by Moira Buttner-Schnirer May 17, 2017
A progressive political group from Severna Park called WISE (Women Indivisible Strong Effective) sponsored a District 33 Town Hall on May 15 at 7:00 p.m., which was very well attended, with over 300 people in attendance and an additional 300 watching on the Arundel Patriot Facebook Livestream. An impressed Senator Ed Reilly told the audience, “After every legislative session, we have a chance to be invited out to groups. Sometimes, we will get groups of 30 or 50. Never have I had, in my 15 years, the opportunity to talk to so many people at one time.”About 300 turned out for the WISE town hall, the largest group of constituents that Senator Ed Reilly said he’d spoken to post-session in his 15-year political career.
Senator Reilly and Delegates Michael Malone, Tony McConkey and Sid Saab started the evening off by giving participants a two-minute introductory statement. (County Executive Steve Schuh was a no-show but organizers kept a chair up front just in case he decided to show). Participants from the audience, including members of WISE’s Issues-Based Huddles, then asked the representatives questions about their voting records and their positions on several issues of interest. WISE launched an Annual Report – a type of Congressional Scorecard for District 33, supporting the need for more information-based exchange with elected representatives.
There were a few interesting revelations, as well as some unsurprising confirmations of the representatives’ positions.
- Malone: “My wife was a plaintiff in that lawsuit (for redrawing the district lines).”
- Malone’s take on what the districts currently look like: “Prostrate pterodactyl lying upside down on a billiard table.”
On Environmental Issues:
- When asked about efforts to address climate change, Senator Reilly faced the crowd and asked, “Is there anyone in the room, Republican, Democrat, independent or Green Party who doesn’t think we have a climate problem?”. (A handful of the audience raises their hand). Baffled, Reilly said, “You don’t? Go visit Alaska. Go visit the places that are adversely affected. Now, we represent 1.5% of the ….would it be better to put a ban on carbon in Maryland or to restore the Amazon jungle…would it be better to ban things in Maryland or to correct things in India, or Indonesia or China.”
- Reilly: “We as a society use too much energy… all of those who are raising our red cards, let’s go home and make sure we take care of our own house before we start imposing things by mandate on others.”
- Reilly on alternative energy: “It is my opinion that the natural markets should take care of this. If we as a society think this is important, government shouldn’t impose it on others.”
- Malone: “I do have solar panels on my roof. So I have put my own coin in that issue.”
- Saab: “I would have supported a moratorium (on fracking), bans are forever.” If you are anti-fossil fuel, go home and turn your electricity off. (Audience says: No) It doesn’t work that way.”
- McConkey: “I’m sorry. I don’t think the science is definite yet. (Audience boos.) We talk about 12 feet by the end of the century, but to date there has been negligible change…I’m not convinced, I’m sorry.”
On Immigration Issues:
All four representatives referred to the Trust Act as a Sanctuary bill that was directed at getting serious criminals out of the country.
On Firearm Safety:
- McConkey: “One of the things that was really bad about this bill was that it created a strict liability crime for anybody who was found on property belonging to any university or college, it would say you would go to jail for three years if you were accidentally found on that property with a handgun, with a firearm….our universities and colleges own property all over the state….if you are up at Arundel Mills, and you have the legal right to conceal and carry, but you park in the parking lot of Anne Arundel College, you are going to the movie, but you park in the parking lot, this would say you can go to jail for three years. That was ridiculous.”
- Reilly: “Many times a bill changes existing law. The existing law today says if you are a domestic abuser you have to turn in your guns. Period. End of Story. The question is how quickly do you have to get your weapon to the police station. Under the proposed bill, the moment you are convicted, if you own a gun you are going to jail again for a gun violation. Does that make sense? (Audience says: YES) My position is that the existing law was sufficient that gave you two days, so that when you were convicted you could go home (Audience says: SHOOT YOUR WIFE)…That’s the law today. This would have changed it. I am comfortable with today’s law.”
On Net Neutrality:
- McConkey: “I am not really that familiar… I am not educated on that issue.”
- Malone: “Conceptually, I am intrigued by the idea of net neutrality and candidly most of my knowledge comes from my 22-year old, not from myself.”
- Saab: “I don’t really have an answer, I want to understand the issue a little bit more.”
- Reilly: “None of the bills I ever saw had anything to do with net neutrality and if I really needed to know the answer I would find someone under 25 who really understood the question.”
On Getting Bills Out of Committee:
A number of the delegates suggested they were almost powerless:
- Malone: “Candidly, it is the Democratic leadership that hinders bills coming out of committee with great frequency.”
- Saab: “Nothing I can do to get it out of committee.”
- Reilly: “We are the tail of the dog. We don’t have much say in passing or failing a bill.”
On Funding Their Campaigns and the Presence of PACs:
- Reilly: “I’m not quite sure that people shouldn’t be able to vote with their checkbooks. I don’t know what it serves to cut them (businesses) out of the process.”
Senator Reilly, when asked, said he was a big supporter of public education and, while he does endorse Michael Peroutka, finding him a “constructive” presence in the County Council, he does not share his position on public education.
On Financial Disclosure:
The three delegates, when asked, said they would not support legislation that sought financial disclosure of tax information for all candidates on the ballot in Maryland. Senator Reilly said he would.
The evening was characterized by a cordial exchange which delved deeply into a number of issues. Participants were encouraged to share their agreement or disagreement with green and red “thumbs up and thumbs down” signs, allowing the debate to continue while recognizing strong differences of opinion within the audience and between the audience and the representatives on several issues including a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions, something all four representatives said the were ardently against.
The WISE women who hosted the event, proposed some basic rules of engagement for the evening, and underlined the need for all participants to set a tone consistent with WISE’s organizational principles of inclusion, diversity, respect and evidence-based debate. In doing so, Arundel Patriot photo editor Peter Cane suggested they had set “a new gold standard,” in the County for such meetings. WISE announced its intention to support more information exchanges with elected officials, including a WISE Candidate’s Commitments Template in the run up to the 2018 elections.
Moira Buttner-Schnirer is Canadian and now permanently resides in Severna Park with her family. She works in International Development.