Szeliga, Flow­ers talk is­sues in LWV Se­nate fo­rum

Dorchester Star - - Regional - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com Fol­low me on Twit­ter @jboll_ star­dem.

WYE MILLS — Two can­di­dates seek­ing to re­place re­tir­ing U.S. Sen. Bar­bara Mikul­ski in the up­com­ing Nov. 8 elec­tion were on the Eastern Shore at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege Wed­nes­day evening, Oct. 19, to dis­cuss is­sues in a League of Women Vot­ers fo­rum.

Repub­li­can nom­i­nee state Del. Kathy Szeliga, cur­rent mi­nor­ity whip in the Mary­land House of Del­e­gates, and Green Party can­di­date Mar­garet Flow­ers, a pe­di­a­tri­cian who has worked as a Con­gres­sional fel­low dur­ing the 2009 and 2010 health re­form process, par­tic­i­pated in Wed­nes­day’s fo­rum.

Miss­ing from the fo­rum was Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Chris Van Hollen, a cur­rent Con­gres­sional House mem­ber for Mary­land who, ac­cord­ing to a Goucher Poll re­leased Sept. 22, was ahead of both can­di­dates in the polls. Ac­cord­ing to a Van Hollen spokesman, a sched­ul­ing con­flict pre­vented him from at­tend­ing the fo­rum.

Szeliga and Flow­ers stuck mostly to their re­spec­tive par­ties’ core prin­ci­ples.

The ques­tions were largely tar­geted at na­tion­wide do­mes­tic and for­eign is­sues — im­mi­gra­tion, money in pol­i­tics, ris­ing col­lege debt, supreme court nom­i­na­tion process and in­fra­struc­ture, among other top­ics. Mary­land-spe­cific is­sues, and also some re­lated to the Eastern Shore, arose oc­ca­sion­ally through­out the fo­rum.

Szeliga said she wants to bring the same prin­ci­ples to the U.S. Se­nate as Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan has brought to Mary­land, in the vein of a non-ca­reer politi­cian and small busi­ness owner bring­ing a first-hand knowl­edge of how busi­nesses han­dle the cur­rent reg­u­la­tor y cli­mate.

“I’m run­ning for U.S. Se­nate be­cause I think Wash­ing­ton (D.C.) is bro­ken,” said Szeliga, who has been a mem­ber of the state House of Del­e­gates since 2011. “Year af­ter year, ca­reer politi­cians make prom­ises that they never de­liver.”

Flow­ers, who doesn’t ac­cept cor­po­rate or po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee do­na­tions to her cam­paign, is ad­vo­cat­ing for an al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal struc­ture in Congress — one in which mem­bers of Congress don’t take big money, which she says re­stricts them in their de­ci­sions and so­lu­tions they bring to the ta­ble.

“We need peo­ple in Congress who are will­ing to ask the hard ques­tions and tell the truth,” Flow­ers said. “When we vote for the par­ties that are caus­ing the prob­lem, we are be­ing com­plicit in al­low­ing them to con­tinue on that path. At some point we have to say, no, we need to end wealth in­equal­ity, we need to deal with the cli­mate cri­sis, we need to deal with the health care cri­sis and lift up our com­mu­ni­ties so that they can con­tinue to thrive.”

Be­fore turn­ing to ques­tions from the au­di­ence, both can­di­dates were asked ques­tions de­vised by the League of Woman Vot­ers.

On im­mi­gra­tion, Szeliga said rein­ing in il­le­gal im­mi­grants is im­por­tant for the cur­rent heroin is­sue that has plagued com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try. She said 85 per­cent of opi­ates com­ing into the United States are from Cen­tral and South Amer­ica.

Szeliga called for a se­cure bor­der — for na­tional se­cu­rity and hu­man traf­fick­ing is­sues — but “not nec­es­sar­ily a wall,” as Repub­li­can Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump has re­peat­edly sug­gested.

“We have great tech­nol­ogy in our coun­try and we’re able to se­cure our bor­ders with lots of meth­ods, but un­til we com­mit to do­ing that, the con­ver­sa­tions on im­mi­gra­tions are just not go­ing to be be­lieved by the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” Szeliga said.

Flow­ers called for a path to cit­i­zen­ship for the es­ti­mated 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in the United States. Doc­u­ment­ing the im­mi­grants, mak­ing them ci­ti­zens and giv­ing them ac­cess to health care would re­duce the U.S.’s over­all health care cost, be­cause there would be more peo­ple pooled into the sys­tem, she said.

“The re­al­ity is that peo­ple get care when they have an emer­gency any­way, so we might as well rec­og­nize them,” Flow­ers said.

