By Paul Schwartzman
The Washington Post
Benefits for illegal immigrants. Same-sex marriage. Strict regulations on gun purchases.
Over the past two years, Maryland has enacted laws that represent a dramatic liberal shift, even for a state long dominated by Democrats.
Driving the progressive swing is Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly, which now embraces legislation that it previously rejected. Emboldened by victories in statewide referendums, the governor and his allies have imposed tax increases, repealed the death penalty, and approved a system to provide more than $1 billion in subsidies to a potential offshore wind farm.
Now, as the legislative session in the state capital of Annapolis comes to an end, the state faces the question of whether Maryland is becoming a reliably liberal bastion like Massachusetts, California and Vermont?
Or has the state's Democratic leadership moved too far to the left, potentially endangering incumbents at the polls in 2014?
State Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said the state has made historic breakthroughs, repairing long-standing social and moral injustices and taking necessary steps to protect the environment and reduce gun violence.
"It's thrilling," Raskin said. "We've had the death penalty for centuries. Gay people have been discriminated against forever. We're vindicating people's rights."
But Republicans argue that Democratic leaders have alienated the electorate's mainstream. Even as the General Assembly repealed the death penalty, a majority state residents surveyed expressed support for executions in a Washington Post poll in February.
"We're watching a huge overreach taking place," said state Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil. "The legislature is out of step with the constituency."
Even moderate Democrats have expressed objections to much of the legislation, which included a proposal to decriminalize marijuana. Then there are the tax increases — on gasoline and the incomes of residents earning more than $100,000.