One of the greatest moments of my career as a local newspaper reporter came a few days after Maryland District 7 Delegates Pat McDonough and Rick Impallaria got into a scuffle with a pro-immigration activist in an Annapolis hallway.
I was sitting at a Board of Education meeting and in a break between presentations, listening in on a hushed recounting of the incident. The board’s liaison to the state legislature was filling the school system’s second in command (a congenial guy named Ray Brown, who’s since taken another job) on details too grisly for print.
I leaned over and said, “You know the best part – when the guy pushed Pat McDonough…” and I held my hands up to show how a toupee might have been slipped halfway off (when we said we’d publish rumors, this is what we meant…Pat could very well be working with just a weird head of hair).
Ray Brown laughed like he was at a comedy club, and started slapping his knee. I’d gotten him so good, he moved to high five me. Unlike Brown, I was starkly aware that the entire room, including the school board, was staring at us, so I hesitated on the high five, turning it into one of those awkward will-he-or-won’t-he moments with each of us holding our palms in the air; finally, we connected, but the bottled up force went too far and he banged his arm against the empty folding chair between us, knocking two binders full of budget materials to the floor. Then, it was quiet, and we both looked down at the floor, holding in guffaws like embarrassed school boys.
As much mileage as people got out of the “Fracas in Annapolis” (not my term), I later came to respect McDonough, and to rely on him for news stories. He saw the BGE rate debacle coming months before anyone else did. He stood firm against the corporate and political BS on that one, and broke party ranks to do so. Before the BGE story, I had always gone out of my way to parody McDonough for his “We Speaka Ingleesh” bill, which he’s dropped repeatedly to no avail. English has not, despite his efforts to make it so from his platform on WCBM AM 680, become the official language of the State of Maryland.
I disagree with McDonough on this point, but I admire his political instincts and his willingness to take on controversial issues with a degree of intellectual honesty. But when he speaks out and wins support against having to press “1” for English, is he simply tapping into latent racism? Were you, for instance, one of the ecstatic supporters McDonough has repeatedly described encountering along 4th of July parade routes? A passage from McDonough’s web site (http://www.patmcdonough.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=30&Itemid=26):
The reaction from the crowd to the ‘Speak English’ statement was immediate and overwhelming. People came to their feet applauding, holding thumbs up, and enthusiastically shouting positive comments. This response continued during the entire length of the parade. The same explosive response occurred again in the next two parades in Kingsville and Bel Air. Literally, tens of thousands of Americans displayed what I concur to be a resounding demonstration of patriotism and perhaps, some frustration. Comments ranged from ‘God bless America’ to ‘It’s about time somebody spoke out
So, what do you think? Is McDonough speaking truth to power? Were the throngs actually reacting to a sign, positioned somewhere behind McDonough’s pickup truck that read: “Keep Local Politicians Out of Holiday Parades” or “Can’t Anyone Do Something About Bob Ehrlich’s Hairdo?”
I hate having to press “1” as much as the next guy, but my family, on all sides, has only been in America for a few generations. Someone let them in. If I was from a poor country and coming to America was the best thing I could possibly do for my kids, I’d do it in a heartbeat. For me, the patriotic thing to do is welcome new immigrants, not cheer loudly against them.
The Right Thing happens every Saturday at a Catholic church in Bel Air, during a regular Spanish-language mass, no doubt a spiritual haven for the people who serve you food at restaurants in town, manicure your lawn, and build your schools. Just a few blocks from where McDonough met with his “astounding response.”