Guest Commentary: People are threatened with loss of referendum voice

By Tony Campbell

Last week, fresh off of his victories of the ballot questions, Gov. Martin O’Malley has been quoted as saying: “I think we have been best served in our state in the over 200 years or more of our history, by a representative democracy rather than plebiscites.”

As a student of politics, and a frequent visitor to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, I have an understanding of the root word of plebe but hearing in this context made me curious so I looked up the word in Webster’s Dictionary.  Plebiscite means “a vote by which the people of an entire country or district express an opinion for or against a proposal especially on a choice of government or ruler.”

In simple English, plebiscite means that the people have the ability to voice their opinion on a choice made on their behalf by the government.

Trust us pols

Gov. O’Malley’s choice of words is no accident.  He thinks that the people should have NO voice in how their elected representatives make decisions.  We plebes are not smart enough to figure things out for ourselves and should blindly trust politicians to rule us.

I believe this line of thinking of the governor comes from two places – arrogance of power and frustration with the referendum process.  The arrogance of power is easily explained because of the one party dominance in this state as well as the fact that O’Malley hasn’t been seriously challenged since the 1999 primary race for mayor of Baltimore.

His frustration with the referendum process is the more interesting aspect of his move to stifle the plebiscite voice in his political utopia.  Simply put, he was embarrassed that we plebes had the gall to challenge his authority.  O’Malley knows that without the presidential race as air cover he might have lost one or two of his pet projects because of these pesky people and their silly petition process.

Up to the plebes to stop the usurpation

Of course, there are two small issues of irony here: 1) In order to change the basic rules, it will have to go before the people in the referendum process in 2014; 2) If the changes are passed, it will not be in effect until 2015 when O’Malley is no longer in office.

It is up to us, the plebes, to stop this usurpation on our Constitutional rights.  The power of representative democracy comes from the people (plebes) not the other way around.

Tony Campbell is president of Marylanders for Coherent & Fair Representation, Inc.

Editor’s Note: Of the seven statewide ballot questions on the November ballot, four of the questions which voters were asked to approve were put to “plebiscite” by the legislature itself. Questions 1, 2 and 3 were constitutional amendments, over which the governor has no say. Question 7 was required by the August legislation the governor both sponsored and signed for the expansion of gambling. That referendum was required by the constitutional amendment on gambling Gov. O’Malley sponsored in 2007.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Cha5678

    We barely have the right to influence who represents us considering the party machine clears the way for their favored candidates in the Democratic Party primaries and the entrenched interests line up in order in protection of state pork.
    At least grant us the option for a referendum.
    Sure, the party machine will still control the process. They can rewrite the referendum to sound favorable to their position and defend it using public tax dollars (if a Montgomery County BOE is any judge).
    But at least it’s some perceived power over corrupt Annapolis.

  2. Dale McNamee

    Attitudes like this are what’s in the hearts of the tyrannical “liberals ” & “progressives” like Martin O’Malley and many members of the ironically named Democrat Party and those who support them…

    I’m disgusted with the Republicans as well…we are a debating society instead of an effective party !

  3. harry

    The 13 colonies had King George III and now Maryland has King O’Malley I.

  4. abby_adams

    The sheeple, especially those in MoCo & PG counties handed O’Malley a victory for which MD taxpayers will reap the consequences.. That his majesty would like to change the rules so that “We the People” do as we are told without questioning authority shouldn’t be surprise anyone who has paid attention to his illustrious reign. At one time, I had great hopes for our state, now I understand that until we rid ourselves of the one party monopoly, nothing will change.

Support Our Work!

We depend on your support. A generous gift in any amount helps us continue to bring you this service.