiming credit for the field goal in a game you lose 56-3. And therein lies the problem. Even when energized, Maryland’s GOP base is incapable of spreading its extreme gospel. And, crazy as it sounds, when most of the voters in the state are more liberal than you are, lurching severely to the right isn’t going to help.

Credit the Washington County delegation for seeming to understand this lesson. Without sacrificing the values upon which they were elected, local lawmakers have remained professional this session — fighting, for example, against new guns laws, without accusing the opposition of any 1984-like plots against humanity.

Lawmakers also are working alongside local and state officials to find compromise in an environmental plan that would ostensibly cost Washington County $1.1 billion over the next 12 years.

This is the opening that the state GOP might well exploit. When one party controls state government, it is prone to overreach. That gives the minority the chance to brand itself as the voice of reason, one that checks opposition excesses.

The majority of Marylanders have spoken favorably on the issue of fairness as it pertains to gays and immigrants — even though the great majority is straight and native. So there is hope that even urban and suburban Marylanders might agree that tripling the cost of septic systems is unfair to rural residents.

They might also think it outrageous that state agencies can cripple good businesses with exponential fee increases. Earlier this month, the owners of Hedgeapple Farm — a nationally acclaimed grass-fed beef operation in Buckeystown — wrote a letter to the local paper explaining how they had, out of the blue, received notice from the state that their farm fee was increasing from $150 to $400.

This is Maryland’s reward to a business that is an innovative model of what agriculture should be — selling natural, sustainable, heart-healthy meat on a farm that, ironically enough, works hard to be a good steward of the Monocacy River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

To a nonbusiness person, the fee hike might not seem that steep, but operating on a tight margin, Hedgeapple will have to move $5,000 worth of beef, just to pay for a piece of state-issued paper (there is no benefit or service that comes along with it).

Again, here is the chance for the GOP to be the voice of reason on an issue that has statewide implications for people who are interested in food.

Generically standing against “government regulations” sets no hearts racing. But finding and exploiting specific, extreme examples such as this — and in Maryland there are plenty to choose from — might actually attract voters’ attention.

As the November election showed, painting your opponents as extremists can be a winning hand. But the state GOP must understand that it’s hard to accuse your opposition of being the king of extremism when you are wearing the crown yourself.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. His email address is

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