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Amber Taylor, ACLU of Maryland, 410.889.8555, taylor@aclu-md.org

April 18, 2019

Coalition Promotes Candidate Questionnaire on Good Governance, Inclusivity Issues

ANNAPOLIS, MD – To ensure commitment to government transparency and inclusivity, a coalition of advocates, social justice organizations, and community leaders from a broad spectrum of issue areas have joined together to issue a candidate questionnaire for State Delegates interested in becoming the next Speaker of the Maryland House. The goal of the groups’ questionnaire is to make known to Maryland residents how the candidates plan to govern our state’s legislative process.  The questionnaire focuses on three important good governance principles—transparency, accessibility, and decentralization of power. Maryland legislators will hold a special session to select a new Speaker of the House.

“We need to know where House Speaker candidates stand on good governance issues, because they will shape the direction of the State for decades to come,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. “Marylanders deserve and rightly demand that legislators demystify the political process and allow for greater civic engagement. Moreover, decentralization of power, diversity, and inclusion affords our communities more robust and representative debate on important issues.”

The candidate questionnaire addresses a host of good governance principles, chief among which is accessibility, which serves as a valuable tool for ensuring civic participation and governmental accountability. Many Marylanders who are eager to engage in our civic processes are currently unable to do so because of existing structural and technological barriers. Many people cannot afford time away from work to travel to Annapolis and spend the day, and for some Marylanders with mobility challenges, physical presence to observe meetings and voting sessions is simply not practical.

“Informed citizenship is essential for a strong democracy. Witnessing the decision-making process of the General Assembly should not be a privilege only for those Marylanders able to make it to Annapolis at any given moment,” said Joanne Antoine, Manager of State Outreach & Engagement at Common Cause MD. “The incoming Speaker should continue seeking ways to utilize technology that will increase transparency and access to our government as well as follow through on leaderships’ commitment to begin live-streaming House floor sessions by next year.”

The second principle addressed by the candidate questionnaire is transparency. It should be easy for Marylanders to know what is in a bill and how their state legislators voted. Yet, Marylanders have noticed the deeply troubling trend of multiple pieces of legislation—often unrelated and even with opposing intent—being combined into a single bill. Language from failed or failing bills is often amended onto other bills likely to pass, either in committee or on the floor. As a result, each provision of the resultant bill is not voted on individually and Marylanders are blocked from knowing which provisions are supported or opposed by their state elected leaders.

“Elected leaders must be accountable to their constituents,” said Ricarra Jones, Political Director of 1199SEIU. “The next speaker has an incredible opportunity to improve transparency to achieve that goal. Marylanders deserve a government that is open, honest, accessible and committed to advancing racial and social justice.”

The third principle addressed by the questionnaire relates to decentralization of power. Some delegates occupy multiple positions of power, which concentrates legislative power and influence in the hands of these few legislators and ultimately harms Marylanders whose representatives have not occupied leadership roles.  This dynamic is exacerbated by the lengthy terms for which individuals occupy leadership roles. In addition, the questionnaire asks the candidates whether they will appoint chairs and vice chairs of committees who have demonstrated a commitment, through actual policy-making, to economic, social and racial justice.

“All legislators should be committed to economic, social and racial justice, but there is so much more we need from the next Speaker of the House,” said Gerald Stansbury President of the NAACP Maryland State Conference.  “The next Speaker must have the skill, tact, and courage to lead in such a way as to ensure that the often-competing interests of the delegates from the various counties result in equitable legislation that protects and enhances economic, social and racial equality for all of Maryland residents," said Jo Saint-George, Esq., Political Action Co-Chair of the NAACP Maryland State Conference.

The undersigned organizations call for greater transparency and accessibility in the legislative process and decentralization of power in the legislature. The groups look forward to responses from the House Speaker candidates. The questionnaire can be viewed here.

“The process for selecting the next Speaker and Senate President should be a public process,” said Dayvon Love, Director of Public Policy of for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle. “Those who are interested in holding those positions should be compelled to make their case to the general public, so that the constituents of the members of the General Assembly can let their representatives know who they want them to vote for. We believe that it is important that there is more transparency in the process for selecting the leadership of the Maryland General Assembly.”

COALITION

1199SEIU

ACLU of Maryland

Advocates for Children and Youth

CASA de Maryland

Common Cause Maryland

FreeState Justice

Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle

Inter-Faith Action for Human Rights

Life After Release

Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform

Maryland Justice Project

Maryland Prisoners' Rights Coalition 

NAACP—Maryland State Conference

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland

Out for Justice

SEIU Local 500

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Baltimore

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