About two years ago Reverend Kären Rasmussen, UUCC’s Assistant Minister, asked me if I would be willing to represent our UUCC congregation on the board of the Maryland UU Legislative Ministry.
I hesitated because, having recently left public office after serving for more than thirty years at the county and state level of government, I wanted to keep my calendar as simple as possible. Clearly I intended to continue following the legislative process, and I also intended to avoid serving on any boards or commissions. That way I would be able to experience the luxury of having as few items as possible show up on my calendar on a regular daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I asked for a week to think about it after which, Karen being the loving, persuasive woman she is, I said “yes”.
Next month, April 2018, will end my second year on this board. I am glad I said “yes”. Of course, I – and we as a congregation – have the indefatigable Ken Stevens who keeps up on the status of numerous bills on a virtually minute to minute basis. Ken and I have worked together on legislative and other governmental public policy matters since I first held local office in 1977. During all of those years, there have been precious few public policies on which we have not agreed. Ken is particularly adept at keeping track of the numerous and not rarely complicated amendments that are put forth by legislators during the 90 day legislative session in Annapolis.
Each year, shortly before the commencement in January of the legislative session in Annapolis, the Maryland UU Legislative Conference holds a meeting of members from UU congregations across the state. This year I was asked to help with the program and was gratified to get a “yes” from Attorney General Brian Frosh to be our main speaker. I had served in the legislature with Brian for twenty years. There is no other legislator for whom I have deeper respect for his intellect, diligence, wisdom, courage, and compassion. If ever there was a time when we need compassion in our government, it is now.
The hall of the UU Congregation of Annapolis was packed. At the beginning of the program the moderator called out the names of the Maryland UU Congregations who were represented and asked that their members stand. One guess as to which congregation had the most attendees?
Several years ago I came to the realization that I could categorize every bill introduced in the legislature in one of three categories: economic, social, and economic justice. Since our recent presidential election each of these has grown in importance to a sense of urgency.
I am selecting two bills from this legislative session in Annapolis:
Anti Fracking Bill: Amazingly, and may I say gloriously, this bill has passed. It addresses huge interests of both environmental and economic justice.
Bail Bond Bill: Not in quite so good condition for passage. This is one of the bills which Attorney General Frosh focused on at the legislative forum in January. Maryland’s prison system is structured to the effect that release on bail pending trial is literally not available to the poor because of its prohibitive cost. The bail bond business is a private lucrative one in Maryland, particularly Baltimore City. This business interest has lobbied very hard against this social/economic justice legislation.
It is easy to let our heads spin amidst the current increasing injustice in our nation and planet. Yet it is very important that we let neither fear nor hatred overtake us. I find that of all my spiritual teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks most clearly to me on how I can presence the positive in these troubling times: “When we smile, we are the smile.”