Congressional candidates debate issues
WYE MILLS — Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, Maryland District 1, faced a tough crowd comprised largely of Democratic voters at the candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties and the League of Women Voters of the MidShore. The forum was held at Chesapeake College on Sunday, April 10. Immigration, health care and the environment were the key topics discussed.
The forum was originally intended to include both Democrats and Republicans vying for the seat, but Democratic candidate Joe Werner failed to show up, so his opponent Jim Ireton, who did attend, was not allowed to participate under federeal election rules, according to Sandra Bjork, president of the LWV of Kent county. Bjork encouraged Ireton to remain after the debate to answer questions from any who might be interested in hearing from him.
So, the forum was limited to Republicans incumbent Rep. Andy Harris, Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Sean Jackson and Jonathan M. Goff Jr..
Alice Richie led the forum as moderator. Each candidate was given two minutes to respond to each question.
Of the four Republicans at Sunday’s debate, Smigiel and Harris both have experience as politicians. Smigiel served 12 years in the Maryland House of Delegates and Harris six years in the House of Representatives.
Jackson and Goff offered that their lack of experience in political office would provide a fresh perspective.
“People are tired of politicians,” said Jackson, a former Marine and Maryland State Police employee. “It is time to put forth a voice and be a champion for the working class.”
“Congress has failed us,” Goff said. “There are illegal immigrants running all over the country and Iran is out of control. We need people for the people. We must uphold our constitution; our voice is our vote.”
Goff was also the most vocal regarding his dissatisfaction with current immigration laws, repeating his stance sev- eral times. “The government has failed us on our borders,” he said. “Illegals are taking jobs and bringing in diseases like measles, mumps, tuberculosis and H1N1.”
Smigiel responded, “We can support the legal method of coming in to this country. It has worked for years, through assimilation not multiculturalism.”
Jackson opposed a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people currently residing in the U.S. “First jobs must be offered to those citizens legally here in the states that need them,” said Jackson, “before offering them to those with work visas.”
Harris said also did not support a pathway to citizenship. “Borders only mean something if you enforce them,” he said. Refugees need to be thoroughly vetted by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI before they are allowed entrance, said Harris.
The four were in agreement on issues such as second amendment rights, abortion and equal pay for men and women. All of the candidates said they were pro-life and that life begins at conception.
The candidates agreed on the constitutional right to possess a firearm. “The government cannot infringe on our right to own a gun,” said Jackson. Some situations, he allowed, may cause you to lose that right if you demonstrate you are not responsible.
When posed with the question of whether or not being on the “No Fly” list would prohibit an individual from possessing a firearm, Harris responded, “You are talking about rights versus terrorist control. There needs to be a balance [for which we have due process], due process is what separates us from totalitarian control.”
The candidates also found unity on the subject of military funding. “The world is a dangerous place,” said Harris, “and we are the nation that controls peace in the world. [To continue to do so] we must restore our military capability, we need 15 carrier groups, not 11, not what the President would have us do and bring it down to nine.”
“North Korea has their eye on us,” said Goff, “We need to keep them in check.”
Jackson said, a stronger military is essential, he believes an increase in pay for those serving will encourage more men and women to enlist and serve their country.
Jackson also pointed out the inequality of service men and women’s pay when the question of fair pay for both men and women and living wages was asked. A Marine private makes $9.41 an hour and has the potential to risk their life, he said, and someone at McDonald’s isn’t satisfied with the same wage.
“Three of us sitting up here are veterans,” said Smigiel. His position was to increase funding to the military for modernizing and giving those serving the tools they need to perform their jobs.
“Honor their service by not abandoning them on the field, or when they get home,” he said.
The debate was not without its moment of heated exchange. More than once Smigiel called Harris out on his voting record, accusing Harris of giving one answer to the public, but voting otherwise.
Harris replied, “I detect a pattern ... taking one vote out 3,600 votes and taking it out of context.”
