ANNAPOLIS – Michael Johnstone and five South Dorchester High School classmates did not know when they came to Annapolis Thursday that lawmakers would be debating Eastern Shore secession.
But they did know what they thought of the idea.
“If that happens, we think we’ll be crawling back in a few years,” said Michael, a junior. “We’ll be saying, `Please take us back.'”
That may not have been the “strong mood” for secession that Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester, had in mind when he proposed to test support for the Eastern Shore’s secession from the rest of the state.
His bill would put the issue up for a nonbinding vote on November’s ballot in the nine Shore counties. Results from the straw poll would be forwarded to the General Assembly and the Congress for any further action.
“There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to put it up for a vote,” Colburn told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
“Many Eastern Shoremen are dissatisfied with Maryland state government,” which he said treats the Shore like a “stepchild.”
He cited a “plethora” of new regulations, including plans to control the use of farm fertilizers that scientists believe triggered last summer’s outbreak of toxic Pfiesteria piscicida in the lower Chesapeake Bay.
Colburn said he has received hundreds of telephone calls and letters in support of his proposal.
“I hope you take this very seriously,” he said.
At least one senator was seriously opposed.
“I don’t want to lose the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” which adds beauty and diversity to the state, said Sen. Christopher McCabe, R-Howard. “I want to keep it a part of Maryland.”
“I should say thank you, I think,” was Colburn’s uncertain reply.
Steven E. Boone, chairman of the Baltimore County Libertarian Party, also spoke in favor of the straw vote.
“Secession through the years has played a major role in Maryland history, beginning with the Declaration of Independence,” he said.
Boone cited West Virginia’s 1863 secession from Virginia as an example that “secession doesn’t have to be bloody and violent.” He also said he supported a vote because it would give the people a greater voice in politics.
But Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore, and chairman of the committee, said the “meaningful ballot access” that Boone valued could be put to better use.
“England and France would have (beaten) us all if we didn’t get together and stop fighting each other,” said Blount. “The Constitution of 1789 settled a lot of things, and if we open up that can of worms our grandchildren are going to be very sorry.”
The South Dorchester High students were “not very supportive” of secession, said Erin Collins, a junior.
“We have no industry, and we think that might be a problem,” said Ryan Bogert, also a junior.
The six students were in Annapolis to meet their delegate, but converged on the hearing when they heard a secession bill was being discussed.
And what would they do if the Shore seceded?
“Move,” they said unanimously.