by Steve Charing
Maryland's legislative District 9A covers northern Howard County with numerous leafy neighborhoods and small businesses. Over 63,000 registered voters live in the district that includes Ellicott City. These voters are just about evenly split between the two parties with a fifth identifying themselves as Independents.
This used to be a Republican stronghold, but there have been changes in political leanings as new housing developments and jobs in the region have attracted younger professionals from the urban areas of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. who may hold a more progressive mindset.
As a result of this shift in demographics, there is a better chance now to unseat the two Republicans, Gail Bates and Warren Miller, than would have been thought possible only a few years ago.
As first-time candidates, business owner Jon Weinstein and Maryann Maher (pictured), a consultant with expertise in computer science, are challenging the two delegates in what has been described by most political pundits as an anti-incumbent election cycle. Still, it's always an uphill climb when trying to unseat incumbents, largely because of the name recognition that incumbency brings. In local elections, most voters don't focus on the issues as much as the identities and party affiliations of the candidates.
Bates has been in the legislature since 2002, and Miller has served since 2003. Both were appointed by then Governor Robert Ehrlich. They share conservative economic and social beliefs and are in lock-step in trying to thwart Governor Martin O'Malley's agenda.
They are also opponents of full LGBT equality.
Both Bates and Miller have joined forces with other far right wing legislative colleagues, such as Delegate Donald H. Dwyer, Jr., in attempting to pass, so far unsuccessfully, a constitutional amendment that would define marriage in Maryland as a union between a man and a woman.
Demonstrating that they do not possess even a semblance of open-mindedness concerning LGBT issues, neither Bates nor Miller allowed themselves to be available during "Lobby Day"—an annual effort to educate and perhaps influence legislators to embrace a more pro-LGBT point of view or to firm up existing support. LGBT folks and allies who are their constituents in 9A have tried to no avail to meet with Bates and Miller on these occasions. It was a basic snub of their constituents.
Moreover, several years ago, there was a hearing that took place at a Howard County Government building whereby constituents were permitted to testify for or against any proposed bill that may appear before the General Assembly. A sizable contingent from the Howard County chapter of PFLAG spoke on behalf of marriage equality for same-sex couples before the Howard County legislative delegation, which included Gail Bates.
One after another testified—perhaps a dozen or more—and not once did Gail Bates even extend the courtesy of providing eye contact with the speaker. Instead, her head was bowed as if she was praying, and her body language suggested that sitting in a burning car would have been a better place to be at the time.
Their legislative record confirms their repulsion towards LGBT people. In the 2009 General Assembly, Miller received a score of 0 out of 100 from Equality Maryland. Bates' score was a mere 5 out of 100.
In stark contrast, both Weinstein and Maher met with a variety of LGBT groups and attended their events. Both have been endorsed by Equality Maryland in the 2010 elections.
"Marriage equality to me is simply a matter of fairness, justice, and liberty," Maryann Maher told Baltimore OUTloud. "I know it will come one day and I would like to do my part, as a mother, citizen, and legislator, to make that happen sooner rather than later."
Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who has been a strong advocate for marriage equality and became more visible following his issuance of an opinion in February that stated that Maryland should recognize the valid marriages of same-sex couples performed in other locales, endorsed Jon Weinstein at a fundraiser several weeks ago.
Following the event in Columbia, the Baltimore Sun reported, "Gansler praised Weinstein as a 'former Republican' who has seen the light and become a 'pro-business, moderate, centrist Democrat who believes gay people should be able to get married.'"
Weinstein has been painting both Bates and Miller as Tea Partiers, and, as such, out of mainstream with the district's voters. He pounced on a published photograph that showed Miller at a Tea Party event last year wearing a t-shirt that read, "I'll keep my guns, freedom, and money. You can keep the change." Miller was also seen in the photo holding a sign that read, "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire," presumably a swipe at President Obama.
This was brought up at a recent candidates' forum in Ellicott City. He responded by suggesting it was nothing more than "political hyperbole," which many voters think there should be less of and instead, more solutions to problems.
Weinstein feels his stance on equal rights is more suitable for the constituents of District 9A. "I believe that equality for the LGBT community is a matter of human rights," he stated. "Unlike my opponents who regularly seek to deny people their rights, I will work with people from the LGBT community in my district and around the state to find a path to full equality."
Both Jon Weinstein and Maryann Maher are seeking support from the LGBT community to help unseat Bates and Miller. Both can use donations as well as volunteer time. To help out, you may visit www.Vote4Jon.com and www.maryannmaher.com.