Szeliga, Van Hollen clash in first de­bate

Con­tenders con­trast their stands on Trump can­di­dacy

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By John Fritze

WASH­ING­TON — The two ma­jor-party can­di­dates run­ning for Mary­land’s open U.S. Se­nate seat sparred Fri­day over their leg­isla­tive records as well as Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump as they took part in the first de­bate in the race to suc­ceed re­tir­ing Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski.

Demo­cratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who holds a sig­nif­i­cant lead in polling, used the de­bate on WAMU-FM to crit­i­cize Repub­li­can state Del. Kathy Szeliga’s vot­ing his­tory in An­napo­lis — not­ing her op­po­si­tion to in­creas­ing the state min­i­mum wage as well as a law that pro­vides state-funded in­cen­tives for col­lege sav­ings.

“The re­al­ity is there are lots of peo­ple strug­gling,” said Van Hollen, a Montgomery County lawmaker who has sup­ported rais­ing the fed­eral min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour. “Whether it’s the min­i­mum wage or try­ing to make sure that peo­ple can af­ford col­lege, we need to be there for work­ing peo­ple.”

Szeliga, a Bal­ti­more County lawmaker and the mi­nor­ity whip in the Mary­land

House of Del­e­gates, said she lived on the min­i­mum wage as a “maid, a wait­ress, a dish­washer” be­fore start­ing a con­tract­ing firm with her hus­band. Szeliga, who op­poses rais­ing the $7.25-an-hour min­i­mumwage, said low-wage earn­ers are more in­ter­ested in a ca­reer than a bump in salary.

Szeliga went on the at­tack in her open­ing state­ment, point­ing to Van Hollen’s 14 years in Congress, cast­ing him as an in­sider and sug­gest­ing he has done lit­tle to ad­dress a wide range of prob­lems, in­clud­ing the na­tional debt, back­logs at the U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and even traf­fic in the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs.

“It goes back to elec­tion-year prom­ises,” Szeliga said dur­ing the de­bate, which was hosted by “The Kojo Nnamdi Show.”

Vot­ers, she said, “are tired of lip ser­vice com­ing from Wash­ing­ton.”

One of the fiercest ex­changes came dur­ing a dis­cus­sion of Trump. Van Hollen noted that Szeliga sup­ports the GOP nom­i­nee even though Mary­land’s Repub­li­can gov­er­nor, Larry Ho­gan, does not. Polling has in­di­cated Trump is deeply un­pop­u­lar in Mary­land.

Ho­gan “made the de­ci­sion not to sup­port Don­ald Trump be­cause he de­cided, in this case, to put coun­try over party and not elect some­body who is er­ratic and could be dan­ger­ous,” Van Hollen said.

Szeliga has said she is sup­port­ing Trump but doesn’t al­ways agree with his po­si­tions.

“Just like Con­gress­man Van Hollen is sup­port­ing his nom­i­nee, I’m sup­port­ing my nom­i­nee,” she said.

Szeliga fired back at her op­po­nent by point­ing out that the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, the cam­paign arm of House Democrats, took money from Trump when Van Hollen served as its chair­man. “I will tell you that there is only one per­son who has taken money from Don­ald Trump, and it’s Chris Van Hollen,” Szeliga said. “I have not taken money.”

While it is true that the DCCC ac­cepted con­tri­bu­tions from Trump un­der Van Hollen’s lead­er­ship, it is also the case that many Repub­li­cans and Democrats — in­clud­ing Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton — pre­vi­ously took money from the New York busi­ness­man.

De­spite Ho­gan’s un­ex­pected win in 2014, Szeliga faces an up­hill fight in Mary­land. Three in­de­pen­dent polls — the lat­est of which was re­leased Thurs­day — have in­di­cated Van Hollen is lead­ing by about 30 points. That is a much larger polling deficit than Ho­gan ever faced in his race against Demo­crat Anthony G. Brown.

Van Hollen delved into Szeliga’s vot­ing record, not­ing not only the min­i­mum-wage pro­posal but also a mea­sure ap­proved by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly this year that will match con­tri­bu­tions to state-spon­sored col­lege sav­ings ac­counts with state grants. Repub­li­cans ob­jected to the bill be­cause of the cost, but Ho­gan signed it in May.

Szeliga crit­i­cized Van Hollen for vot­ing against a bill ap­proved by the House last month that would make it eas­ier to fire em­ploy­ees at Vet­er­ans Af­fairs. Democrats were split on that leg­is­la­tion, but many of those who op­posed it said it vi­o­lates em­ploy­ees’ due process.

While Szeliga has been eager to draw con­trasts with Van Hollen on some is­sues, the two can­di­dates have rarely been pinned down on specifics. On Fri­day, Szeliga staked out a num­ber of mod­er­ate po­si­tions that are likely to be pop­u­lar with vot­ers statewide. She said she does not sup­port re­peal­ing the con­tro­ver­sial Af­ford­able Care Act, for in­stance, but rather mak­ing ad­just­ments to it.

She said Trump should re­lease his tax re­turns, a move he has been re­luc­tant to make. And she said she does not sup­port the idea of build­ing a wall on the U.S. bor­der with Mex­ico, a cen­tral com­po­nent of Trump’s cam­paign.

Szeliga has been crit­i­cal of Van Hollen’s sup­port of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Iran nu­clear agree­ment, ar­gu­ing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion lifted sanc­tions on the coun­try for too lit­tle in re­turn. At one point, as she was asked about the death of Fred­die Gray and what role the fed­eral govern­ment has in help­ing distressed cities like Bal­ti­more, Szeliga said: “I would rather talk about Iran.”

While a hand­ful of fo­rums have been sched­uled, the can­di­dates have an­nounced only two more broad­cast de­bates. Szeliga and Van Hollen will meet Oct. 26 in a tele­vised de­bate spon­sored by WJZ-TV, The Bal­ti­more Sun and the Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more.

That de­bate will broad­cast on WJZChan­nel 13.

Aides to both cam­paigns said Fri­day that the can­di­dates have agreed to an­other ra­dio de­bate, sched­uled for Oct. 31 on Bal­ti­more’s WOLB-AM.

Szeliga used her clos­ing re­marks to chal­lenge Van Hollen to a sec­ond tele­vised de­bate. Van Hollen re­sponded by not­ing the new ra­dio de­bate on WOLB and the pre­vi­ously sched­uled tele­vi­sion de­bate on WJZ. He did not di­rectly ad­dress Szeliga’s chal­lenge for a sec­ond TV de­bate.

“You will not com­mit,” she said. “He does not want to de­bate me on TV.”

Green Party can­di­date Mar­garet Flow­ers, who was not in­cluded in the WAMU de­bate, has also sought op­por­tu­ni­ties to ap­pear on stage with the can­di­dates. WAMUre­quired can­di­dates to have at least 10 per­cent sup­port in polling to take part. Flow­ers has polled in the sin­gle dig­its.

Flow­ers will ap­pear sep­a­rately on the “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” next week.


The broad­cast Se­nate de­bate be­tween Repub­li­can Kathy Szeliga and Demo­crat Chris Van Hollen is con­ducted Fri­day at WAMU in Wash­ing­ton.


Repub­li­can Kathy Szeliga dis­missed Van Hollen as a Wash­ing­ton in­sider who has done lit­tle to ad­dress a wide range of prob­lems.

Demo­crat Chris Van Hollen strongly ad­vo­cated in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage, be­cause “the re­al­ity is there are lots of peo­ple strug­gling.”

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