No Place For Slurs In Legitimate Discourse

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According to an article posted on marylandreporter.com, some Eastern Shore lawmakers feel the Maryland Department of Environment is making it difficult for the Department of Agriculture to work effectively and is subsequently causing harm to state farmers. We see how this would be a legitimate concern for some, but a comment from a veteran lawmaker on the subject illustrates a wanton disregard for the truth as well as the sensitive nature of some elected officials.

In the article, Republican Sen. Richard Colburn said “river keepers” are dominating shore business. Drawing a comparision between them and watermelons, he said they are “green on the outside and red or socialist on the inside.”

Colburn’s comments are incredibly off the mark and give an enormous amount of power that does not exist to the subject of his ire.

We feel the Waterkeepers serve an important purpose across the country and on the shore. Locally, Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips serves as a sort of official monitor of the checks and balances of the environmental world. She, like her predecessor, is charged with keeping an eye on waterways in the region and ensuring all rules governing them are being followed, whether it’s developers, farmers or fishermen. Sure, controversy seems to follow her and her agency, but that’s okay.

Clearly, she discovered something awry on a local farm when water quality levels far exceeded acceptable standards and traced them to property owners’ negligent practices. The farm was quickly cleaned up and water quality levels returned to near-acceptable marks fairly soon after, thanks to her efforts and her willingness to challenge the state’s environmental arm.

However, Colburn gives Phillips and her colleagues far too much credit in saying they often disrupt important projects on the shore single-handedly and subsequently bolsters their role beyond what they even think they realistically play in matters. All Colburn did with his comments was further motivate and encourage the green community. He did more in this article to further their cause than he could ever realize.

In her blog, The Progger, Phillips predictably took issue with the comments, particularly the “socialist” remark.

“A strange accusation considering that what the Waterkeeper Alliance is advocating is an enforcement of existing state and federal laws. The laws call for measures that will reduce the pollution that has severely damaged the Chesapeake Bay. I’ve been called a communist before, but that was during the 60′s when I was working in opposition to the war in Vietnam. At that time many people advocated civil disobedience, disobeying the law using passive resistance to foster a change in the laws themselves,” she wrote. “Now I’m working to make sure that laws are enforced. Yes, you heard me correctly; laws are enforced. And I’m being called a commie again! How does that work? … There was a time when Maryland could be proud of its legislators. I wonder if that time will ever come again.”

It’s certainly not the first time elected and appointed officials and environmentalists have clashed. Recent and ancient history, on the local, state and national levels, are rich with examples.

Surely, the proverbial “us vs. them” mentality is bound to exist at times between the preservers of the environment and government officials who may lean toward development and growth interests. This is acceptable, natural and understandable. Discourse is often healthy, but throwing around ridiculously inaccurate slurs, no matter what side is hurling the insults, is unacceptable.

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