Van Hollen vis­its col­lege, takes stu­dents’ ques­tions

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, in speak­ing to Wash­ing­ton Col­lege stu­dents Fri­day, said this year’s midterm elec­tion is prob­a­bly the most con­se­quen­tial in his life­time.

Van Hollen, D-Md., is happy not to be up for re­elec­tion this year. The sen­a­tor was elected to his first-six-year term two years ago. Prior to that, he was a mem­ber of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, which meant his name was on the bal­lot ev­ery two years.

“This is the first time in a long time that I’ve not been on the bal­lot,” he told stu­dents of pro­fes­sor Melissa Deck­man, chair­man of the Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence Depart­ment, in a class­room at the col­lege’s new boathouse. “I’m not up this time but I feel as ner­vous about the out­come for the coun­try as if I were on this time.”

With less than two weeks be­fore peo­ple head to the polls, Van Hollen said this year’s elec­tion is cru­cial in en­sur­ing checks and bal­ances re­main in place in Wash­ing­ton.

Prior to speak­ing with Deck­man’s stu­dents, Van Hollen was given a tour of the new boathouse by col­lege Pres­i­dent Kurt Land­graf and Di­rec­tor of Water­front Ac­tiv­i­ties Ben Ar­miger. Join­ing them were Provost and Dean Pa­trice DiQuinzio and Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent of Strat­egy and Op­er­a­tions Mark Hamp­ton.

Van Hollen said Wash­ing­ton Col­lege is a great school in a beau­ti­ful set­ting.

Land­graf thanked Van Hollen for his pub­lic ser­vice in these tur­bu­lent times.

“Its re­ally is a big deal, sen­a­tor. We ap­pre­ci­ate ev- ery­thing you do,” he told Van Hollen.

En­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to cast bal­lots, Van Hollen said a lot of the elec­tions this year are go­ing to be de­ter­mined by vot­ers be­tween the ages of 18 and 29. He said there is a trend of low turnout among young vot­ers for the midterm elec­tions, with only 16 per­cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers be­tween 18 and 29 hav­ing gone to the polls in 2014 ver­sus about 57 per­cent of vot­ers over the age of 60.

“Young peo­ple are no­to­ri­ous for not turn­ing out to vote in midterm elec­tions. I mean, the num­bers are re­ally stark,” Van Hollen told the stu­dents. “There’s just a huge amount of po­ten­tial power left on the ta­ble ev­ery time.”

Cit­ing close pri­mary races in Bal­ti­more and Mont­gomery coun­ties, in which the dif­fer­ence be­tween first and sec­ond place was less than 100 votes, Van Hollen said

spoke about a race in the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture in which a tie was de­cided by a coin toss. He said that coin toss also gave Repub­li­cans in the Vir­ginia House of Del­e­gates a ma­jor­ity by one seat.

Van Hollen spoke about the bi­par­ti­san work in the U.S. Se­nate that led to a num­ber of bills passed on is­sues of im­por­tance.

He said the Se­nate passed a cou­ple of ma­jor bud­get items, in­clud­ing ap­pro­pri­a­tions for ed­u­ca­tion that se­cured fund­ing for the U.S. de­part­ments of Ed­u­ca­tion and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and Pell grants for col­lege stu­dents.

Also of note was a bill to help com­bat the opi­oid epi­demic, which he said passed with over­whelm­ing bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

Van Hollen said there are “a lot of things that we should be do­ing that we’re not do­ing.”

“But we’ll see if any­thing changes in this elec­tion,” he said.

A stu­dent asked Van Hollen if he thought was it as his duty to fol­low his con­science in mak­ing de­ci­sions or to fall back on his con­stituents’ re­quests.

In an­swer­ing what he called “the clas­sic ques­tion,” Van Hollen said he does con­sider con­stituents’ in­put. He said he tries to lis­ten to both sides of is­sues. He takes all that in­for­ma­tion and tries to ex­er­cise his best judg­ment based on his be­liefs and what he cam­paigned on.

“When I cam­paigned for the United State Se­nate, I told vot­ers about what I be­lieved in and what my val­ues were and where my pri­or­i­ties were. And the good news for me was that it matched well pretty well with a sig­nif­i­cant ma­jor­ity of the state of Mary­land,” he said.

Van Hollen said there also is a dif­fer­ence in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process on sub­jects that may in­volve a philo­soph­i­cal di­vide such as war and peace and ques­tions of where to place a road. He said on the lat­ter, he looks to find the best con­sen­sus among con­stituents and the peo­ple di­rectly af­fected.

