As grass-roots political activism continues to spread across Maryland and the nation, local constituents are eager to speak directly to their legislators about issues. In an effort to support its local community, WISE, a bipartisan women’s group with more than 500 members, sponsored a public town hall on May 15, after the close of the state legislative session.
It featured all District 33 representatives. Sen. Edward Reilly and Dels. Michael Malone, Tony McConkey and Sid Saab spoke on the issues and addressed questions asked by participants. Over 300 attended and another 300 watched a live-stream on Facebook. Sen. Reilly noted in his opening remarks that it was the largest town hall he had addressed in his political career.
This highlights the disconnect between voting and public involvement with what happens in subsequent legislative sessions. Why is this? Where were groups like WISE before last year’s election? How did WISE mobilize so many people so quickly?
The answer is that most of us were asleep and not engaging in our political environment. WISE represents the awakening of the general public prompted by the Trump administration’s rise to power. It intends to closely watch all our local, state and federal elected officials to ensure their accountability to constituents.
Despite the current divisive political climate, WISE remains issues-based and grounded in facts. It believes that in addition to its efforts on advocacy, education, training, lobbying and networking, a town hall was necessary to fully engage with District 33 representatives.
The “rules of engagement” set by the WISE Steering Committee ensured that the town hall remained productive and respectful, reflecting our organizational principles. Red thumbs-down and green thumbs-up cards were distributed to encourage the sharing of opinions while preventing disruption of the discussion.
WISE was pleased to host members of other local politically active groups at the town hall. These included Anne Arundel County Indivisible, Annapolis Indivisible, Action Annapolis, Anne Arundel Huddle Network, the Severna Park Women’s Republican Club and the Maryland Federation of Republican Women.
Also, WISE released its 2017 Maryland Legislative Session Scorecard for District 33, summarizing how the representatives voted on priority issues. The report is accessible here. During the town hall, the representatives were questioned about their votes on some issues listed on the scorecard.
All four voted against a bill to ban guns on college campuses. Sen. Reilly was one of only six senators to vote against another bipartisan bill, closing a loophole allowing people convicted of domestic abuse to keep their guns, because, he said, “Under the proposed bill, the moment you are convicted, if you own a gun you are going to jail again for a gun violation … My position is that the existing law was sufficient that gave you two days, so that when you were convicted you could go home … I am comfortable with today’s law.”
Most in the audience blanketed the room with red thumbs-down cards.
The representatives were questioned about their low ratings on environmental issues by the League of Conservation Voters. Sen. Reilly was thanked for his vote for a permanent ban on fracking in Maryland. Dels. Saab, McConkey and Malone were asked to explain why they voted against that ban. Alarming most of the audience, Del. McConkey said he did not believe there was sufficient scientific proof of climate change.
What issues are important to you? WISE hopes to keep changing history by building on the success of this event. We will continue to demand integrity from our politicians. The town hall reconfirmed our commitment to inclusion, tolerance and fairness as we support each other to make our voices heard.
As we do so, we hope to educate others, encourage them to get involved on issues important to them and influence our nation’s narrative over the next four years.
Jessica Gorski is the communications director for WISE.