Sunday, June 22, 2014

Opinion: OAG an Important Decision for Voters, Motorists

With Maryland primaries only days away those voters who are not bored by the process probably have their minds on who will get the governorship, maybe county council races, and a few hotly contested legislative districts.  But The Attorney General's position is one statewide office which can have a direct bearing on motorist.

The candidates in this year's democratic primary are Jon Cardin, Aisha Braveboy, and Brian Frosh.

Delegate Braveboy should be commended for having sponsored legislation to require audits of all local speed camera programs, in response to problems in the Town of Morningside.

Meanwhile, Delegate Jon Cardin  sponsored the most credible speed camera reform bill offered this year (other than actual repeal), and also supported calls for audits of speed cameras.  Basically Cardin's bill contained most of the things the Drivers Alliance had called for as being necessary to fix Maryland's broken speed camera law... and we note that it was not written at our request.  Not only would it have "ended the bounty system" *for real*, but it was the only bill submitted which included a requirement for a means to identify errors (and thus exonerate innocent drivers), as well as being the only bill containing an actual enforcement mechanism for it's provisions.  Cardin also supported calls for audits of speed camera programs.

It's no surprise that local governments which profit from speed cameras and Maryland's political establishment would have none of Cardin's bill.  It might actually have been effective at reforming the system, and "fairness to motorists" might have been unprofitable.  So at the demand of local governments which profit from speed cameras and of the Maryland DOT, the House Committee killed Braveboy's audit bill and Cardin's reform measure in place of  "reform in name only" legislation -- -a bill which Montgomery County's speed camera program basically wrote to encode existing practices into law for years to come --- and tried to pass it off as "reform" in an election year.

Senator Frosh, while occasionally claiming to be concerned about the matter, largely sat the issue out in the legislature.  Indeed, when the Maryland Drivers Alliance gave testimony this year on a bill sponsored by senator Brochin, Frosh had already left the room.  Apparently listening to complaints about speed cameras was beneath him.  We have also observed Frosh providing what we might describe as "smug, self-righteous responses" to testimony about the problems with Maryland's speed camera law.  Our observation has been that Frosh is a loyal servant of Montgomery County's political establishment, and he has touted a long list of endorsements by those who hold power in the state legislature and the current administration.

The winner of the democratic primary will face off against the republican candidate Jeffrey Pritzker.  Pritzer has no voting record to judge by, but did demonstrate a concern for motorists by writing about the gas tax on his website: "Another tax "phased in" so that the General Assembly only has to vote once."..."I propose that every fuel pump contain an easily readable disclosure indicating how much taxes we pay for every gallon."

A libertarian candidate, Leo Dymowski, is also running.  Dymowski has stated "I vigorously oppose the use of speed cameras and will use the Attorney General's office to closely monitor any abuses as I work to abolish them".

Given that democrats hold a 2-1 party registration advantage over republicans, the democratic nominee will be the overwhelming favorite to win in November.  So the question motorists should ask themselves now is, which of the candidates has been a friend to motorists, and which has been more of a hindrance?

But why does this matter?  Well because our CURRENT OAG has been one of the biggest obstacles to motorists who had issues with Maryland's broken speed camera law.  Some of the "accomplishments" of the Office of Attorney General under Doug Gansler's tenure include:
The OAG also has a role in government transparency, and is responsible for maintaining the state's manual on the Maryland Public Information Act(MPIA).  Despite this, under Gansler the OAG turned a blind eye to obstructions of the MPIA by several local governments across the state when the Maryland Drivers Alliance complained to them.  Indeed the OAG itself, under Gansler, has been criticized for a lack of transparency in at least one case.

The point is, the OAG race matters, and there are significant differences between the candidates.  If we end up with another OAG who won't investigate violation's of Maryland's open government laws, who always defends the interests of the government over those of the driving public, and won't investigate charges of misconduct of abuses of the law by local governments, where will that leave motorists the next time the interests of the state come into conflict with the interests of drivers?  Of all the offices in the state, this is the one where you want someone who is independent minded and is more interested in the rights of the people than the wishes of the political establishment in Annapolis.

Voters in Tuesday's primary will need to decide for themselves whether they are concerned about this, and Frosh and Cardin are currently very close in the polls.  We highly doubt that the candidate who those in power in Annapolis have picked (Frosh) will represent the interests of motorists if they come into conflict with the wishes of the political establishment.