Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012: Not for the Faint of Heart

The confetti from New Year’s Eve has long been swept up, and as we open our new 2012 calendars—the ones that charities routinely send us—we notice that each month contains a majestic photo of an exquisite landscape from around the U.S. It’s nice but the political landscape nationally and here in Maryland promises to be anything but serene and beautiful. Rather we should brace ourselves because calendar year 2012 is going to be ugly.

Bruising Presidential Campaign

We are less than ten months away from either re-electing Barack Obama or we will decide that his opponent should reside in the White House for the next four years. And that opponent, barring a miracle, will be Mitt Romney.

Based on the tried and true fundamentals; i.e. ability to raise money, organization and name recognition, needed to carry out such a campaign, it would be a major surprise if anyone but Mitt Romney emerges as Obama’s foe. Assuming no credible third party candidate surfaces leaving the stage to the two principals, this campaign will be tantamount to extreme cage fighting.

The Republican faithful will hold their noses and nominate the former Massachusetts governor. His strength: the myth that he fostered that he is the only candidate who is “electable” against Obama whom the GOP loathes.

Whether he possesses sufficient true conservative values or not, Romney is the darling of the so-called establishment. And as the Tea Party’s influence wanes, the establishment should win out. The ultimate motivation will be to defeat Obama, and Republican dogma may have to take a back seat. But in an effort to shore up his conservative bona fides, expect more anti-LGBT salvos from Romney especially his desire for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that opens the door to unlimited campaign contributions that can be made to Political Action Committees (PAC), both opponents will have the cash to slug it out big time. Contributors to these PACs can remain anonymous and they will be completely legal if the PACs do not coordinate with the official campaign. We witnessed the effects of PAC money when Romney’s PAC obliterated his one-time feared opponent, Newt Gingrich in Iowa.

For his part, Obama has the resources (including PACs) to counter Romney and the assaults from his PACs. Team Obama has already made it clear that they want this election to be a choice between two candidates and not a referendum of the past four years. In other words, they will surely run a negative campaign against the presumed nominee, Romney. And if history has taught us anything, the Republicans will stop at nothing to use smear and fear to win elections.

The back-and-forth will be strident and personal, so get used to the muck.

Do or Die in Annapolis

As scenic as Annapolis is as a city, the 430th Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly that had just begun promises to be unsightly. While the state’s budget deficit will highlight the session, marriage equality and gender identity protections will be on the docket.

Marriage equality advocates were short by a couple of votes in the House of Delegates last year following passage in the Senate. A new organization—Marylanders for Marriage Equality—is going to lead the fight this time around. It is comprised of the ACLU of Maryland, Human Rights Campaign, Progressive Maryland, SEIU 1199, NAACP — Baltimore Chapter, National Black Justice Coalition, Family Equality Council, PFLAG, Jewish Community Relations Council, Maryland Faith for Equality, Maryland NOW, Catholics for Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

The coalition is building a statewide grassroots organization—which includes weekly phone banks, post card drops, and letter-writing campaigns—to ensure state legislators hear from their constituents.

In addition, they have produced videos consisting of elected officials and entertainers in an attempt to win over Marylanders to pressure lawmakers to pass the bill and to hold off a guaranteed referendum battle should the bill pass and be signed into law. And they have the support of Governor O’Malley who made passage a legislative priority and promised to be more visible during the debate.

Should the bill be petitioned to referendum, the ongoing battle will be discordant and emotional. Will Marylanders for Marriage Equality come up with enough resources to fend it off? That’s the multi-million dollar question.

It is almost do or die, however, for the coalition to come through this session. In no way would the issue of same-sex marriage be taken up next year in the legislature or in 2014 as lawmakers are loathe to run with a hot button issue such as this on a ballot. Should the law pass this year and the referendum to defeat it holds up, it would require a court action, such as what’s happening on California’s Prop 8 situation, to overturn the referendum results. And there would be a lot of finger-pointing as well.

The gender identity non-discrimination bill will also cause a stir in the legislature. It passed the House last session but because of maneuvering by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, it failed to come up for a vote in the Senate. Last time, “public accommodations” were struck from the language to improve its chances of passage. This time it is expected to be included.

But if a “public accommodations” provision is stripped as was the case last year and more recently in Massachusetts, some in the local transgender community will oppose the bill—a controversy that will also contribute to the foul political climate. In 2011 transgender activists were up in arms over the stripped provision banning discrimination against transgender persons in the area of public accommodations and made that opposition clear to lawmakers.

Nonetheless, like marriage equality, the gender identity measure has some momentum behind it. The worldwide video of a beating of a trans-woman in a local McDonalds underscored the need for legal protections for transgender individuals. Moreover, a legislative victory in Howard County recently occurred, which joined Baltimore City and Montgomery County as jurisdictions that have comprehensive protections in place. An additional jurisdiction in Maryland is poised to enact similar protections. These should help gain a statewide law.

With the Dream Act and the Marriage bill expected to be on the 2012 ballot, it is questionable if opponents of gender identity protections will follow that route. Regardless, advocates, who are led by a new organization, Gender Rights Maryland, must be ready for the potential onslaught.

Whether it is the national presidential campaign or the expected battles in Maryland, the landscape will not be like those portrayed on calendars.

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