Smigiel stated that on environmental issues, expressly the Conowingo Dam, Harris voted to support a bill that would kill the oversight Maryland Department of the Environment has over the dam and that Harris did so because of his ties with Exelon (his fourth largest supporter).
Harris contended the bill he supported was to establish a longer timeline for states to meet compliance and that he was in favor of the clean up of the Bay being a responsibility that belongs to the Ag Department and not the EPA. Harris said he also helped amend legislation previously that would have placed impossible restrictions on phosphorous use to allow farmers to be able to apply a beneficial amount of phosphorous to their crops.
Goff said he had already approached Maryland Governor Larry Hogan with an idea to use sediment ponds to collect run-off. Goff said he had observed this in practice where a farmer was able to reduce run-off of his farm by 70 percent reusing the water collected from sediment ponds to water his crops. Goff stated northern states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware should be taking responsibility for the run-off they contribute to the Chesapeake Bay.
On the question would the candidates support the continuation of the Affordable Care Act, the audience was less than receptive to the candidate’s suggestions on health care reform, at one point calling back to candidate Goff. Goff said he knew Obamacare would crash and that the system needed to be worked on and replaced. Collectively, the audience responded, “with what?” Goff admitted he didn’t know exactly what the solution was and he gathered none of those assembled knew the answer either, to which one member of the audience told Goff, “but we’re not running for office.”
Smigiel said he had voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “An open market would allow free enterprise to work. Make health care portable and remove the barriers between the states,” said Smigiel. The overwhelmingly negative response from the audience to Smigiel’s statement, “We have ruined the best medical system in the world,” forced the moderator to ask the audience to refrain from further comment.
In closing Harris said anyone concerned with his voting record view could check for themselves at www. house.gov. “There is no secret vote site,” he said.
Harris had endorsed Carson for president because of his candor and lack of political ties and said he would probably still fill in the circle next to Carson’s name even though he had withdrawn from the race.
“We need to take control of terrorism and declare war on ISIS,” said Harris.
Focus on growth, economic opportunities and creating a better world for our children, Harris said, “Send me [back] to Washington and I will take care of our children and grandchildren.”
Jackson offered his 25 years of public service to the state police and as a Marine as a reason to chose him. “I don’t pretend to know everything,” he said, “but I want to offer direct contact to the people.”
“A politician is like a dirty diaper,” said Goff, “You have to change it every now and then.” Goff promised he would get the government to work for the people.
“Don’t say you’ll do this and then vote that way,” said Smigiel. You can’t tell voters you are going to do something and then vote the other way just because it is part of big bill, he told the audience. One of Smigiel’s more innovative ideas to boost the economy, he said is his idea to support a monorail or form of public transit that will run down Route 50 from D.C. to possibly Ocean City.
“I will continue to work across the party lines,” Smigiel said, and if elected, “you will still be able to reach me on my cell phone at 410-9200128.”
The U.S. Representative for District 1 represents citizens from Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties, and parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties. They are elected to terms of two years and sponsor and support legislation along with members of the Senate. The base salary for a U.S. Representative is $174,000.
The League of Women Voters of Kent, the MidShore (Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot), and Queen Anne’s have published, with support from Adams Publishing Group, a Primary 2016 Voters’ Guide, which is included in this week’s Bay Times. It features information on the candidates that will be listed on Maryland’s ballot for the primary election, April 26, 2016.
Maryland has “closed” primaries. You must be a member of a political party to vote in the primary election, though all voters may vote for nonpartisan offices such as the Board of Education. For those who have not previously registered, you may register during early voting, April 14-21, at an early voting center in the county in which you reside and select a party at that time.
From left, Republican candidates for the 1st Congressional District Michael Smigiel, incumbent Andy Harris, Sean Jackson and Jonathan Goff discuss immigration, health care and the environment at a debate Sunday, April 10, at Chesapeake College.