De­bate heats up Se­nate race be­tween Van Hollen, Szeliga



— Don­ald Trump, the Repub­li­can Party’s nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent, at times seemed to be the fo­cus of an Oct. 7 de­bate on WAMU ra­dio be­tween Demo­cratic U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Repub­li­can Del­e­gate Kathy Szeliga.

Van Hollen and Szeliga, the mi­nor­ity whip in Mary­land’s House of Del­e­gates, are run­ning to fill Sen. Bar­bara Mikul­ski’s se­nate seat when she re­tires at the end of her cur­rent term. Mikul­ski is sup­port­ing Van Hollen.

In his open­ing state­ment, Van Hollen said, “We can’t al­low the di­vi­sive at­tacks of Don­ald Trump to tear us apart.”

Dur­ing the de­bate, Szeliga was re­peat­edly ques­tioned on whether she would sup­port or en­dorse Trump. Szeliga wouldn’t say his name when pres­sured to by Van Hollen and Tom Sher­wood, an NBC reporter who mod­er­ated the event.

“I know you’re try­ing to hide from the fact that you’re sup­port­ing Don­ald Trump,” Van Hollen said. “You don’t like to say his name.”

In­stead, Szeliga re­peat­edly said that she would sup­port “the party’s nom­i­nee.”

Szeliga ac­cused Van Hollen of ac­cept­ing po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions from Trump, al­though there is no record of this in data from the Mary­land State Board of Elec­tions or Fol­low the Money, a non­par­ti­san non­profit that tracks fed­eral po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions.

Trump did do­nate to the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee while Van Hollen headed the group from 2007 to 2011. Trump has in the past do­nated to mem­bers of both par­ties, in­clud­ing his cur­rent op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Asked whether Trump should re­lease his tax re­turns, Szeliga said, “Sure.”

Polling re­sults from the Goucher Poll and Opin­ionWorks in­di­cate that Szeliga is down in the polls, re­ceiv­ing around 25 per­cent, with Van Hollen re­ceiv­ing around 55 per­cent. Nearly 20 per­cent of poll re­spon­dents were un­sure of their pick.

Szeliga dis­missed the poll and ar­gued that any Repub­li­can on a Mary­land bal­lot — “Jane Repub­li­can,” she said — is pro­jected to re­ceive at least 38 per­cent.

“Are you call­ing me a loser?” Szeliga said af­ter be­ing asked about the polls. “The base­line vote for a Repub­li­can in Mary­land is 38 per­cent.”

In Mary­land, reg­is­tered Democrats out­num­ber reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans by a 2-1 ra­tio.

Fol­low­ing their in­tro­duc­tions and open­ing state­ments, each can­di­date was asked for their top pri­or­ity in of­fice.


“My top pri­or­ity is our veter­ans,” Szeliga said, re­count­ing her fa­ther’s ser­vice in the U.S. Army. She said he served two tours in Korea and one in Viet­nam.

Van Hollen, whose fa­ther served in the U.S. Navy, agreed, and said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

A re­cent Con­gres­sional vote by Van Hollen was one point of con­tention. He voted against House Bill 5620, the VA Ac­count­abil­ity First and Ap­peals Mod­ern­iza­tion Act of 2016, which would al­low the De­part­ment of Vet­eran Af­fairs to re­move or de­mote work­ers based on their per­for­mance.

“We have got to fix the VA,” Szeliga said.

Van Hollen coun­tered, de­fend­ing his record on vet­eran is­sues by say­ing he has been en­dorsed by the Veter­ans and Mil­i­tary Fam­i­lies for Progress.

“Con­gress­man Van Hollen has demon­strated an ex­traor­di­nar­ily strong com­mit­ment and deep un­der­stand­ing of the is­sues that af­fect Amer­ica’s veter­ans,” the group said in a pre­pared state­ment.

On rais­ing the min­i­mum wage

Szeliga, who runs a small con­struc­tion con­tract­ing busi­ness with her hus­band, Mark, said the fo­cus should be on pro­vid­ing ca­reers for those on the min­i­mum wage.

