One of the most important outcomes of our new political climate has been the rise of the town hall meeting, enabling people to meet with their representatives and hold them accountable. This Monday night you will have just such an opportunity at the Severna Park District 33 Town Hall.
Why should you be there if you don’t reside in District 33? We have to start thinking in broader terms about the impacts of our local elections. Every district representative votes on Maryland issues. These representatives and all of us who vote for them need to know what is important across the state, not just in their districts. So, the representatives in District 33 work for all of us in Maryland, not just for the residents of their district.
You don’t have to be a bleeding-heart liberal to see that many important things need to get done across Maryland, and it was heartening for me to see how much did get done during the 2017 Maryland legislative session. This session was not all about progressive political agendas. The fracking ban, for example, was supported by people of all political stripes as something that just needed to be done.
Should the citizens in District 33 care about the problems of people in Southern Maryland? You bet! But do they know about them? Not likely. And who’s to blame them because how would they find out? Our current political system encourages hunkering down in little enclaves that we call districts and making sure that our representatives address local agendas first, then statewide later. Is that how we want things to be?
Let’s take the example of fracking, which got broad support statewide. The battle is far from over. The expansion of the Cove Point facility and the planned pipeline underneath the Potomac to Virginia are all about facilitating the flow of oil from fracking.
At whose expense will this be done? The citizens of Southern Maryland are exposed to a huge risk, with virtually no public interest in the problem and inadequate government review. From where will the outcry come? Do the legislators have to sit on their hands until the next session, or can they do something now by contacting the governor? A disaster at the Cove Point facility could affect the entire Chesapeake Bay and reverse decades of environmental efforts, not to mention the death and destruction it could wreak on the people living in the vicinity.
When the D33 representatives are asked about Cove Point at Monday night’s town hall—and they will be—what will be the likely result? At a minimum, the legislators and all citizens attending will become aware of the issue, possibly for the first time. Those D33 legislators who opposed the fracking ban will now have to see that the issue is not finished yet. They will have to reconsider their continued support for fracking in light of their inaction on Cove Point.
What if every town hall in every district of the state starts having people show up to ask questions on fracking and Cove Point? Citizens will perhaps gain some resolve to put pressure not only on their representatives but also directly on the governor. Perhaps the next legislature will be prepared to act immediately if the governor does not do so before then.
Much of the news about town halls focuses on the negative pressure on representatives and not the impact they have on constituents. I know that I was certainly not aware of the Cove Point issue until I met people at town halls who brought it up. This is an opportunity for all of us to get educated and begin to take responsibility for developing the tone and content of the new debate in which we must all participate.
Fracking is just one example of an issue that is important to me. What is important to you? Are you interested in learning how town halls can be improved by active participation from people like you and me? Are you ready to ask some questions?
Hope to see you there. Don’t just go to your own district town hall. Consider a broader view.
John Wells attended the 1968 March on Washington and continues to be active in city and national politics. John started the group Annapolis Indivisible.
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