"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right" — well here we are — stuck in the middle. I know this is how most Americans must feel right now. With every news cycle it seems like politics in Washington gets crazier and crazier, and as the song says, I think we all have "the feeling that something ain't right."
Luckily, things are bit calmer here in Maryland. Certainly, there is division between Republicans and Democrats, but for the most part we have checked the insanity at the door. On many issues, both sides have come together for the best interests of our state and county. The governor signed an anti-fracking bill and has included Chesapeake Bay restoration money in his budget. With the help of our Annapolis delegation, Carroll County schools will receive $1.62 million in additional state funding. Here in Carroll County, our Board of Commissioners and Board of Education worked together to pass a budget that meets the immediate needs of our school system.
While all of this gives cause for celebration, there is much more that can be achieved by putting partisan politics aside. Gov. Larry Hogan has wisely seen that gutting the Affordable Care Act would be devastating for Maryland. It's easy to understand why he has called for a compromise solution. He admitted publically that he did not vote for Trump, but he does not want to antagonize the administration in Washington. However, one must look at the consequences if the ACA is repealed.
Billions of dollars of Medicaid money is at risk, and costs for everyone will go up. It is estimated that 476,000 Marylanders could lose their coverage. Folks with pre-existing conditions, seniors, women and children are all at risk. Hogan needs to be more forceful in advocating for health care in America, as other Republican governors have done. Unfortunately, for us, District 1 Congressman Andy Harris is Maryland's lone supporter of Trumpcare. As a physician, he should know better. As a congressman, he should not be ignoring the wishes of his constituents simply because he is a Republican.
Another area where partisan politics needs to be put aside is public education. Trump's proposed budget cuts $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, while channeling resources toward charter and private schools under the guise of "school choice." U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a well-known advocate for the privatization of public schools, and Gov. Hogan seems to agree with her.
Luckily, our General Assembly in Annapolis has soundly defeated attempts to lower the standards of accountability and quality through the expansion of charter schools and voucher programs. The Protect Our Schools Act accomplishes three main goals: It reduces the emphasis on standardized testing as a measure of school success and allows for other school quality indicators to be considered, it provides that educators and other local stakeholders be allowed to work to improve underperforming schools before the state intervenes, and finally, this law prevents the arbitrary privatization of schools and the diversion of more public money to vouchers and private schools.
Studies show that vouchers do not substantially increase school choice, and charter schools do not perform any better than public schools. Gov. Hogan vetoed the Protect Our Schools Act, but the General Assembly easily overrode the veto. Sadly, every member of our Annapolis delegation refused to put partisan politics aside by voting with the governor.
During our fight for independence Thomas Paine wrote that "these are the times that try men's souls." That sentiment holds true today. The White House is in chaos and partisan divides are as wide as ever. Too many of our politicians vote along party lines rather than moral principles. For example, the Maryland Defense Act gives Attorney General Brian Frosh the right to sue the federal government when the health and welfare of Maryland citizens are endangered. Even though this is the law in almost every other state, Gov. Hogan vetoed the bill. Wisely, the General Assembly overrode Hogan's veto, with no help from our delegation.
Protecting the bay, protecting our schools, protecting basic constitutional rights should be nonpartisan issues. However, too many of us just sit back and complain or do nothing at all. What we need to do is stay informed and become engaged. We need to let those in leadership know we are paying attention. We need to stand up for what is right.
Tom Scanlan writes from Westminster.