Some Republicans are calling out a Democratic state senator, saying he compared Gov. Larry Hogan’s order to start school after Labor Day to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who blocked black students from attending public schools in the 1960s.
As the Maryland Senate debated Friday a bill to return control of school calendars to local school boards, state Sen. Paul Pinsky argued that one person — Maryland’s governor — should not be allowed make a decision on behalf of students statewide.
“No one individual, ladies and gentlemen, no one individual, even if they are armed with an executive order, should have the right to stand on the schoolhouse steps and say: ‘Students, you can’t enter here before Labor Day,’” said Pinsky, a Prince George’s Democrat. “No one individual should be able to stand on the schoolhouse steps, if they're armed with an executive order, scribbled with a signature, and say: ‘June 15, you've got to get out of the school.’”
To Republican Sen. Bob Cassilly of Harford County, Pinsky’s works evoked images of Wallace.
During his 1962 campaign, the Alabama Democrat promised that “As your governor, I shall resist any illegal federal court order, even to the point of standing at the schoolhouse door in person, if necessary.” In June 1963, he physically stood in the doorway of an auditorium at the University of Alabama to block the enrollment of black students. That fall, Wallace fought the integration of elementary schools.
“The picture he was painting was to suggest that Governor Hogan’s statement on the issue was akin to a governor standing … as a bigot and denying young, black children an education,” Cassilly told the chamber.
“I think it is utterly outrageous and I think he ought to apologize to this body and to the governor.”
Cassilly’s remarks received no response from Pinsky or any other senators.
In an interview later, Pinsky said he had nothing to apologize for.
“If the senator conjures something in his head, so be it,” Pinsky said.
Pinsky said he believes Hogan “was, in effect, blocking students’ ability to attend schools” even though school boards want children in class either before Labor Day or after June 15, the dates required under Hogan’s 2016 executive order. The governor has said longer summer holiday gives families more time together, generates more revenue for the tourism industry and helps keep students out of classrooms that lack air conditioning.
Pinsky sees the matter as a social justice issue.
“I’m not going to admit to anything beyond that,” he said.
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said Pinsky’s comments are an example of why some people are “disgusted with politics.”
“If you can’t have a conversation about school start dates without referring to the other person as an historical racist, then you are part of the problem,” Chasse said in a statement. “Marylanders have made it clear they want more debate and discussion and less divisiveness and demagoguery — the senator should pay attention.”
Pinsky said he was frustrated by debate Thursday and Friday over his bill, which would undo Hogan’s executive order.
Republican Sen. Johnny Ray Salling of Baltimore County introduced Thursday an amendment to the bill that would have required schools to observe a Harriett Tubman Day.
Pinsky said that maneuver forced members of the Senate who fought for civil rights to cast a vote against an African-American hero.
“I don’t want to fight like this,” Pinsky said. “I want to go on to other things. But it’s gotten complicated and ugly.”
A final vote is planned for Tuesday and the bill is expected to pass. It will then move to the House of Delegates for consideration.
If the bill passes, Hogan said he would support a referendum effort to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide. He also pledged to introduce his own bill requiring any county that wants to start school before Labor Day to put that on the ballot, as well.