In preparing these thoughts, I think it is important to set out from the top that the 47th District in Prince George’s County has always been politically contentious and I have been a big supporter of the emerging Latino talent in that area. That being said, for a long time I was also a Doyle Niemann supporter. I supported him even though he was first elected on a slate that he put together that placed a notorious anti-immigrant in the House of Delegates for one term. I thought he was, as he proclaimed, a progressive.
Across his twelve years in the House of Delegates, my perception changed. As we worked to expand the paltry protections for tenants (Maryland being famous for having the code most favorable to landlords in the entire country), advocates were always negotiating against a stacked deck with Doyle. In recent years, as chairman of the House Housing and Real Property subcommittee, he negotiated reforms down to such a bare minimum that on many occasions we simply took a pass – what was acceptable to Doyle was simply not worth fighting for in our estimation. And the inside perspective in Annapolis was clear. Apartment owner lobbyists were explicit about the amendment deals they had worked out with him and his campaign finance records reveal a mutually supportive relationship.
When Doyle announced plans to run for County Council, I was very concerned that he may represent an area where affordable housing is perhaps the most critical crisis facing the community. After years of lobbying him, I knew he was not the person I trusted to protect low income residents. But Doyle’s campaign was beyond appalling.
In 2012, CASA de Maryland ran an extensive campaign to educate Latino voters to support marriage equality, including close monitoring of organizing efforts to anti-marriage votes in the community. Generally speaking, anti efforts were quiet. But in our area, one church put out anti-marriage posters in Spanish. That church was Tabernaculo de la Fe on Metzerott Road. When Doyle decided to recruit a Latina to run against Will Campos in the hopes that Will would be distracted from supporting Deni Taveras’ campaign, he recruited Natalie Cabrera. Cabrera works at Tabernaculo de la Fe; her father is the pastor. Purportedly she lived in the church. The day after she filed to run, Doyle late-filed a bond bill to provide funding for Tabernaculo de la Fe. Ultimately Cabrera was thrown off the ballot because she was actually a registered Republican. I remember the beautiful email Doyle sent out when marriage equality was approved so I hoped that his choice was no more sinister than simply not knowing anything about the Latino community in the district he had represented for years.
Amateur Film of Telemundo Commercial Against Deni Taveras
and Dels. Gutiérrez and Peña-Melnyk
But the campaign was not over. In the Post coverage of the election, Doyle acknowledges that his Latino outreach was largely conducted through faith leaders. He is referring to several Latino pastors, including the Pastor of Tabernaculo de la Fe, that have formed a small coalition. I believe it is that group that placed 30 second commercials, sans authority line, on Telemundo. The commercial, aired of course in Spanish, showed photos of Delegates Ana Sol Gutiérrez and Joseline Peña-Melnyk, Senator Victor Ramirez, and Candidate Deni Taveras with a huge cross-out across their pictures because of their support of SB212. The Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014, as most know, established anti-discrimination protections for the transgender community. The commercial went on to show adult men walking into a bathroom amid screaming semi-nude women. It said, Protect Your Family. And oppose these people who put your family in danger.
On Election Day itself, volunteers from the same group were at the polls in Doyle Niemann tees handing out Doyle Niemann literature. There have been complaints that some of those volunteers brought mini-IPads to show Latino voters copies of the video. Although I have not been able to confirm that myself, I know that Doyle’s morning volunteer at Langley-McCormick Elementary argued with the CASA in Action staffer working that poll that he was there because he has a small child and Deni supported pedophiles going into bathrooms.
Personally, I don’t think Doyle ever had an expectation that he would pick up those voters. I think the goal of these tactics was some misguided sense that Latino votes that would otherwise go to Deni would be suppressed; a big presumption on his part about the nature of the Latino electorate. Doyle, of course, voted for both marriage equality and the Fairness for All Marylanders Act. But that didn’t matter at election time. I was not born yesterday; campaigns get nasty and almost every candidate probably has a moment of shame. But there is a limit to what is acceptable. Destructive tactics during campaigns have long-term consequences for communities. When Tom Perriello voted for the ACA, he said that should he end up a one-term congressman, it was a worthy price to pay for reforming the US healthcare system – an unusually moral stand for a legislator. No one should run unless they are willing to behave with similar dignity.