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Hogan's 'spring break' comments insulting to public, not legislators

Gov. Larry Hogan's comment on talk radio that compared the legislature to a bunch of kids on "spring break" and the made up story about people in Annapolis breaking beer bottles and furniture was obviously inappropriate. And it more than angered the 188 elected representatives of the people in the General Assembly — both Republicans and Democrats.

The governor is now saying he was just kidding and that everyone who was offended should learn how to take a joke. I take the governor at his word that he didn't mean what he said, but regardless of his intent, words matter when you are the head of our great state, and these words were particularly troubling. They were clearly insulting and showed a lack of knowledge or even intellectual curiosity about what goes on with the legislative branch of government.

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But let me be clear that the insult was not to the members of the House and Senate. We are all in politics, and part of our job has unfortunately become learning how to take a punch. The great insult was to the hundreds and thousands of Marylanders who spend their time coming to the legislature to make a difference in our state. Many of those citizens show great courage in the stories they share, and they deserve respect and admiration — not a cheap attempt to score political points.

Let me explain.

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The day before the governor declared the session just one big party, the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which I chair, had just had a very un-spring-break-like day. We heard from a victim of an apparent serial rapist from Baltimore City on an issue related to criminal procedure. The woman had been raped while her 7-year-old daughter was downstairs, and the perpetrator was not convicted; it was his fifth sexual assault case.

We heard from the prosecutor in the Sara Foxwell case, in which a young child was brutally raped, burned and murdered on the Eastern Shore. In the past weeks, we have heard from families of murder victims, victims of drunk driving and a woman who was stalked so badly that she had to leave the state out of fear for her children (our law was inadequate to protect her).

We have debated what to do about the growing number of heroin deaths and heard from families desperate to get treatment for their loved ones. Our committee has listened to victims of domestic violence and individuals on all sides of the criminal justice system intent on making needed changes to avoid future violence. In the coming weeks, our committee will hear issues related to end of life care, assisted suicide, drug treatment, divorce, criminal records, gun violence, the Baltimore City riots and the appropriate lines separating security and privacy.

This is anything but spring break.

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Now I know that the governor did not purposely insult these people who have courageously shared their painful stories with the legislature. The governor seems like a nice enough guy, and I have many friends who work for him. But when Mr. Hogan got on the radio and made that comment, that is unfortunately exactly what he did. Every day in Annapolis, citizens from all over our state travel to our capital to share their views and their concerns and often their deepest and most painful stories. And they do that to make a difference so that perhaps they can help prevent the next victim. And I am certain that none of these folks look at their important role in this process as somehow an extension of a Ft. Lauderdale spring vacation. I am certain the rape victim who courageously shared with us her deepest and darkest story did not think she was at a keg party. And the governor owes them an apology. It's that simple.

As my father always said when I was growing up, "This too shall pass." As is clear from the list of bills stated above, we have a lot of work to do this session on extremely important issues. And I welcome the input from the governor's office if they choose to get involved. The governor and the General Assembly both have important roles in making our laws work for the citizens of Maryland. And even in this new era of "Donald Trump politics" where the cheap Twitter insult unfortunately seems to have replaced good honest debate, the citizens deserve better.

And to the many citizens who participate and try to make a difference to our legislative process, please know that we value your input and your courage and your dedication, and we need you to continue to make a difference to move our state forward. That's why this unfortunate remark matters. The citizens need to continue to understand that their participation is valued by the legislature and by the governor — even when he's on talk radio.

Maryland Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. He represents District 11 in Baltimore County. His email is bobby.zirkin@senate.state.md.us.

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