Anyone who has been a reader of the local Patches over the past few weeks must certainly know that the issue of speed cameras has been on the minds of many residents of Baltimore County. Let me say at the outset that this column does not seek to debate the merits or de-merits associated with this particular issue of public policy. Personally, I have a clear understanding of both perspectives regarding the expansion of the use of speed cameras in our county and I feel tha I recognize the validity of these divergent views.
Rather, what I wish to focus on is the manner in which various interest groups chose to engage this issue. Many voices—including individuals and groups that represent communities in and around Perry Hall—have chosen to speak up and share their views regarding the use of speed cameras. Positively, the vast majority of these citizen advocates have chosen to exercise their right to engage in direct dialogue with the actual decision-makers on this topic, namely our elected members of the Baltimore County Council. Their actions are representative of the sort of political participation that our founding fathers hoped would be spawned by America’s declaration of independence from colonial rule.
Unfortunately, there were others who chose a different path. These folks—while shrouding themselves in outward displays of patriotism and exaggerated claims of support for the liberty and freedom of all—decided to make their opposition personal. On one hand, these fringe elements attacked the very elected officials who were most likely to understand their principled stand against the broadened use of speed cameras for traffic regulation. Nearly at the same time, these same people chose to resort to petty name-calling and thinly-veiled gender politics to attack other elected officials who felt that speed cameras represented a legitimate tool for traffic safety.
One need only look south to Washington, D.C. to recognize that these sorts of tactics can only result in a troubling end, one way or the other. The politics of personal destruction can only lead to: 1) incessant gridlock or 2) policy-making generated from just one side of the overall debate. It would appear that this second result may very well have occurred here in Baltimore County, with regard to speed cameras.
Moderate voices were clearly attempting to find a middle ground as to the specific manner in which future decisions about speed camera placement would have been made. Indeed, David Marks, our own Fifth District Councilman—recognizing that there was already a majority of votes in hand to pass the bill—sought out amendments to narrow the potential scope of the speed camera legislation. Sadly, his quest for a reasonable middle ground was most likely thwarted by a hard-line organization that would rather have had a bad (from their perspective) bill, with no Republican votes, than a tolerable bill with bi-partisan support.
I am of the firm belief that we do not need to export that bad trends of Congress here to Baltimore County. Part of what makes government work is willingness amongst our elected decision-makers to keep an open mind, and consider a variety of viewpoints, prior to actually making up their minds with regard to a particular policy issue. To the extent that narrowly-focused groups choose to vilify thoughtful discourse, we are all done a disservice.
President Bill Clinton once said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” I believe that what is the most right about our nation is our belief in—and respect for—opinions on all sides of an issue. As residents of Perry Hall, and of the United States of America, we can show our true respect for liberty by remaining open to new ideas and to opinions that may not necessarily agree with our own. Even if we must disagree with others, we must not resort to being disagreeable.