Can­di­date fo­rum marked by ci­vil­ity, agree­ment

Dorchester Star - - Regional - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­

WYE MILLS — Can­di­dates for Mary­land’s First Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, in stark con­trast to the coun­try’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, con­ducted a civil de­bate at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege on Sun­day, Oct. 30.

In­cum­bent Repub­li­can con­gress­man Andy Har­ris, 59, Demo­crat Joe Werner, 56, and Lib­er­tar­ian Matt Beers, 25, shared their pol­icy po­si­tions with­out ran­cor at a First Con­gres­sional Dis­trict Can­di­date Fo­rum spon­sored by the Leagues of Women Vot­ers of Kent County, Queen Anne’s County and the Mid-Shore (Caro­line, Dorchester and Tal­bot Coun­ties).

The can­di­dates shared a small stage and a cramped ta­ble in Cad­bury The­ater on the Wye Mills cam­pus. About 25 au­di­ence mem­bers at­tended which in­cluded League vol­un­teers and co­or­di­na­tors.

The pro­gram fea­tured two-minute open­ing state­ments, ques­tions from the League with two-minute an­swers and one-minute re­but­tals al­lowed. Pre­screened ques­tions writ­ten on in­dex cards by the au­di­ence were then al­lowed. The can­di­dates were al­lowed two-minute clos­ing state­ments.

All three can­di­dates op­pose dis­trict ger­ry­man­der­ing and the bal­loon­ing deficit. They all want to see a stronger econ­omy for the East­ern Shore, se­cure bor­ders and a more ac­count­able gov­ern­ment. How to achieve these goals pro­duced a con­sis­tently civil dis­cus­sion, and even some agree­ment.

The League de­signed three ques­tions for the can­di­dates. The first was on im­mi­gra­tion: “What pro­pos­als would you sup­port to ad­dress the is­sue of the mil­lions of un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents liv­ing in the United States to­day?”

Call­ing im­mi­gra­tion a “com­plex is­sue,” Werner, an at­tor­ney who lives in Har­ford County but works in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., said that de­port­ing “il­le­gal aliens is not about be­ing anti-im­mi­gra­tion.”

“Un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who com­mit il­le­gal acts? Yes, I’d send them out,” Werner said. But he would also like to see a pol­icy that al­lows chil­dren to pe­ti­tion for their un­doc­u­mented par­ents to stay in the coun­try.

“I’m sure there are a lot of farm­ers (on the East­ern Shore) hir­ing peo­ple who are un­doc­u­mented,” he said. “When we had a good econ­omy in the 1920s, we wanted un­doc­u­mented work­ers.”

Beers said, “We need to look first at the fault in our own sys­tem. I think we should be able to let peo­ple cross bor­ders the way we cross state bor­ders,” the Navy vet­eran from Elk­ton said. “We should work with the com­mu­nity ... work with an em­ployee-based visa pro­gram to bring 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants into the open.”

“The U.S. is a coun­try gov­erned by the rule of law,” Har­ris said. “The prob­lem is when (an im­mi­grant’s) first act is to break the law.” He sup­ports eco­nomic sanc­tions against a coun­try which will not ac­cept a crim­i­nal alien be­cause they can’t be de­tained in the U.S. in­def­i­nitely, he said.

Har­ris sup­ports cre­at­ing a new class of im­mi­grants who would not be el­i­gi­ble for most so­cial ser­vices, but whose chil­dren could qual­ify for cit­i­zen­ship. He cited how “in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant” H2B (tem­po­rary visa) work­ers are to the East­ern Shore econ­omy.

The se­cond ques­tion the League asked was how the can­di­dates would pro­pose to pay for the coun­try’s ne­glected in­fra­struc­ture.

Beers’ re­sponse was short and to the point. Spend­ing should be repri­or­i­tized and al­lo­cated to the U.S. to pay for roads and bridges. “We shouldn’t send money over­seas ... The fed­eral gov­ern­ment needs to stop sub­si­diz­ing big in­dus­try.”

