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And If You Care, Here's How City Paper Thinks You Should Do It

Photograph by Rachel Whang, T-shirt concept by Debbie Ally-Dickerson, logo created and executed by Joshua Batten, printing by Rob Dickerson, Work Printing & Graphics

By Lee Gardner | Posted 10/29/2008

When it's election time in Baltimore, City Paper usually rolls out a slate of endorsements. While those of us who have been involved in the process in the past believe it's an important part of our service to readers, we're not fooling ourselves. Elections, even at the city level, tend to be decided by forces larger and more manifold than the opinions of a few civic-minded folks who happen to work at an alt-weekly. If we're able to shine a little light on a worthy, if otherwise unsung, candidate for a City Council spot, or point out the utter lack of distinction in an incumbent state delegate's record, then that's worth doing, even if the majority of voters ignore our advice. It's obvious that the 2008 general election exemplifies that dynamic writ large, and the following brief thoughts are offered in that my-2-cents spirit. For the most part. But more on that in a minute.

Barack Obama is likely to carry Maryland decisively no matter what is printed here. Despite the large swathes of the state that remain resolutely red, populous Democratic strongholds such as Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties are likely to go big for the Illinois senator. That's fine by us. He has proven himself not only a charismatic candidate but also a thoughtful one (a rare combination). Likewise, his campaign has been a model of outreach, organization, and effectiveness, all while remaining largely above the mud of ugly election-year politics, promising great things for an Obama administration run even half as well. Even if Obama were less prodigious as a campaigner, he offers sensible and badly needed new approaches to begin counteracting the damage wrought by eight years of Bush/Cheney.

In the three U.S. House of Representatives races affecting the core City Paper readership area, Democratic incumbents C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (2nd District), Michael Sarbanes (3rd District), and Elijah Cummings (7th District) are all opposed by Republican challengers as well as Libertarians or other third-party candidates. Not unlike this year's statewide presidential contest, the sociopolitical demographics of Baltimore all but guarantee a walk for the incumbents. Given the lack of significant objections to their records over the past two years, and with no Republican or third-party candidate in any of the races in question mounting a significant challenge, City Paper endorses returning the city's delegation back down I-95 intact.

This year's local bond issues were ably explained by City Paper staff writer Chris Landers a few issues back ("Vote Hellbender 2008," Mobtown Beat, Oct. 15). Chief among the rest of the usual ballot business is a vote likely to most effect life in Maryland for the next four years, maybe even the next 40.

Ballot Question 1 regards an amendment to the state constitution allowing early voting, and as far as that goes, City Paper endorses voting yes. Ballot Question 2 regards an amendment to the state constitution allowing the state to issue five "video lottery licenses"--in other words, slot machines. The debate over slots has been raging back and forth for more than a decade, with proponents pointing to our flailing, underfunded public schools, our waning horse-racing industry, and the stream of quarters flowing over state lines to slots parlors in other states. Opponents point to the fact that those who pour their money into one-armed bandits tend to be those least able to afford to lose it, to the addiction legal gambling helps abet, and to the jurisdictions that have expanded legal gambling only to discover it isn't a fiscal silver bullet and indeed may come with unexpected burdens of its own.

City Paper urges you to vote no on Question 2. While the state faces a financial deficit that is likely going to make life in the Land of Pleasant Living somewhat less pleasant in the immediate future, "easy money" doesn't seem like a responsible answer. Indeed, the state, and the country, have arrived at their current financial straits in part thanks to the sort of thinking that underpins legalizing slots: take money from those credulous enough to let it be taken; reap rewards now and worry about costs later; faced with belt-tightening, shop for new pants.

Schools need proper funding, and there is an existing solution for that, an almost forgotten relic of an earlier age: tax revenue, the result of paying one's fair share for privileges as a citizen and the common good. And although horse racing is a significant part of the state's self-image and economy, if it can't survive unless propped up by the coins of hordes of plastic-cup-clutching slots players with no interest in horseflesh, is it truly viable? Perhaps most importantly, while slots are unlikely to wreck the state if Question 2 passes, the expansion of legal gambling is unlikely to stop there. This is not to say that slots, once done, can't be undone; slots have already come and gone in Maryland once. But we face the possibility of opening ourselves up to a hard-to-reverse new set of complications and possible pitfalls that can be avoided. Let's avoid them.

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