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SATURDAY MAILBOX

Voters decide if candidates belong on ballot

I applaud the Maryland Court of Appeals for striking down Maryland's petitioning barriers that have long kept the nominees of emerging political parties off the election ballot ("Two-tier election petitions rejected," July 30).

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The court held that those barriers violate the equal protection component of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. This decision means candidates will have time to engage in discussions about issues, rather than struggle with busywork designed to keep them off the ballot.

Cheers also to The Sun for recognizing the importance of this decision for democracy in Maryland ("A greener democracy," editorial, Aug. 5).

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In stark contrast to those responses was a spokesman for the Democratic Party's condescending comment that opening the ballot to nominees of Maryland's recognized parties (other than the two big parties) "could make it more confusing for the voter."

The pretext that Marylanders are too simple-minded to handle three or four names on a ballot is at the core of the major parties' self-serving scheme to stifle competition.

This is a slap in the face to the state's 2.7 million voters and ignores the fact that Maryland elections for many offices often offer voters only a single name on the ballot (and thus no real choice at all).

Instead of proclaiming that voters will be too confused to make a decision if more than one candidate is on the ballot, the Democrats' spokesman would do better to read the Court of Appeals' opinion and take the following quote to heart: "In a democracy, the appropriate judges of which candidates are frivolous, and which candidates have the greater commitment ... are the voters on Election Day."

Erik Michelsen

Edgewater

The writer is co-chairman of the Anne Arundel Green Party.

Ballot competition is antidote to elitism

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The Court of Appeals was right on the mark in its decision to cancel the second tier of Maryland's restrictive ballot access laws ("Two-tier election petitions rejected," July 30). This means, in effect, that candidates associated with recognized minor parties will no longer have to collect signatures to be listed on the ballot.

However, independent candidates who choose not to associate themselves with an existing political organization will still face difficult hurdles to appear on the ballot.

A little healthy competition at the ballot box is needed to ensure transparency and honesty in Annapolis and in Washington, even if that competition has no apparent chance of winning the election.

It would also guard against the political stagnation and cronyism that has convinced many eligible voters that neither major party has their interests in mind.

In a time when consumers are greeted with hundreds of television channels, energy competition and countless long-distance plans, politics seems to be the only arena without serious choice.

Our status quo public officials have very little to fear on Election Day, but they do have much to fear from being labeled as elitist.

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Therefore, it is in their best interest to make the ballot as accessible as possible to anyone who wishes to run for office.

John Wyrwas

Gambrills

The writer is a member of the Libertarian Party who will be a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park this fall.

Open city primaries to all the voters

Politics in Baltimore City are dominated by the Democratic Party to such an extent that the Democratic primary is the de facto election. The general election often just enthrones the winners of the Democratic primary. Independents and Republicans are effectively disenfranchised. This must end.

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A simple solution would be to allow all registered voters the option to vote for any candidate during the primaries regardless of party affiliation.

This would increase the chances of challengers. It would reduce the reliance of candidates on the party machine to get elected, and their subsequent indebtedness to that bureaucracy.

It would reduce the number of entrenched incumbent office-holders, and that would help new ideas, new energy and new people have a chance.

The only hope for contested general elections in Baltimore is for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to make it a state issue.

Paul Hinkle

Baltimore

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Immigrants need to learn English

At the risk of sounding very politically incorrect, I find the response from Latino activists to the police officer who shot and killed a 22-year-old Honduran immigrant rather arrogant ("Latino activists in county urge police training, aids in Spanish," July 31).

The idea that police officers should learn Spanish to accommodate Spanish-speaking immigrants is absurd. And why stop at Spanish? Baltimore has a sizable Asian population, and many other people from around the world have settled here. Should the taxpayers commit huge sums of money to making the police force multi-lingual?

Let's put the responsibility where it belongs. If you come to this country, be on notice: This is an English-speaking country. For proof, just turn on the TV, and the language spoken is English. Take a trip on any road and all the signs are in English. Go into to any shop and look at the signs and ads, all in English.

We are all proud of our family heritage, and we came from every corner of the planet. But no matter what we speak at home, we know that outside our homes, English is the language of this country.

The Latino community would be better served if its activists would establish English classes to help people make the transition into this English-speaking culture, rather than criticize the overworked and underpaid police force.

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Jo Ann Fasnacht

Randallstown

Stereotypes harm Christians and gays

I was interested by the concern expressed in the letter "Snooping isn't what Christians are about" (July 30) about Christians being misrepresented by the media.

It is true that there are many good people who give of themselves daily "in Christ's name, following his example without passing judgment" and who are not "storming gay bedrooms in search of sodomy." As a Christian, I, too, am saddened and concerned whenever these people are lumped into the same category with those who try to force their religious beliefs on others or use Christ's name to justify bigotry and hatred.

I am also saddened and concerned, however, whenever a gay or lesbian person is lumped into the same category with those who engage in pedophilia, incest, bigamy and bestiality simply because he or she finds fulfillment in a committed love relationship with someone of the same gender.

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Isn't it interesting that many Christians and many homosexuals seem to want the same thing: To be valued for who they are rather than stereotyped as something they are not?

Perhaps we would accomplish more by focusing on our similarities.

If we did, we might be surprised to find out how many of those giving of themselves in Christ's name happen to be homosexual as well.

Tony Bianca

Baltimore

Enlist volunteers to catalog data

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I read about the Enoch Pratt Free Library's good fortune in The Sun's editorial "Endangered memories" (Aug. 2): "Fortunately, aided by state and federal grants, the library has started digitizing some of its paper rarities, transferring their images and text onto computer disks."

That sounds great, and promises to make tons of great information "accessible to anyone with a home computer."

But I would have recommended getting scores of volunteers involved in helping with the effort. They could do things such as the data-entry task the editorial mentioned -- "each of the half-million cards would have to be re-keyed during the digitization process."

That's a task perfectly suited to young volunteers, including students in local school systems who need to complete service hours as a graduation requirement.

Many of these volunteers would later be users (and therefore beneficiaries) of that repository of information. What better way to get them acquainted with the resource, not to mention give them hands-on experience they can list on a rM-isumM-i, plus feelings of satisfaction that they contributed to something truly worthwhile?

The editorial ends with a statement about what the effort's "overriding goal" should be. But this focuses only on a destination, and neglects the journey. The suggested goal should be listed as merely one of the project's primary goals.

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A more interesting goal could be to enlist as many volunteers as possible, at every level of the effort.

C. Schuetz

Timonium

As funding falls, tuition will rise

The news that University System of Maryland students can expect stiff tuition increases in the fall has sparked a deluge of articles, columns and letters to the editor. This debate seems to have formed around an alleged conflict between access and eminence.

Funding cuts supposedly put the "eminence" of Maryland's institutions of higher learning at risk, while the tuition increases threaten access to these institutions for middle-income students.

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A recent Sun article, for instance, stated that "even less selective schools like Towson University can no longer be counted on as automatic fallbacks for high school seniors," and that Towson rejected more than half its roughly 11,000 applicants this year" ("What Price Eminence," July 20).

However, those applicants weren't rejected because they couldn't afford the tuition but because the average GPA and test scores of Towson's applicants have steadily increased over the last 10 years, and Towson can accept only so many freshmen.

At least one state legislator argued that schools could simply increase class sizes and course loads -- just cram more students into classes, and more classes into a professor's teaching schedule.

Neither is a viable option. Each student added to a course means more papers to grade, more questions to answer, more learning styles to accommodate. If enrollment or teaching loads are pushed too far, the education any student receives becomes mediocre or worse.

Tuition at USM schools is going up steeply now because it has been artificially low for years. And state-supported and state-assisted universities can't simply decide to be "less eminent" so they can lower tuition.

Here's a simple formula: As state support falls, tuition must rise.

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One way or another, that money will come out of taxpayers' pockets.

Glen Scott Allen

Towson

The writer teaches English at Towson University.

