I was glad to attend the Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City this past week, a grand opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. I attended sessions on topics from the 2020 census to affordable housing, and took some running notes in the form of the tweets below.
One of the most talked-of sessions was the town hall featuring Ben Cardin, Maryland’s senior U.S. senator. Cardin has a reputation as one of the more cautiously spoken and temperate members of the Democratic caucus, and some of his comments indeed struck a centrist tone:
On firearms, Cardin forthrightly sides with liberals, and mentioned that he and his wife were soon to attend what he called an “anti-gun rally” in Baltimore:
What really lifted me out of my chair was when a questioner asked about redistricting and Cardin said “don’t blame the Maryland legislature” for gerrymandering. It would be “naive.” Yes, he stood right there before a bipartisan audience and said that.
I had a back-and-forth with Todd Eberly about it:
On First Amendment issues, unfortunately, Cardin stuck to a theme that free speech should not be seen as unlimited. He sounded the alarm about foreign interference in elections and jumped directly to a scheme to outfit social media with legally mandated “guardrails”:
MACo posts big signs saying that it’s a nonpartisan group and campaigning at the event is forbidden, but as Danielle Gaines noted afterward at Maryland Matters, audience members during Q&A ignored this, especially after one questioner referred to the present Senate majority leader as “Moscow Mitch”:
For most of the panels I attended, however, audience questions provided helpful focus. At the session on agritourism, for example, one audience member offered a cautionary tale from Anne Arundel County: well- meaning nonfarmers drew up rules laying out rules for many activities that farmers have been doing since time immemorial, such as hosting community picnics. Regulation got worse.
Apparently the electrified third rail of agritourism politics is “the W word” — farmhouse weddings. Heaven forbid people should get married and be happy if it means more vehicle traffic!
The food safety and packaging regulation panel included a discussion of how the state’s modest new cottage-food law opens up room for home-kitchen providers of a relatively short list of super-safe products, including cookies, jams (but not pickles), and baked goods. There may be some connection here with MACo’s celebrated “Taste of Maryland” reception, in which cookies, along with locally made beer and wine, were the stars. (I liked Cynthia Ann Desserts’s Black-Eyed Susan shortbread cookies at the Charles County booth.) A long line snaked up to the booth of Talbot County, which more ambitiously than its sister counties offered oysters on the half shell.
The Q&A at the food safety panel also led to a back-and-forth on the regulation of kids’ lemonade stands. Jessica Speaker, an assistant commissioner with the Baltimore City Health Department, had some warnings:
The discussion of the state’s Styrofoam ban seemed to take for granted that it would be the jumping-off point for many further restrictions in years to come:
State pre-emption of local legislative power is the sort of topic I really warm to (and talked back on):
While I disagreed with some of the policy perspectives (as I expected to), the conference was an invaluable chance to learn about multiple and varied aspects of Maryland government up close.