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Minnich: Tug of war begins in Annapolis — will we have compromise or self-interest?

Maryland’s General Assembly convenes for the 2020 session — 90 days of tug of war, push and pull, left and right and up and down and the same old thing in new clothes.

Early legislators, in their wisdom, limited the state assembly to 90 days, as opposed to year-round business in other state houses. Baltimore Sun sage H. L. Menken wrote caustically about the chicanery that a gaggle of politicians can do even in a 90-day session and warned readers to lock away their money and their daughters until the end of the session.

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We like to pick on politicians, but there they are, and they didn’t get there on their own. You either voted for them or didn’t vote at all or voted for the wrong ones and that’s why we get what we deserve, whether it be in the State House or the White House or Congress.

The problem is not so much that we don’t pay attention; it’s that we don’t pay attention soon enough, or we don’t trust ourselves to get involved in the very beginning, when voters get a chance to choose who serves on the central committees. It’s the central committees who see their role as weeding out those who they think unworthy of public office — or not a true believer in the party line. Independent thinkers need not apply.

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By picking off the wannabes who might show some resistance to guidance from those holding positions on the committee now they cut down on having someone come in and actually doing something useful like working collaboratively with representatives of the opposition party. Can’t have that.

What you need to know when you hear candidates promising to work for jobs, jobs and more jobs is that they’re also talking about jobs for loyalists on government payrolls. And here you thought they were just talking about more work for everyday citizens, with better pay and working conditions.

Ideology is part of the strife; some members of the central committees of both parties are more strident than others. More conservative, or more progressive, or more inclusive. I’ve come to believe that the polarization we have today is the result of playing to the most extreme factions on either end of the political spectrum in the general population, then manipulating the middle with hard sell politics in ads and social media.

This weeds out those who might appreciate a more reasoned approach to the issues at hand, but take a look at the agenda in Annapolis and you can see that Right and Left would do battle over which way to pass the salt and pepper at dinner if it affected the numbers after next election day.

Over the years I’ve watched politicians come and go; the ones who come in willing to be reasonable with members of the other party, especially in Annapolis, are bullied and sanctioned and even blackmailed until they get in line. It’s disheartening to hear someone who used to be a moderate side with an absolutist position on an important topic like environmental improvements or school funding or more investment in infrastructure because they say they have to go along to get along.

The work ahead will be over education reform, something that has been tinkered with for years ideologically but never fiscally. They might try adequate funding someday, but keep breathing. Same with school construction, environmental responsibility and balancing the priorities of city dwellers against those of commuters.

Do you improve mass transit, or add more lanes to roads to the counties? Take a guess.

Listen for the talking points. When you hear a candidate sounding like an echo of the party line, ask yourself whether the leadership is there to compromise or merely to play to selfish interests to get re-elected. If that’s the case, how long can we add to the imbalanced use of resources for the sake of power brokering?

Legislature’s in session 90 days, but that’s a lot of horse-trading and card tricks in the making.

Dean Minnich, who retired from a career in journalism and served two terms as a county commissioner, writes from Westminster. His column runs Thursdays. Email him at Dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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