Keep investigating Bush's claims on Iraq

I am galled at how quickly The Sun and other major media outlets have dropped the story about the Bush administration's "mistaken" claim in the State of the Union address that Iraq tried to purchase uranium in Africa.

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When President Bill Clinton appeared to have misled Americans about his despicable but substantively meaningless affair with Monica Lewinsky, we were subjected to nearly two years of breathless, relentless, daily updates on the subject by The Sun and every other major media outlet in the country.

Now we are faced with a president who appears to have misled the country about the reasons we should make the most momentous of all national decisions: The decision to send men and women abroad to kill and be killed.

Yet after two weeks of coverage and a perfunctory acceptance of responsibility from President Bush ("Bush accepts responsibility for Iraq claim," July 31), the story seems to be gone.

Does no journalist in The Sun's newsroom, not to mention in newsrooms across the country, wonder if the administration's "mistake" in the State of the Union address suggests other "mistakes" were made in other speeches and presentations arguing for war in Iraq?

Are there no latter-day Woodwards or Bernsteins at The Sun who wonder precisely what evidence the administration had to suggest ties between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, since little has ever been produced?

The American public deserves answers to these questions, certainly as much as we deserved to know whether Mr. Clinton had an affair.

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Todd Segal

Baltimore

Democracy is yet to come to Liberia

Greg Palast's column "Corpses at our doorstep" (Opinion

Commentary, July 25) indicates that "Liberia enjoyed a century and half of democracy and prosperity until 1980, when a low-ranking officer in the presidential guard, Samuel K. Doe, murdered the president, executed the nation's entire Cabinet and declared himself ruler."

But if democracy is truly a system built on social equality and individual rights, then Liberia has yet to experience that form of government.

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What we had in Liberia from the landing of America's freed slaves until 1980 is black apartheid in which those former slaves (Americo-Liberians) dehumanized the nation's majority (African-Liberians).

A small minority of resettled blacks created a colonial, caste-like relationship with the indigenous tribes, employing many of the tactics used by the British, French and other imperialists. The Americo-Liberians extended their jurisdiction over the tribal hinterland through military force, taxation, indirect rule and tight control over economic and religious contact with the outside world.

It was only after 99 years of Americo-Liberian political freedom from slavery that blojlu, or the rightful owners of the land, were cynically extended suffrage.

Mr. Doe's 1980 coup gave Liberia its first African-Liberian president after 133 years of Americo-Liberian subjugation. When Mr. Doe executed 13 former government functionaries, it was an indication of things to come. The Americos would take revenge. They would take Liberia at gunpoint again.

Charles Taylor's well-contrived insurrection of 1989 to 1997 was not intended to rid Liberians of Mr. Doe per se. It was crafted to restore the Americo-Liberian aristocracy.

And Mr. Taylor's gun-toting, crack-sniffing hooligans have since killed some 250,000 Liberians with impunity.

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Bodioh Wisseh Siapoe

Baltimore

The writer is national chairman of the Coalition of Progressive Liberians in the Americas.

Who will pay for Maryland's budget crisis?

The Marylanders who voted for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are pleased that he is firmly holding the line on taxes. That's one of the main reasons that he was elected.

It is no shock to those same people that The Sun has maintained its drumbeat for newer and greater taxes ("The limits of cutting," editorial, Aug. 1). Well, here are two ideas that could alleviate the situation.

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Most people would agree that a significant reason why Maryland is in the financial state it's in is the unsustainable spending and largess the Glendening-Townsend administration propagated. It did not seem to understand, or care, that its plans were too generous to be maintained in nearly any economic environment, never mind the challenging one in which we now live.

So, one way to help the situation is to look back at the state's budget when the economy was in a similar state and pare back expenditures to mimic those of that time.

The other solution could come from those generous folks who feel taxes are too low or not pervasive enough. Perhaps those folks, apparently including the editorial board of The Sun, should look at tax rates as a minimum anyone needs to pay.

Go ahead and feel free to send the government more money if you feel so strongly that it needs it.

I, for one, will stick with the minimum.

