Szeliga, Flowers talk issues in LWV Senate forum
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.
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.