Steele’s cut and run
By Lee Fang
September 06, 2006
I had the esteemed privilege to be the first student to speak to Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele as he stepped out of his sport utility vehicle when he arrived at the football game Saturday afternoon. His eyes filled with enthusiasm when he heard my first question: “Will you be the man to clean up Washington corruption if you go to the Senate?” He beamed a smile and answered with a response that sounded almost word for word like what his first ad stated, “stop the lobbyist revolving door … reform the way contributions are given.” “Well,” I responded curiously, “why did you accept money from over 120 registered lobbyists in the first quarter alone,” in reference to the tens of thousands of dollars Steele has received from lobbyists. Steele paused with a faint gasp. Upon hearing this, his campaign manager bolted in front of me and pushed me aside in an attempt to shuttle Steele away. Gary, a student who had informed me he went to Harvard University and is heading up “Students for Steele,” and the other Steele campaign members began physically blocking me from even being within sight of the Republican candidate for the Senate.
What baffles me is how disingenuous Steele can be on nearly every pressing issue facing Maryland voters this year. He claims education is “the key to the door of opportunity for the children.” In reality, his administration has been responsible for the $120 million in cuts to higher education and the nearly 50 percent increases in tuition at state institutions such as this university. He has, with much media attention, postured as a maverick criticizing his own party and the Bush administration regarding the failures during and after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. However, in the critical days after New Orleans flooded, Steele took time to criticize Maryland Democrats, such as political opponent Martin O’Malley, for “jumping the gun” by sending much needed relief and personnel to the region. Heckuva job, Steele. On a now infamous episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Steele stated he believes a family to be a part of “Middle America” if they earn $300,000 a year. In reality, the median income for a Maryland family is about $53,000 a year. Similar gaffes by Steele have included the time he explained his staunch opposition to stem cell research by comparing it to the horrors of the Holocaust and slavery in the United States.When reporters asked Steele this summer on his position on the environment and global warming, his spokesman intervened, “Michael Steele will talk about global warming when he is ready.” When is he “ready”?
But I digress. The worst case of doublespeak to fall out of Steele’s mouth so far has been his position on the minimum wage. Earlier this year, the Ehrlich-Steele administration vetoed the measly $1 dollar per hour increase offered by the Democrats in the Maryland legislature. Republicans led by Steele decried the move away from the federally mandated $5.15 an hour to $6.15 as an outrage and unnecessary. Steele went as far as going onto the pages of The Wall Street Journal to make his case, oddly stating “the idea of the minimum wage is almost a fallacy.” His firm anti-minimum wage stance is in stark contrast to yet another media stunt he pulled two weeks ago. On Aug. 24, Steele summoned the support of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons to call for increasing the minimum wage. This policy is another example of how Steele will do absolutely anything to win this fall.
Steele has taken remarkable steps to reinvent himself for his bid to capture the open Senate seat in Maryland. Knowing the 2-1 registered Democratic advantage in the state, he has employed a strategy of distancing himself from President Bush and his own conservative beliefs , which he has used to govern in the past four years. Steele touts lobbyist reform in his first campaign ad, yet when pressed on the issue, as I rudely discovered this weekend, he ducks and covers. Steele is unwilling to be up-front with Marylanders because he wishes they did not know his extremist views or the fact that he is fully funded by Republican elite and corporate interests.
The only way to combat the millions Steele has is to organize on a grassroots level. Here at the university, the College Democrats have a very open and well-organized chapter. I would encourage everyone to get involved. To join, go to www.terpdems.com and join its group on Facebook. The first meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. in the Nyumburu Multipurpose Room, adjacent to the Stamp Student Union.
Lee Fang is the president of the Maryland Federation of College Democrats. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.