Four years ago, President Barack Obama took office as the economy was in steep decline with millions in the process of losing their jobs, the nation was locked in seemingly endless military conflicts, Wall Street firms were getting bailed out but not held accountable and a growing number of Americans were unable to afford health insurance.
Today, the economy is growing, albeit modestly, the U.S. military has largely withdrawn from Iraq and will do so in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden is dead, the federal government has begun more closely regulating the kind of large banks and finance companies that contributed to the mortgage crisis and health care reform is gradually making sure working Americans can get affordable insurance for themselves and their families -- including those with pre-existing conditions.
For those notable successes alone, we would endorse Mr. Obama for a second term. But the incumbent also compares favorably to his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who has so often altered, obfuscated or outright lied about his positions from his math-defying plan to cut taxes and reduce the deficit to his recent false claims that Jeep is moving jobs from Ohio to China.
An Obama second term offers the best opportunity for Washington to find room for compromise and devise a long-term plan for reducing the deficit that fosters economic growth, relies on shared sacrifice, but would not devastate the nation’s environment, public health or safety.
Forget those "My friend, Ben" TV ads that show Maryland's junior senator working on a waterman's boat or loading luggage from a passenger jet like he was on a Southwest ground crew. That's the sort of stuff political consultants dream up. Sen. Ben Cardin deserves re-election for what he really is -- a canny and knowledgeable veteran lawmaker whose views on the critical issues of the day are closely in line with a majority of Maryland residents.
Few in Annapolis, where he served as speaker of the House, or in Congress, where he has held office since 1987, can match his detailed understanding of unemployment insurance, Medicare and health care insurance, Social Security or tax policy. He is a professorial as he is politician, perhaps more so since his rumpled, modest style does not make him the darling of Sunday morning talk shows.
With Washington poised to take up entitlement programs, a necessity given their impact on the federal deficit, Mr. Cardin's presence in the Senate is required now more than ever.
// For Questions 1 and 2 //
Most Marylanders probably have never had a first-hand experience with the Orphans' Court, the 3-judge probate court where disputes over wills and estates are settled. But that should not prevent them from ensuring that the court's judges be qualified for their jobs.
Questions 1 and 2 would amend the Maryland constitution to require those who run for these offices in Baltimore and Prince George's counties to be lawyers, a common sense requirement, considering that Orphans' Court judges must often make decisions based on an interpretation of the law. The change should help the courts work more effectively and efficiently.
// For Question 3 //
Maryland has seen its share of corrupt politicians, including some convicted of a crime while in office. Unfortunately, state law has long had something of a catch -- convicted politicians are only booted from elected office at sentencing, which can be weeks, if not months, after a guilty verdict is handed down.
This constitutional amendment would suspend elected officials from office the moment they are found guilty, automatically removing them from office after a guilty plea or when the appeals process is exhausted. That would, for example, prevent a repeat of Baltimore's experience with Mayor Sheila Dixon, who was found guilty of stealing gift cards in 2009 but continued in her job until a plea agreement was negotiated.
// For Question 4 //
The Maryland Dream Act is not only good for those relatively few who will benefit directly from it (perhaps fewer than 300 college students in any given year) but for everyone who lives in the state. That's because making tuition more affordable for illegal immigrants is a kind of economic stimulus -- reducing social service costs and raising tax revenue.
A dozen states have passed similar measures to provide in-state college tuition rates for illegal immigrants, and Maryland's version may be the strictest in the nation. It requires parents to be taxpayers and students to first attend community college. Yet the payoff is still substantial, as those better-educated young adults take on higher-paying jobs in the workforce.
The Dream Act doesn't set immigration policy. That's the job of Congress and the White House. But whether comprehensive immigration reform happens or not, the Dream Act gives the state the tools to better deal with the reality of today.
// Against Question 5 //
Toothpaste squeezed out of a tube follows as more sensible path than Maryland's revised congressional districts. Why so bizarre? Mostly to benefit incumbent Democrats and to expand their reach. (This time around, that means knocking off incumbent Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the 6th.)
Democrats justify such gerrymandering on the grounds that Republicans do the same in other states. But what about the broader interest in making sure Maryland voters aren't disenfranchised by these serpentine districts that snake across county lines and geographic boundaries? Better to force Gov. Martin O'Malley and lawmakers back to the drawing board.
// For Question 6 //
Maryland voters have an historic opportunity to stand up for equality and affirm state law allowing same-sex marriage. A generation ago, this would have seemed unimaginable. Today, it seems mostly overdue.
The law won't force gay marriage on anyone. It merely makes sure that same-sex couples in committed relationships have the same legal rights and privileges as their heterosexual counterparts in such matters as health care, real estate transactions and inheritance.
Opponents have used scare tactics (that it would change school curriculum or restrict free speech) that are so patently false as to be laughable under different circumstances. Maryland already recognizes out-of-state same-sex marriage; voters should have no problem with allowing the paperwork to be done closer to home.
// Against Question 7 //
What a shame that tens of millions of dollars have been spent trumpeting such a shameful rip-off of Maryland taxpayers -- a handout to casino owners offered the same year the General Assembly raised income taxes.
We think Maryland should authorize table games and perhaps even a casino in Prince George's County at some future date. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details, and Question 7 lowers taxes to existing and future casino owners in a manner that seems, at best, haphazardly decided upon. At worst, it's unconscionable, given the huge sum of money involved.
That one West Virginia casino might benefit from a delay is hardly sufficient reason to let a bad law stay on the books. Better to force lawmakers back to the drawing board and devise a proposal that is justified by something more substantial than sheer speculation, political intrigue and favoritism.