Gregg Lampf

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Owings Mills

It is troubling, in this time of fiscal upheaval, to find such a lack of vision in the governor's mansion. Yet Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is ignoring the wisdom of his election-year promise to spend less locking up nonviolent offenders and instead is putting scarce resources desperately needed for drug treatment and health care on the chopping block ("Impact of cuts worry officials," Aug. 1).

Maryland's billion-dollar prison system is where spending cuts should start. Addiction treatment, job development programs and education are proved to be less expensive and more effective than incarceration at reducing crime.

Our communities are suffering from addiction, unemployment, crumbling schools and poor health. Sons and daughters are following fathers and mothers into overcrowded prisons instead of institutions of learning. But the governor is cutting funds to the very programs - education, treatment and employment - that could help make our communities healthy and safe.

More than a dozen states across the country have responded to similar fiscal crises by implementing sound correctional policies that safely reduce the number of inmates and free up scarce revenues.

Texas' Republican governor last month signed a bill that mandates treatment rather than prison for first-time drug offenders. This will save the state more than $30 million over the next two years and extend treatment to more than 3,000 people who otherwise would have been locked up.

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Michigan repealed its mandatory minimum sentence laws and is saving $41 million over the next few years. Maryland could use $41 million right about now.

Mr. Ehrlich should get in line with many fellow Republican governors who are cutting corrections, not treatment, health care, jobs and schools.

Michael Blain

Washington

The writer is a Soros Fellow at the Justice Policy Institute.

Let's put the blame for the current budget crisis and woes where it belongs ("Governor has himself to blame for budget cuts," letters, Aug. 3).

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Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening created a structural deficit while he was in office, and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly allowed him to get away with doing so. Then to compound the situation, the economy started to decline in 1999, which created a shortfall in state income from income taxes and sales taxes.

This left Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. with a real crisis in balancing the budget. So naturally, balancing the state budget will now have a trickle-down effect on the counties and Baltimore City and force local governments to cut jobs and services.

This pain could have been softened during the 2003 Assembly, but House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, snatched slot machines at the racetracks from the governor in the session's final days.

Gerald Starr

Linthicum

I am curious to know when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will cease insisting that if a slots bill had passed in the General Assembly, Maryland's budget woes would have evaporated ("$208 million slashed from Md. budget," July 31).

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There is no conceivable way slots could have helped significantly this year. It would have taken weeks if not months to establish a gaming commission, develop policy, build facilities, etc. The only money that would have been available this year is licensing fees, and no one seems to know what those fees would have been.

For someone who said he was over the defeat of his slots legislation, Mr. Ehrlich seems to mention it a lot.

I almost wish the slots bill had passed. Then the governor would have nothing to blame his budget cuts on.

James E. Reaves

Baltimore

We appreciate the daunting challenge Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich faces in Maryland's budget ("$208 million slashed from Md. budget," July 31). Certainly, most citizens feel the pain of our state's financial crisis in some way. But the ones feeling the most pain are Maryland's poorest families, who are already struggling to get by on too few resources.

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Research demonstrates that child abuse and neglect are most prevalent among lower-income families. And last year, reports of child abuse and neglect went up 3 percent, rising for the second consecutive year.

As parents grow increasingly overwhelmed from trying to find work or wondering how they're going to feed their families or pay for a sick child's medicine, the potential for abuse and neglect goes up.

Cutting funds serving needy families and children may save the state money now, but we will definitely pay the price somewhere, sometime. Abused and neglected children are far more likely to have ongoing health problems, do poorly in school, abuse drugs and alcohol, become teen-age parents or turn to a life of crime.

The long-term cost of these human and social problems is enormous.

Tough decisions will be needed as we strive to balance Maryland's budget. But in the interest of strong and healthy communities as well as our state's financial stability, we must address the significant imbalance between what we invest on the front end to prevent child abuse and neglect and the inordinate amount we must pay as a consequence.

Until we do, we will continue reading about more children being harmed or neglected, more kids lost in the foster care system, and more children barely in their teen-age years committing violent crimes.

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Patricia K. Cronin

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Family Tree, a nonprofit group dedicated to strengthening families and preventing child abuse and neglect.


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