Josh Kurtz: The Impossible DREAM?

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By Josh Kurtz

My wife is an ESOL teacher at Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School in Prince George’s County.

Since the academic year started last month, the school building has been unbearably cold. Kids are getting sick, teachers are getting sick; it’s hard to concentrate, a terrible environment for learning. But no one seems capable of solving the problem.

If this school were in Bethesda, or Ellicott City, or any other wealthy neighborhood in Maryland, parents would be up in arms, and administrators would be quaking. But more than 90 percent of parents in Langley Park are from Central America; most are dirt poor and many don’t speak any English at all. So if they’re outraged, no one is saying so.

For similar reasons, I’m worried about the fate of the DREAM Act on the ballot this November. Yes, a survey released last week, conducted by one of the top Democratic polling firms in the country, showed 60 percent of Marylanders in support of the DREAM Act, and only 26 percent opposed. That’s a higher number than I would have imagined -- and there‘s some small comfort in that.

“Our survey results show that Question 4 is well positioned to be affirmed by a comfortable majority this November,” the firm Garin-Hart-Yang wrote in a memo.

But there’s the concept of providing in-state college tuition for children of immigrants who came here illegally, if they qualify academically. And then there’s the reality of the political cross-currents at play on the Maryland ballot this fall.

It’s been widely reported that the forces for and against casino expansion have already spent more than $20 million collectively. By the time the election is over that amount may double.

The advocates for preserving the marriage equality law are also raising prodigious amounts of money, with celebrity-studded fundraisers not just in Maryland, but throughout the country. Then there’s the statewide ballot question to overturn the new congressional boundaries, which can be spun any number of ways by the insiders, but is probably incomprehensible to the average voter.

And oh yes, there’s a presidential election on, and a U.S. Senate election, and congressional races. And while they may not be terribly competitive in Maryland -- regardless of what those unceasing “sky is falling” money solicitations from Ben Cardin keep saying -- chances are, if you live here, depending on where you are, you’re seeing ads on TV for more competitive races in Virginia or Pennsylvania or West Virginia.

So you see, “a comfortable majority” of Marylanders may favor the DREAM Act. But with the cluttered ballot, with all the noise surrounding all these other elections, who’s getting the word out, really? Who’s going to be motivated enough to plow through all those offices up for grabs and all those ballot questions to keep the DREAM alive?

Supporters of gay marriage will be motivated. President Obama’s supporters will presumably be motivated. And the airwaves will be so saturated with ads for and against expanding gambling that voters can’t help but formulate an opinion. But you could easily see the DREAM Act falling through the cracks, regardless of what last week’s poll said.

Kristin Ford of Educating Maryland Kids, which is coordinating the campaign to pass the DREAM Act, told me last week that the labor- and clergy-backed group has raised about $1.6 million so far and hopes to bring in considerably more before Election Day. She said that pro-DREAM Act TV and radio ads will begin airing sometime in October and that full-blown phone banking and door knocking operations are well under way.

Ford declined to provide a region-by-region breakdown for the recent DREAM Act poll. She did say that three-quarters of African-American voters supported the DREAM Act, along with one in three Mitt Romney voters (and 80 percent of Obama voters). Educating Maryland Kids’ website currently features video messages from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks -- a fairly good indication of where supporters believe the measure needs shoring up.

But let’s not forget the fervor -- and speed -- with which DREAM Act opponents last year collected the signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot in the first place. They were nothing if not motivated then.

Even though the group most associated with the opposition to the DREAM Act, Help Save Maryland, has been surprisingly quiet recently, who’s to say that same anti-immigrant fervor doesn’t still exist? Ford’s unwillingness to provide regional poll results may say more about where the DREAM Act needs shoring up, and it’s easy to imagine where the opposition is fiercest: in various pockets of the Baltimore suburbs and exurbs. What’s being done to blunt that opposition?

Gov. Martin O’Malley is traveling the country appearing at fundraisers for marriage equality. If Marylanders support the ballot measure in November, it’ll be a big talking point as he eyes a 2016 presidential bid. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have signed a gay marriage bill before he did, but Maryland would become the first state where voters approved it at the polls. Uber ambitious state Del. Heather Mizeur, who doubles as the Democratic National Committeewoman for Maryland, seems to have staked her entire political future on passing the marriage equality ballot question this November.

To be sure, O’Malley, Mizeur and the rest of the Democratic establishment are all on record in favor of in-state tuition for qualified children of immigrants. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that gay activists tend to have a lot of money, while immigration activists don’t.

It sure would make supporters of the DREAM Act feel a lot better if some of these powerful politicians would stop following the money for a while and be out front worrying about -- and working hard for -- its passage.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

I’m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille

A Conversation with Ken Ulman

The Future Is Now?

Michael Row the Boat Ashore

Influencers: The Readers Speak

Will Battaglia Run for AG in 2014?


You Can Still Probably Bet Against Roscoe Bartlett

Ten Years After

Influencers, Part II

The Influencers, Part I
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.