Progressive Maryland gets its voice back

Attorney General Doug Gansler talks to Progressive Maryland director Kate Planco Waybright, trying to make the case he's most progressive Democrat running for governor.

Attorney General Doug Gansler talks to Progressive Maryland director Kate Planco Waybright, trying to make the case he’s most progressive Democrat running for governor.

“They’re back.” That’s the message Executive Director Kate Planco Waybright hoped would be the lead of any story about Progressive Maryland’s 12th Annual Awards Gala Tuesday night in Greenbelt.

Tea Party conservatives and others on the right might find it hard to believe, but the left wing of the Democratic Party has struggles of its own as it fights to have its voice heard in Annapolis.

Progressive Maryland, a coalition of 45 labor, civil rights and religious groups, was struggling so much in 2011 that it closed its Silver Spring office, laid off much of its staff and, to save money, held its 10th anniversary “gala” as an online fundraiser.

Waybright reported that the group sold even more tickets to Tuesday’s gala than it had for its December gala that had to be rescheduled due to snow.

More than 250 people attended Tuesday’s dinner at Martin’s Crosswinds on a frigid night.

The event attracted several dozen of the most liberal members of the Maryland General Assembly, mostly from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, including Sens. Paul Pinsky, Roger Manno, Rich Madaleno and Brian Frosh, who is running for attorney general.

Attorney General Doug Gansler was the only Democratic candidate for governor to attend. “I’m the only progressive candidate here,” Gansler insisted, citing his early support for marriage equality and other progressive issues. Gansler has also been portraying himself as the more fiscally responsible candidate in the race, and he didn’t see that as a contradiction.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown was with his ailing father, Waybright reported, but the Rev. Delman Coates, running for lieutenant governor with Del. Heather Mizeur, was there.

Diverse Democratic contest for governor

“We have the most diverse contest for governor that we’ve ever seen,” said Benjamin Jealous, retiring national president of the NAACP who was honored at the gala. “Every demographic trend for the next 30 years is in favor of our movement.”

Progressive Maryland this session is part of the large coalition of groups pushing for an increase in Maryland’s minimum wage. The crowd booed when Waybright reported that the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee (Del. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s) allegedly said their goal of $10.10 per hour may be too high.

The group also supports public financing of elections “to combat the domination of big money” in campaigns, Waybright said.

The group is again backing its perennial favorite, “combined reporting,” a method of corporate taxation that captures more money from big, out-of-state companies such as a Walmart.

Pinsky has been the lead sponsor of this tax legislation for 10 years, and he told that it appears to be stalled again in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee with a 7-6 split.

To show its disdain for Walmart, Progressive Maryland honored two women the company had fired for “activism and striking” and “civil disobedience” at the retail giant.

“I think we all need to say ‘No’ to Walmart” and boycott the stores, said Marc Steiner, the radio talk show host who emceed the gala.

–Len Lazarick