Har­ris also fa­vors repri­or­i­tiz­ing spend­ing and han­dling in­fra­struc­ture is­sues at the state level, “and we don’t do it by in­creas­ing the gas tax.” Cor­po­ra­tions should repa­tri­ate their money and more money should go to re­build­ing roads and bridges rather than to bol­ster­ing mass tran­sit.

Har­ris com­plained that manda­tory fed­eral pro­grams, es­pe­cially food stamps and the Af­ford­able Care Act “crowd out ev­ery­thing else, in­clud­ing roads and bridges.”

Werner agreed that fed­eral spend­ing should be repri­or­i­tized but dif­fered from Har­ris and Beers about how to do that. “In­fra­struc­ture cre­ates jobs and im­proves the econ­omy,” he said, cit­ing how Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower’s high­way pro­gram “re­ally helped.”

Werner be­lieves rais­ing the gas tax would in­crease funds for im­prov­ing mass tran­sit. Cit­ing his own daily com­mute from Be­lair to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Werner said that mass tran­sit “gets peo­ple off the roads and (lessens the) pol­lu­tion caused by sit­ting in traf­fic.”

In the most force­ful re­but­tal of the fo­rum, Har­ris shot back, “The idea is non­sense that in­creas­ing gov­ern­ment spend­ing” will solve the prob­lem. Rais­ing taxes, which he said Democrats al­ways want to do, won’t solve traf­fic prob­lems, he said.

The League’s third ques­tion asked can­di­dates to con­sider what steps they would sup­port “to re­duce the amount of money and its re­sul­tant in­flu­ence in our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem?”

Har­ris an­swered by cit­ing the Supreme Court’s con­clu­sion that “con­tribut­ing (to cam­paigns) is (a form of) free speech.” He fa­vors treat­ing unions like cor­po­ra­tions “if we’re go­ing to talk about lim­it­ing spend­ing.”

Werner be­lieves “gi­ant cor­po­ra­tions should not be able to give to po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns,” be­cause they’re not a per­son,” he said. “We should take cor­po­rate and PAC money out of pol­i­tics ... be­cause you end up with an oli­garchy.”

Beers agreed. “The FEC overly bur­dens grass­roots ef­forts. The cur­rent reg­u­la­tions are hurt­ing po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment,” he said.

Two of the ques­tions from the au­di­ence had to do with get­ting the econ­omy mov­ing and solv­ing the na­tional debt sit­u­a­tion.

“Stop ger­ry­man­der­ing (con­gres­sional) districts and get big money out of pol­i­tics,” Werner said. “As long as you keep elect­ing ex­treme right, or ex­treme left can­di­dates, for that mat­ter,” noth­ing will get done, Werner said. He com­pli­mented for­mer Repub­li­can con­gress­man Wayne Gilchrest be­cause “he reached across the aisle. “You have to vote for peo­ple who know how to work well to­gether.”

The debt can be han­dled, Werner said, by fig­ur­ing out “how to cur­tail en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams ... and the refugee sit­u­a­tion. We’re act­ing like drunken sailors. We should be look­ing at bet­ter trade deals with China.”

“Werner has it right. Ger­ry­man­der­ing is a big prob­lem,” Har­ris said, “Un­for­tu­nately, his party has it wrong.” Har­ris be­lieves an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion should de­ter­mine dis­trict bound­aries. “my dis­trict shouldn’t stretch from Ocean City to ... Taney­town.”

Har­ris is in fa­vor of cut­ting taxes. “When you in­crease taxes, you lower eco­nomic out­put,” he said. Har­ris wants to cut en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, but his caveat is, “If you’re ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment, you should be taken off the ta­ble.” So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care re­forms should take place among a younger pop­u­la­tion.

“Re­form the tax code, bring over­seas cap­i­tal home and get the fed­eral gov­ern­ment out of the way,” with­out reneg­ing on prior com­mit­ments to se­niors, Beers said was the way to get the econ­omy mov­ing.

How to deal with the “dev­as­tat­ing war in the Mid­dle East” was an­other au­di­ence ques­tion.

“We need to stop bomb­ing seven dif­fer­ent coun­tries,” Beers said. “Stop arm­ing rebels, stop try­ing to top­ple regimes.” He would stop U.S. mil­i­tary in­volve­ment over­seas, in­clud­ing clos­ing all mil­i­tar y bases.