Flow­ers also said im­mi­grants should have ac­cess to a job with dig­nity, that ev­ery per­son has a liv­ing wage and ad­e­quate hu­man rights. She said United States ci­ti­zens “need to rec­og­nize the value of im­mi­grants in this coun­try;” im­mi­grants who some­times be­come small busi­ness own­ers and in­no­va­tors.

“Over­all, I think we need to rec­og­nize the con­di­tions that drive im­mi­gra­tion into the United States, be­cause for the most part, many peo­ple are not in­ter­ested in leav­ing their home, leav­ing their fam­i­lies, their chil­dren be­hind,” Flow­ers said. “But it is the eco­nomic and mil­i­tary poli­cies of the United States, par­tic­u­larly in Latin Amer­ica, which are driv­ing im­mi­gra­tion into this coun­try.”

“We need to have trade agree­ments that are fair, that don’t un­der­mine the economies. We need to stop be­ing in­volved in coups in coun­tries like Hon­duras, and we need to cease in­ter­ven­ing in the gov­ern­ments of these coun­tries to put in place peo­ple that we would like to see in power, and if we do that ... I think we will see a big change in im­mi­gra­tion,” Flower said.

The two can­di­dates agreed on try­ing to get money out of pol­i­tics and politi­cians’ de­ci­sions, and called for a pub­lic fi­nanc­ing sys­tem for all can­di­dates to use, sim­i­lar to what Ho­gan used dur­ing his cam­paign for Mary­land gov­er­nor.

Both also said they’re uniquely qual­i­fied for the Se­nate seat be­cause they’re women. Re­tir­ing Sen­a­tor Mikul­ski is of­ten de­scribed as a fierce ad­vo­cate for women’s rights. Szeliga said that, as a woman, she’d be able to bring a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive to the ta­ble, but if Democrats are suc­cess­ful in the up­com­ing Nov. 8 elec­tion, there would no longer be a woman rep­re­sent­ing Mary­land in the U.S. Se­nate.

Both also agreed that, as a po­ten­tial U.S. Sen­a­tor, not to take part in hold­ing up the Supreme Court nom­i­nat­ing process, some­thing Se­nate Repub­li­cans in Congress have done fol­low­ing the death of con­ser­va­tive Judge An­tonin Scalia in Fe­bru­ary, to block al­low- ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to ap­point a lib­eral judge to the Supreme Court. Both can­di­dates said they would look at the Supreme Court nom­i­nee in the in­ter­ests of ci­ti­zens, re­gard­less of party.

Both also said they sup­port their re­spec­tive party’s nom­i­nee for U.S. pres­i­dent — Jill Stein with the Green Party (Flow­ers) and Don­ald Trump for Repub­li­cans (Szeliga).

Some­thing the two didn’t agree on was col­lege debt, mainly a pop­u­lar pro­posal among lib­er­als to pro­vide free col­lege tuition. Both mothers, they also put them­selves through col­lege.

Flow­ers sup­ports free col­lege tuition and eras­ing cur­rent stu­dent debt, say­ing that stu­dents are be­ing preyed upon by stu­dent loan lenders and get­ting loans with high in­ter­est rates that “they can never re­ally ever pay off, un­for­tu­nately,” for those who work in a ser­vice-based econ­omy.

“If we can bail out Wall Street banks af­ter they crashed our econ­omy in 2008, there’s no rea­son why we can’t bail out an en­tire gen­er­a­tion right now that is strug­gling and not able to par­tic­i­pate in the econ­omy,” Flow­ers said. “(Free col­lege ed­u­ca­tion) pro­vides an eco­nomic re­turn to the coun­try, as we know that stu­dents come out and do bet­ter in the em­ploy­ment field when they have a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion.”

Szeliga, how­ever, does not sup­port free col­lege tuition.

“I think any­body over 18 knows noth­ing’s free. Some­body pays for it,” Szeliga said, ad­vo­cat­ing tak­ing a look at col­lege af­ford­abil­ity, as the price of col­lege “in 10 years has dou­bled.

Szeliga also ad­vo­cated for train­ing in the trades — car­pen­ters, welders and elec­tri­cians — and for “ed­u­ca­tional elit­ists” to stop “den­i­grat­ing work­ing with your hands.” Szeliga co-owns a con­struc­tion busi­ness along with her hus­band.

PHOTO BY JOSH BOLLINGER

From left, Green Part can­di­date Mar­garete Flow­ers and Repub­li­can can­di­date Kathy Szeliga de­bate is­sues dur­ing a League of Women Vot­ers U.S. Se­nate fo­rum on Wed­nes­day at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege.

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