No voter appetite for Maryland referenda this year

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Local,Maryland,Andy Brownfield

Voters didn't have the appetite to challenge any of the contentious laws passed by the Maryland General Assembly this year, despite the successful push to put three big-ticket laws to referendum on last year's ballot.

Groups attempting to challenge Maryland's laws restricting gun ownership, repealing the death penalty and giving Prince George's County's executive more control over schools failed to come up with the initial round of signatures necessary to get those issues on the 2014 ballot as of the 11:59 p.m. deadline Friday.

Experts say a public weary of referenda -- last year's efforts to kill Maryland's laws permitting same-sex marriage, in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants and redrawing legislative districts all failed -- and lack of financial and organizational support made it harder to collect signatures.

"I think the level of organization has not been what it was," said David Lublin, political science professor at American University. "Gathering signatures is more difficult than people realize."

He said the Prince George's school law was local, so it is hard to get people in Baltimore or Bethesda excited about it. The National Rifle Association declined to back the referendum effort on the gun control law in favor of pursuing its own lawsuit, and leaders of the push to kill the death penalty repeal admitted theirs was a grassroots effort with no institutional support.

John Bullock, who teaches political science at Towson University with a focus on community engagement, said the problem might not have been a lack of enthusiasm among voters.

"Generally people get riled up around social issues" like gun control or the death penalty, he said. "I just think in this case that people actually agree with the law."

The public didn't turn out to back the petition drives, said Washington County Republican Del. Neil Parrott at a Friday news conference.

"The groundswell of support across the state just wasn't there."

Sue Payne, a Montgomery County activist who spearheaded the signature-gathering effort against the gun bill -- which bans 45 assault weapons, limits ammunition magazines to 10 bullets, and requires training, fingerprinting and licensing for new handgun purchases -- blamed a lack of support from state Republicans and large gun rights groups for the petition failure in Maryland. She said in a radio interview Saturday night she was about 1,000 signatures short of the 18,759 needed by Friday's deadline.

"We really gave it the best effort," said Payne. "Another day or two we could have done it."

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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Andy Brownfield

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner