Poll: Marylanders like Moore and Biden, but not electric cars

There’s a new round of poll numbers for politicos to digest, released this week by Gonzales Research & Media Services. Pollster Patrick Gonzales has been conducting polls in Maryland since the mid-1980s.

Here are some key findings from the poll.

Gov. Wes Moore

The Gonzales poll found Gov. Wes Moore’s approval rating to be 55%, similar to a Baltimore Banner-Goucher College poll in May that found he had 53% approval.

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In the Gonzales poll, Moore had a 27% disapproval rating and 18% of those polled did not yet have an opinion on the governor.

Not surprisingly, Moore had high approval from Democrats — 77% — and high disapproval from Republicans, at 61%. Unaffiliated voters had 47% approval for more and 30% disapproval.

President Joe Biden

The president remained above water in the Gonzales poll, with 52% approving of the job Biden is doing, compared to 43% who disapprove. (The Banner-Goucher poll, in contrast, had Biden at 46% approval and 49% disapproval.)

Banning gas car sales

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While Marylanders might approve of the job Moore is doing, they do not approve of his push to eventually ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. That proposal came in with only 37% supporting a ban and 61% opposed.

Gonzales then tested two different messages on banning gas-powered cards. When poll participants were told banning new gas cars would reduce carbon dioxide emissions, support increased to 44%. But when poll participants were told that a ban might mean cars would cost more, support dropped to 29%.

Penalties for firearm thefts

The Gonzales poll also asked Marylanders about gun thefts, and 89% said they agree that it should be a felony to steal a gun. Just 8% disagreed.

The theft of a gun is currently treated the same as theft of any other property, with criminal penalties based on the value of the gun that was stolen. Efforts to make gun theft a specific felony have failed in the Maryland General Assembly every year since 2018.

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The proposals have usually been made by Republican lawmakers, who touted the poll results.

“Marylanders’ desire for safer communities overrides partisan considerations,” House of Delegates Minority Leader Del. Jason Buckel said in a statement. “They recognize that common-sense policies are what we need to achieve that goal. Our Caucus will continue to fight for sensible policies to keep our communities safe.”

A total of 841 likely voters were polled by landline and cellphone from May 30-June 6. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.


Next steps for horse racing

As Maryland’s struggling thoroughbred racing industry figures out its next steps, a new state authority has been named to study the industry’s options.

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State lawmakers created the Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority to offer recommendations and, if necessary, take over racing operations if the industry falters.

Gov. Wes Moore recently named members of the authority, who must issue reports by the end of the year: Chairman Greg Cross, an attorney at the Venable law firm who previously represented horse breeders; Mary Tydings, who has owned steeplechase horses and was Moore’s campaign treasurer; Jeff L. Hargrave, founder of Mahogany Inc., a construction company; Alan Foreman, attorney and CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, nominated by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; and Thomas J. Rooney, CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, nominated by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

Further appointments to the racing authority will be forthcoming from the Senate president; the House of Delegates speaker; the Maryland Stadium Authority; the Maryland Economic Development Corporation; and the Maryland Racing Commission.


Moore names school board members

Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson will join the state school board next month, one of six new members appointed by Gov. Wes Moore in the past several months.

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The four-year appointments are being watched closely by education advocates who are speculating about which new members will support Maryland State School Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury, whose contract is up for renewal next month.

The state superintendent is seen as philosophically aligned with the Moore administration but has come under criticism for a management style that has driven away experienced staff and alienated some legislators, advocates and local officials.

There are 14 members of the board, and Choudhury will have to gain support from a majority of the board in order to get another contract. His contract ends on June 30, 2024. The board’s policy dictates that it will make a decision on whether to renew Choudhury’s contract in July, with a contract ironed out later in the fall.

Moore also appointed to the board Samir Paul, a law clerk at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland who lives in Montgomery County and helped launch a pilot program for third grade girls interested in the sciences.

