09.27.10 O’Malley: What’s a Progressive to Do?

In my voter guide for the recent primary election, I urged abstention in the Democratic race for governor, while grudgingly accepting the need to support Governor Martin O’Malley’s reelection bid in November. Until a few days ago, I felt extremely torn about what I would do.  Sure I knew I would hold my nose and vote for the incumbent against GOP former governor Robert Ehrlich, but could I actually bring myself to demonstrate publicly my support for this disappointing centrist?  Could I get out an campaign for him?

Over the past few days, I’ve had this conversation with some of my friends and political allies.  And, lo and behold, I surprised myself by taking a stronger pro-O’Malley stand than some of them. Everyone seems to agree that Ehrlich must be stopped, but they were going into contortions to avoid the “E” word (“endorse”).  The consensus seemed to me: we’ve got to do whatever it takes to put O’Malley over the top; we’ll “support” him, but not “endorse” him.

Of course, this is a semantic argument.  According to my dictionary, the two words’ meanings are nearly identical.  So, what difference does it make what you call it, as long as you’re out knocking on doors and making phone calls on the candidate’s behalf?

As for me, the ambivalence is gone for two reasons:

  1. A trip down memory lane to revisit Ehrlich’s record as governor 2002-2006, and
  2. The abysmal primary election turnout in Montgomery County.

The record. How intently do we need to peer into the past to recollect Ehrlich’s hostility to public education, progressive taxation, the environment, and public transportation? Do we need to pull out old newspapers to be reminded about the sorry budgetary state Ehrlich left Maryland in? The year 2006 isn’t that long ago — it shouldn’t take much to jog any progressive’s mind: the Ehrlich era is one we don’t want to return to.

The turnout. Maryland has a reputation as a solid blue state.  But that blue comes from only three places: MoCo, Prince George’s, and Baltimore City.  The rest of the state is pink to deep red.  If Montgomery County’s Democrats decide not to show up in November, Ehrlich wins, pure and simple.

The record reminds us clearly what the consequences of inaction are.  The turnout is both frightening and empowering.  The silver lining within that gloomy cloud is the huge room for improvement that awaits our collective grasp.  Turnout couldn’t possibly go any lower (could it?!), meaning that Montgomery County progressives (and Democrats, in general) are in a proverbial target-rich environment. We don’t need bloodhounds to locate potential voters who didn’t bother on September 14.  If activists focus on voter registration and turnout in our ever-so-blue county, the votes produced will go our way.

So, that’s what we must do. We don’t have to love the governor in our hearts to set about making sure his opponent keeps lobbying (as opposed to governing) for the next four years.  All we need is to believe in the franchise and the importance of fulfilling it.  Armed with that belief, each of us can make a significant difference between now and November 2 and we can do so right where we live.

©2010 Keith Berner

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