Saying the Maryland General Assembly has swung too far to the left, Republican leaders called on Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday to veto four bills if they get to his desk, including measures that would provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants and voting rights to felons.
The House of Delegates GOP caucus, outnumbered in the legislature and now without the support of a Republican governor, sought yesterday to remind voters that there is an alternative to what they see as a liberal agenda being pursued by the Democrats.
"We hear in our communities, 'What are they doing down there?'" said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the minority leader from Southern Maryland. "They're giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants? Accelerating parole to repeat drug offenders? Giving the right to vote to offenders, including those who have committed treason against the United States? Giving Maryland's electoral votes to a candidate who was not supported by the majority of Marylanders?"
Republicans saw their influence in Annapolis soar during the administration of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the GOP's first governor in a generation.
They have kept a relatively low profile this year in an attempt to pick battles they believe will resonate with the public rather than trying to object to everything the Democratic governor and legislature do.
House Republicans said their interests have not been totally ignored this year, pointing to victories this year on several issues, notably tougher restrictions on sex offenders. O'Malley has pledged to sign the bills, including "Jessica's Law," a measure to deny parole to certain sex offenders.
But that success apparently won't be replicated on the four bills the Republicans asked O'Malley to veto.
"The governor is on record supporting those initiatives," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.
On a proposal to provide tuition for illegal immigrants, O'Malley has said it is a waste for the state to pay for the K-12 education of the children of illegal immigrants - which is required by law - and then deny them the chance to fulfill their potential. He supports restoring voting rights for felons who've completed their sentences so that these individuals can fully re-integrate into society, and backs possible parole for second-time drug offenders so that the system has more flexibility than mandatory minimum sentences allow.
And he has said that signing on to an interstate compact to award electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote would ensure that the votes of people in every state count equally.
Two of the bills - the measure to circumvent the electoral college if enough states agree and felon voting rights - have passed the Senate. But the other two - in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and parole for second-time drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences - have not. Their fate in the Senate is still unclear.
Republicans said they think Democratic lawmakers are misreading the results of the 2006 election. The state faces serious problems, most notably a projected budget shortfall of more than $1.3 billion next year, but the legislature and governor have chosen to back initiatives that are anathema to a large portion of the state, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, the House minority whip from Western Maryland.
"Clearly, our constituents feel something is out of whack when we're facing a massive structural deficit ... and the General Assembly is concerned with restoring the voting rights of violent offenders," Shank said.
The strongest push Republicans in the House and Senate made this year came during debates over O'Malley's $30 billion budget plan. Republicans in both chambers advocated plans to aggressively cut the budget that takes effect on July 1 to avoid larger problems - and likely tax increases - in the future.
Del. Steven R. Schuh, an Anne Arundel County Republican who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said the Republicans' plan would have eliminated the state's budget problems within two years without resorting to tax increases. All the state needed to do was to eliminate the increases in spending O'Malley proposed this year, he said.
Democrats easily defeated the proposal, even winning the votes of a few Republicans in the House. The House GOP plan would have cut millions from the money budgeted for K-12 education, the University System of Maryland, community colleges, stem cell research and other popular programs.
Republicans said that despite their disapproval of the direction of the legislature, they believe they can play a role in shaping policy, particularly if moderate Democrats assert themselves. If they don't, Republican leaders said, they will be ready to make their case in the next election.
"Maryland isn't a liberal state. Maryland is a moderate state," Shank said. "If this trend toward left-wing legislation continues, I think Maryland voters will hold them accountable in 2010."
the four bills
Republican delegates called on Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday to veto four bills passed by the General Assembly. They would:
Grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who graduated from state high schools and whose parents pay taxes in the state.
Allow parole for second-time drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences.
Extend voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.
Award Maryland's electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote if enough other states agree to do the same.