“I am the only one of us who ac­tu­ally lived on a min­i­mum wage,” she said re­count­ing how she dropped out of col­lege at 18 and worked as a wait­ress and dish­washer. “I was look­ing for a ca­reer.”

Van Hollen said his goal is to make the min­i­mum wage a liv­able wage.

“It is a scan­dal in this coun­try that you can work 40 hours a week” and be below the poverty line for a fam­ily of three, he said, ex­plain­ing that he would sup­port Clin­ton’s plan to in­crease the na­tional min­i­mum wage to $12 an hour with the goal of pro­gress­ing to $15 an hour.

He noted that Szeliga voted against rais­ing Mary­land’s min­i­mum wage.

The con­gress­man added he sup­ports plans to en­sure that women re­ceive equal pay for equal work.

“I’m a woman,” Szeliga said. “Of course I sup­port equal pay.”

How­ever, she ques­tioned whether fur­ther leg­is­la­tion was needed, not­ing that a fed­eral law was passed in 1963 to en­sure equal pay. She did vote for the state of Mary­land’s ex­pan­sion of the equal pay for equal work act in 2016.

Van Hollen said that “the re­al­ity is women are still paid less” than men, which is why he sup­ports Mikul­ski’s Pay­check Fair­ness Act, which would in­crease ac­count­abil­ity.

On the tax code

“Non­stop taxes have killed the mid­dle class,” Szeliga said. “We don’t solve prob­lems when we raise taxes.”

“I’ve put for­ward a plan that would pro­vide tax breaks for the mid­dle class,” Van Hollen said.

He ex­plained that “we need a tax sys­tem that sup­ports hard­work­ing fam­i­lies and not cor­po­ra­tions that move their jobs and cap­i­tal over­seas.” Van Hollen has in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to close loop­holes that al­low cor­po­ra­tions to re­ceive tax breaks, in­clud­ing cor­po­ra­tions that out­source jobs.

“We need to re­ward com­pa­nies that in­vest in Mary­land, in­vest in Bal­ti­more, [and] in­vest in this area,” he said.

On crim­i­nal jus­tice

When asked about the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s role in crim­i­nal jus­tice, the Fred­die Gray case and polic­ing in Bal­ti­more, Szeliga said, “I would rather talk about Iran.” She has been vo­cal about her op­po­si­tion to the Iran nu­clear deal in the past.

Be­fore time ran out in the de­bate, Van Hollen called the sit­u­a­tion “a tragedy” and ad­vo­cated for pro­vid­ing fed­eral in­cen­tives to lo­cal po­lice agen­cies to in­crease trans­parency.

Clos­ing state­ments

Van Hollen: “When I think of Sen. Mikul­ski, I think of some­body who is fo­cused on get­ting re­sults for our state and work­ing across the aisle, and that’s what I’ve done. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” He said he wants to en­sure that chil­dren get a good ed­u­ca­tion, to build an econ­omy “that works for ev­ery­body,” to end mass in­car­cer­a­tion, and ad­dress gun vi­o­lence.

“I’ve put for­ward spe­cific pro­pos­als,” he said.

Szeliga used her clos­ing state­ment to pres­sure Van Hollen to agree to a tele­vised de­bate on WJLA-TV.

“You can hear from to­day’s de­bate that there’s a clear choice. Con­gress­man Van Hollen, to­day will you com­mit to do­ing the de­bate with WJLA and FOX 45?” she asked.

The two ar­gued over plans for a de­bate.

“You’re in the mid­dle of a de­bate,” Van Hollen said.

Joe De­feo, WJLA-TV’s con­tent di­rec­tor, said that de­tails are not fi­nal­ized but they do have plans to host a de­bate. Fox Bal­ti­more could not im­me­di­ately con­firm whether de­bates were sched­uled.

While a hand­ful of fo­rums have been sched­uled, the can­di­dates have cur­rently agreed to only two more broad­cast de­bates: an Oct. 26 tele­vised de­bate on WJZChan­nel 13 and an­other ra­dio de­bate, sched­uled for Oct. 31 on Bal­ti­more’s WOLB-AM.


U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) con­tin­ues to hold his strong lead in the polls over Mary­land Del­e­gate Kathy Szeliga (R).

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