After years of trying, Gov. Martin O’Malley finally has won legislative approval of two priorities of his administration: a ban on capital punishment and a measure to develop offshore wind.
What helped cause the breakthrough?
Political scientists say a state long solidly Democratic has moved increasingly to the left as the result of recent statewide elections. That, they say, has created more fertile ground for progressive legislation. As examples, they cite voter approval of two ballot questions in November to allow same-sex marriage and to create in-state tuition rates for some illegal immigrants.
“This is not the Democratic Party of William Donald Schaefer anymore,” said Tom Schaller, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He was referring to Maryland’s governor from 1987 to 1995, who endorsed Republican George H.W. Bush before the 1992 presidential vote and criticized immigrants who don’t speak English in 2004 while he was comptroller.
Schaller added: “It’s a blue state, but the blue hue is getting darker over time because of the demographics of the state.”
In another sign of a leftward shift, observers note O’Malley’s margins of victory against former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who became the state’s first Republican governor in a generation when he won office in 2002.
In 2006, O’Malley won with 53 percent of the vote, compared with Ehrlich’s 46 percent. Four years later, despite a terrible year for Democrats nationally, O’Malley boosted his margin of victory in the 2010 rematch against Ehrlich by winning 56 percent of the vote.
“So that tells you something,” Schaller said.
Maryland Democrats also picked up a congressional seat in 2012 long held by a Republican, giving Maryland’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives a 7-1 edge for Democrats, though Republicans decried the legislative redistricting process controlled by Democrats as the main reason for Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s defeat.
As for O’Malley’s push to ban capital punishment and jumpstart offshore wind, the state Senate had been the stumbling block in recent years.
Matthew Crenson, a professor of political science emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, also noted the results of the votes on same-sex marriage and the tuition ballot question as likely being influential on the Senate. Same-sex marriage was supported with 52 percent of the vote; the in-state tuition measure passed with 59 percent of the vote.
“I think that may have sent a signal to the state Senate,” Crenson said.
O’Malley, who had signaled in 2007 he would sign legislation to ban the death penalty, made repeal a priority of his legislative agenda in 2009. However, the votes were not there that year for full repeal, and senators settled on a compromise that restricted its use to murder cases with biological evidence such as DNA, videotaped evidence of a murder or a videotaped confession.
This year, full repeal passed the Senate 27-20. The House of Delegates approved it 82-56 on Friday, sending the bill to O’Malley to sign.
The governor’s offshore wind proposal failed two years in a row before finding approval this year. This time, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, took the unusual step of switching a member of the Senate Finance Committee in order to secure the vote needed to move the bill to the floor for debate. It passed in the Senate earlier this month 30-15.
Miller, the state’s longest-serving Senate president, voted against the same-sex marriage bill last year. Miller, who has presided over the Senate for 27 years, also voted against the death penalty repeal. However, he did not use his formidable grasp on the levers of power in the chamber to block a vote on either measure.
Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said he believes Miller has taken notice of the more progressive leanings in Maryland Democratic Party dynamics.
“He can’t risk being on the losing side of that if he were to be challenged for leadership,” Eberly said.
Crenson also noted that Miller, who is 70, may be thinking about his legacy and likely doesn’t want to be remembered as an obstacle to progressive political ideas.
“You don’t leave a legacy by doing that,” Crenson said.