Trac­ing un­rest in the Mideast to the ar­bi­trary carv­ing up of the Ot­toman Em­pire, Werner said, “We’re act­ing un­re­al­is­ti­cally.” He said that bad lead­ers were re­placed with worse, re­sult­ing in re­bel­lion against those gov­ern­ments. “We should help refugees over there. We should help Jor­dan more,” he said, be­cause it’s a good ally. “Some coun­tries should be di­vided up; the Kurds need a coun­try of their own.”

“Our for­eign pol­icy has been an un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter,” Har­ris said. But he said, rather than pull out com­pletely, “we ac­tu­ally have a NATO al­liance. Un­op­posed ag­gres­sion leads to no good.” Har­ris would rather see the U.S. train its al­lies and help pro­vide needed equip­ment, es­pe­cially to halt Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in Iraq’s power vac­uum.

“We should never have been in Iraq to be­gin with,” Werner said. “Bush put in a pup­pet. I’m Pol­ish; you’ve got to stand up to a bully.”

Beers added, “We’re not the po­lice­man of the world.”

On the ques­tion of what to do about cli­mate change, Werner said that global warm­ing is real, and that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment “should stop sub­si­diz­ing big oil ... and use it to sup­port re­new­able en­ergy.”

“The free mar­ket,” Beers said, “is the best way for a coun­try to man­age its re­sources. The gov­ern­ment shouldn’t be in­volved in choos­ing en­ergy for us.”

“Mr. Beers hit the nail on the head,” Har­ris re­sponded. “We have ne­glected the strate­gic use of en­ergy to sta­bi­lize the world.”

The can­di­dates were asked if they would re­peal or re­vise Oba­macare. Har­ris said that the Act was “poorly con­ceived.” How­ever, there are some as­pects of the law he would pre­serve, namely, cov­er­age for pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, chil­dren 26 and un­der be­ing able to stay on their par­ents’ pol­icy, and re­mov­ing the life­time cap for treat­ment.

“The rest of the scheme doesn’t work,” Har­ris said. “It’s great if you’re on Med­i­caid. If you’re not, the sys­tem doesn’t work. It has to be re­designed.”

“It’s not per­fect, and it needs to be changed,” Werner said. He thinks that the costs could be reined in by rein­ing in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal costs.

Cit­ing his own ex­pe­ri­ence as a vet­eran re­ceiv­ing care, Beers added briefly that gov­ern­ment health­care is not that great. He said that in­sur­ance and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies ben­e­fit most from Oba­macare. “We need to go back to church hos­pi­tals, get gov­ern­ment out of the way and im­prove com­pe­ti­tion.”

A third Bay Bridge was one of the last ques­tions the can­di­dates faced. Werner said he’d like to see a tun­nel “right here.” Beers wants the “com­mu­nity to solve” the is­sue and keep the feds out of the de­ci­sion.

Har­ris wants to see third Ch­e­sa­peake Bay cross­ing is­sue solved at the state level. He said that a Baltimore cross­ing “would do to Kent County what hap­pened to Queen Anne’s County.” He thinks the so­lu­tion is to in­crease the ca­pac­ity at the cur­rent Bay Bridge cross­ing.

In their clos­ing re­marks, Beers said he wants to get peo­ple in­volved in the sys­tem again. “We need to look at can­di­dates based on their ca­pa­bil­i­ties” rather than big money sup­port.

Werner agreed with Beers. “We need to get big money out of pol­i­tics, stop ger­ry­man­der­ing and em­ploy free mar­ket ideas,” he said. “There should be three (po­lit­i­cal) par­ties. Like the Bernie San­ders move­ment. That’s what it’s all about.”

Har­ris con­cluded the fo­rum by say­ing he fa­vors term lim­its, but that it’s an honor to serve the First Dis­trict. “I’m go­ing to de­fend the agri­cul­ture and tourism in­dus­tries on the Shore” and for the econ­omy to be “strong and grow­ing.” He added that every­one wants to save the Bay, but they want to have a say in how it’s done.”

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