Abisola Ayoola, a senior at Wilde Lake High School in Howard County, was chosen to be the board’s student member from two names nominated by the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

Earlier this year, Moore appointed three individuals who have all been Baltimore City school administrators: Joshua L. Michael, executive director of the Sherman Family Foundation and a former principal; Nicholas Greer, a former administrator; and Irma Johnson, a principal and administrator.

Michael has already replaced a board member, but the remaining five will take their seats after July 1, just weeks before a vote is expected on Choudhury’s contract.


Federal appeals court rules for police in lawsuit from gun rights protesters

A Maryland Capitol Police sergeant who arrested two gun rights protesters after they refused his orders to move their demonstration is entitled to qualified immunity, a controversial legal doctrine that shields public officials from lawsuits for actions that they take during their jobs, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

In a 22-page opinion on Wednesday, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote for the three-judge panel that Sgt. Brian Pope’s conduct is an example of the split-second decisions that those protecting state capitols have to make across the United States. His actions could be thought of as consistent with the First and Fourth amendments.

“Capitol police officers are asked to preserve a delicate balance between protest and order,” Wilkinson said. “Neither that balance nor the officers who maintain it should ever be taken for granted.”

On Feb. 5, 2018, Jeff and Kevin Hulbert and several other members of “The Patriot Picket” were protesting on the sidewalk one block from the State House in Annapolis. The group is an informal contingent that advocates for gun rights.

Pope went out to the area and did not see protesters blocking traffic but “anticipated safety issues would arise.” So Pope told Kevin Hulbert — the other picketers were out getting food — to move to nearby Lawyers Mall, according to the opinion.

Later, Pope returned and saw that the demonstrators were back picketing on the sidewalk. He ordered them to go to Lawyers Mall, a public gathering area a few feet away and farther from the street. Though some complied at first, the opinion states, Jeff Hulbert declared that the group was not moving.

Pope repeated his order at least two more times and threatened the picketers with arrest, the opinion states.

Police arrested the Hulbert brothers and cited them for disobeying a lawful order. Law enforcement later added two additional citations against them for or hindering passage in a public place and for refusing to leave public grounds, according to the opinion.

Three days later, the charges were dropped.

The Hulberts and Maryland Shall Issue, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun rights, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

U.S. District Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher in 2021 entered judgment in favor of Pope for all but four claims.

Pope appealed, arguing that he was entitled the qualified immunity. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.


Pandemic aid director offers media criticism

At an initial budget hearing on Baltimore’s pandemic aid plan earlier this month, Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs Director Shamiah Kerney opened her remarks with a shot at media coverage of the city’s federal aid spending plan. Comments, articles and other coverage of the city’s American Rescue Plan money “is designed to sow the seeds of division and doubt and make you think the worst about Baltimore,” she said in appeal to residents to seek “facts over opinion.”

Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer pressed Kerney on that statement at a follow-up hearing later in the week. The former auditor said she wasn’t necessarily referring to the media, explaining that there are podcasters and others who weigh in on the city’s federal aid spending. At both hearings, Kerney pointed to the wide assortment of local businesses, nonprofits and city agencies that could testify to the benefits they have experienced from the influx of federal money.

“Anyone who is making comments about [the American Rescue Plan money] in a negative sense without looking at the data that is factually provided on the website or talking to the recovery office, I would question that,” she responded.

In June of 2021, Mayor Brandon Scott set aside $10.6 million to stand up his Office of Recovery Programs, which he tasked with helping to distribute the city’s historic windfall and closely monitor spending to ensure money got out the door on time and in line with federal requirements.

Scott has since committed another $2 million of the American Rescue package to the oversight office, whose funding is set to run out at the end of 2024. City Administrator Faith Leach signaled during budget hearings that the administration is likely to dedicate more funding to keep the oversight team in place as the city continues to move money out the door ahead of the federal government’s 2026 deadline to spend all of the money.


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