Painfully aware that they will spend the summer knocking on thousands of doors in preparation for the November election, Maryland state senators debated Friday changing the rules so they could go door-to-door in currently off-limits gated communities and condos.
"Homeowners associations should not be able to prevent campaigning in our form of government," said Sen. Alex Mooney, a Republican who sponsored the measure, which was killed by a 26-21 vote.
The proposal would have carved out a solicitation exception for politicians only, Mooney said. Salespeople and evangelists could still have been barred.
Mooney said the change would be similar to other First Amendment freedoms that the associations must allow, such as displaying political signs and flying the American flag. Mooney reminded officials that nothing bars a homeowner from posting a "no solicitation" or "no trespassing" sign on their property.
The bill failed with Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden of Baltimore leading the opposition. The Democratic senator said he lives in a complex that is off-limits to political pitches and repeatedly asked about his rights as a condo owner.
"These are individuals who choose to live in this arrangement," he said. "This is their private property. This bill seeks to dictate how they handle their own private affairs, am I correct?"
Other senators acknowledged the irritation that political home visits can cause.
"I don't want me knocking on my door," said Sen. James N. Robey, a Howard County Democrat who lives in a no-access building.
Sen. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's County Democrat who was the U.S. ambassador to Romania, drew a parallel between how that country's former dictator held power and the current rules governing homeowners associations.
"They want to be sure that nobody is talking to anybody," he said. "We have erred on the side of open debate."