One of Deck­man’s own sons, not old enough for col­lege, asked Van Hollen who he sup­ports in the midterms.

Van Hollen spoke about be­ing chair­man of the Demo­cratic Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee. He said in that po­si­tion, his job is to try to get fel­low Democrats elect- ed to the Se­nate.

He said of the 34 seats in the Se­nate up for elec­tion this year, 26 are al­ready held by Democrats. He said with ev­ery mem­ber of the House on the bal­lot, it is much more sus­cep­ti­ble to wave elec­tions like the Repub­li­can surge in 2010.

“Peo­ple are pre­dict­ing a Demo­cratic wave this year as there’s a lot of en­ergy from Democrats and in­de­pen­dents. But the House is much more im­pacted by that be­cause ev­ery­body’s up,” he said.

Van Hollen also threw his sup­port be­hind Demo­crat Ben Jeal­ous for Mary­land’s gover­nor.

Asked what he thinks is the most im­por­tant is­sue in the next con­gres­sional ses­sion, Van Hollen said there is a lot that needs to be dealt with.

He spoke about how as the na­tion is get­ting close to full em­ploy­ment, real wage growth has been lower than it was dur­ing the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion and the cost of liv­ing has gone up faster.

“When they say peo­ple feel like they’re not get­ting ahead, they’re not get­ting ahead. They’re sort of run­ning in place,” Van Hollen said. “There are a num­ber of things I think we can do to try and change that be­yond just es­tab­lish­ing higher min­i­mum wages.”

Stu­dent debt is an­other is­sue, Van Hollen said, not­ing that he cospon­sored bills to al­low grad­u­ates to re­fi­nance their debt and to es­tab­lish lower in­ter­est rates for those still in school.

He also spoke about cli­mate change and im­mi­gra­tion and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form.

“So a lot to do and the key of course is to get the votes so you can have a ma­jor­ity to get it done,” he said.

When asked about the most re­ward­ing is­sue he has worked on, Van Hollen spoke about his ef­forts to pass the Af­ford­able Care Act. He also spoke about in­creased Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­cen­tives for child can­cer re­search, cre­at­ing a pro­gram for par­ents with chil­dren who have dis­abil­i­ties that is sim­i­lar to col­lege sav­ings ac­counts and pro­tect­ing ef­forts to clean up the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay from fed­eral bud­get cuts.

“There’s some things that you can do on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis that don’t get a lot of at­ten­tion,” he said.

An­swer­ing a ques­tion about chal­lenges he has faced work­ing with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ver­sus the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, Van Hollen said he worked closely with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on do­mes­tic and for­eign pol­icy is­sues. He said that has

been much more dif­fi­cult with the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion.

He said a White House ef­fort for an in­fra­struc­ture mod­ern­iza­tion bill has been re­jected by Repub­li­cans and Democrats be­cause it does not come with an ad­e­quate fund­ing com­po­nent. He said un­der the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion, the gov­ern­ment in­sti­tuted a $2 tril­lion tax cut.

“That’s a lot of money as you know,” he said.

Im­mi­gra­tion re­form has been an­other chal­leng­ing is­sue un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen also spoke about how a lot of Se­nate bills need 60 votes to move for­ward, a higher hur­dle than the sim­ple ma­jor­ity re­quired for House ap­proval. He said a lot of bills pass the House that do not clear the Se­nate.

Van Hollen said the more strin­gent Se­nate re­quire­ment drives con­sen­sus so a bill that clears the Se­nate likely will pass in the House.

“We have to look for those kinds of op­por­tu­ni­ties, be­cause even if Democrats win the ma­jor­ity in the House, in or­der to pass leg­is­la­tion it’s got to get through the United State Se­nate,” Van Hollen told the stu­dents.

Van Hollen in­vited stu­dents to visit Wash­ing­ton, say­ing he would love to host them and give them a tour.

“I don’t blame any­one who doesn’t want to visit Capi­tol Hill these days,” he quipped.

PHOTO BY DANIEL DIVILIO

Wash­ing­ton Col­lege Pres­i­dent Kurt Land­graf, left, shows U.S. Sen Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the col­lege’s new boathouse Fri­day.

PHOTO BY DANIEL DIVILIO

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, left, stands at the top of the deck with Wash­ing­ton Col­lege Pres­i­dent Kurt Land­graf, Provost and Dean Pa­trice DiQuinzio and stu­dents Fri­day at the col­lege’s new boathouse. Van Hollen par­tic­i­pated in a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion with stu­dents.

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