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State senator to Maryland governor: ‘Stop polling and start leading’ regarding crime plan | COMMENTARY

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks to reporters during a State House news conference where he admonished lawmakers for not passing his crime bills, and also said he's opposed to expanding the sales tax to apply to services.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks to reporters during a State House news conference where he admonished lawmakers for not passing his crime bills, and also said he's opposed to expanding the sales tax to apply to services.(PAMELA WOOD/Baltimore Sun)

Last week the governor of the state of Maryland called on me to step down from my position as the chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee because the committee has not passed a portion of his legislative package, which would have created new draconian mandatory minimums and taken discretion away from prosecutors and judges.

Gov. Larry Hogan referenced recent polling data 11 times during a 12-minute statement to the press in which he continued his push for new mandatory minimums.

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The governor needs to stop polling and start leading. Real leadership requires tough work and dedication to understanding the problems before us, not bumper-sticker, poll-driven hyperbole.

A leader who relies so heavily on polling data abdicates his responsibility to the people of our great state by neglecting to sift through the nuance and complexities of the issues that face us. And yet that is the approach the governor has chosen to pursue.

Using polling data, Gov. Hogan developed his crime package in isolation and has yet to solicit input from a single member of the Baltimore City Council, Mayor Jack Young or the city’s delegation in Annapolis. The governor also did not collaborate with the presiding officers of the Senate or the House in preparing his proposals.

In essence, the governor has not solicited the experience and expertise of the people closest to the very set of problems he claims to want to solve. The governorship is imbued with an unparalleled ability to convene. If the governor were interested in solving the problems that ail Baltimore City and Maryland at large, he would have called upon experts and leaders from across the state and the country to develop a real strategy. Instead he enlisted the help of a pollster.

I find the hubris the governor has displayed in his approach to these issues paternalistic and completely objectionable. His calls for me to step down from my post because I have a fundamental disagreement on the merits of his proposal for new mandatory minimums are equally objectionable. Over-reliance on polling data may allow you to reap immediate political benefits, but the problems we are dealing with require a much more sophisticated and collaborative approach.

I understand the exigency of the situation, and the Judicial Proceedings Committee will take action this session to address crime — action that is evidence-based and will result in real sustained progress. That’s why I invited the governor to come to our committee to discuss his proposals. As of now he has provided no evidence that mandatory minimum sentencing laws improve public safety. If he has the data, then he should provide it. We are open to hearing what he has to say.

Should the governor take the time to communicate with members of the legislature, I think he might find we can work together on several measures proven to reduce crime, such as preventing witness intimidation, increasing the number of prosecutors, attacking organized crime, ensuring judicial and police transparency, making it easier for law enforcement to collaborate and supporting community-driven crime prevention programs to name a few. In fact, our committee has worked meticulously on several of these crime fighting initiatives, and we will likely take action on them in the coming days and weeks.

If we are going to solve the problems that ail Baltimore City and the rest of the state, we have to work together. I’m not stepping aside — I’m stepping up, and my door is always open.

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William C. Smith Jr. (will@willsmithformaryland.com) is chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee of the Maryland State Senate.

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