Harris, Colvin, Martin meet in fiery candidate forum
EASTON — The League of Women Voters held a candidates forum on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 21, for Maryland’s First Congressional District’s U.S. House of Representatives seat at the Easton branch of the Talbot County Free Library.
Before about 200 people, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, Democrat Jesse Colvin and Libertarian Jenica Martin responded to questions regarding health care, the environment, and gun safety, among several audience-crafted questions.
Despite moderator Pam Ortiz’s many reminders to direct comments toward the audience, not at each other, and that the event was a forum, not a debate, Harris and Colvin ridiculed and instigated one another throughout.
Martin did not engage in the back and forth.
Colvin opened by saying Congress is broken because of special interests and career politicians. As a fourthgeneration Marylander and Army Ranger, Colvin joins veterans across the country who are running to bring a new generation of leadership.
“We have an incumbent, a skilled doctor turned career politician,” Colvin said. “Under his watch, the opioids epidemic has spiraled out of control, meanwhile he is taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry.”
Harris advised Colvin to fire his fact-checker, and suggested the audience turn to Opensecrets.org, a website run by The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy.
“Look up if it’s hundreds of thousands,” Harris said. “It’s just not true.”
According to Opensecrets. org, total PAC money across all sectors for Harris for
2017-2018 was $439,373 —
$173,400 stemmed from the health sector, while $43,000 came specifically from the pharmaceuticals/health products sector. From 2007 to 2018, Harris has collected
$108,250 in donations from the pharmaceuticals/health products sector.
“When I ran eight years ago, I promised to work for more jobs and lower taxes, and to preserve your rights and freedoms,” Harris said. “And that’s exactly what I’ve delivered.”
Harris said he has lived in the district for over 30 years and worked in Easton at the hospital for nine years.
“I’m not a newcomer to the district,” he said. “My homestead exemption is actually on my house here.”
Harris was referring to a an ethics complaint recently filed by Baltimore County GOP Chairman Alfred Mendelsohn against Colvin, accusing him of “wrongfully claiming a tax deduction on a D.C. rental property his wife owns and failing to report income from it.” About a day later, the Maryland Democratic Party filed a complaint with Office of Congressional Ethics about Harris’ failure to disclose more than $26,000 in spousal income on his 2017 financial disclosure, which came from his own campaign and the Maryland Republican Party.
Both campaigns called the dueling omissions accidental and were correcting them, adding that they attempted to distract from the issues at hand.
Speaking to health care, Martin supports a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, calling it a “redistribution of wealth.”
Before elaborating on his own stance, Harris disputed Colvin’s claim that he voted to repeal Obamacare 70 times, and that there was in fact a replacement plan (H.R. 1628).
“The people in this district need affordable policies,” Harris said. “The bottom line is, the Affordable Care Act failed to deliver affordable policies unless you receive a subsidy.”
Harris said the answer is to expand risk pools.
“That’s what the American Health Care Act did, that’s what Gov. Hogan did with the legislation, it’s called the re-insurance method,” he added.
Colvin struck back in saying Harris voted against screenings for colon cancer, and also against chlamydia screenings for pregnant women.
Speaking to the environment, Harris said he disagrees with President Donald Trump when it comes to funding the Chesapeake Bay Program.
“In his first year, (Trump) zeroed out the program in the budget,” Harris said. “The second year, he cut it by nearly 80 percent. I fought to keep that funding in.”
“I don’t think Dr. Harris gets that the Chesapeake Bay is our crown jewel,” Colvin rebutted. “It makes our culture and district unique.”
The Democratic candidate said that if elected, he aims to reach 10 billion oysters in the Bay by 2025.
“We need a representative who will fight for our crown jewel,” he said.
Sharing her views on addressing the current level of gun violence in America, Martin said we need to instill family values in our youth.
“Do we have a problem in this country?” she asked. “Yes. But it’s not the cause of an inanimate object ... we need to wake up. Bullying is not new, disgruntled employees are not new.”
Martin said she believes gun legislation does negate citizens’ constitutional rights.
“My opponent wants to ban the most widely owned rifle on the Shore,” Harris said. “He got an F rating from the NRA, but you don’t see that on his advertisements.”
Harris said he proudly supports the Second Amendment.
“My parents came from countries where you couldn’t own a firearm. We should never allow that to happen here,” he said. “The solution is not new gun laws. We should enforce the laws we already have in place.”
While Colvin has voiced support for universal background checks, red flag laws and bans on bump stocks, he also recently took out a TV ad touting his support of the Second Amendment.
During the debate, the audience reacted most strongly to a remark made by Harris when he said, “The president does not attack freedom of the press. The president attacks media bias.” The crowd hissed, moaned and groaned.
“If you don’t think the media is biased, you live in a parallel universe,” Harris said.
The other instance that evoked a strong reaction from the audience was when Colvin said, “Dr. Harris, I don’t think you know where we are right now. We are on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We are in Colvin country,” to which the audience was cheering and whistling.
The forum’s audience consisted of about 200 people, with more turned away at the library’s entrance.
From left, candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, Maryland District 1, Democrat Jesse Colvin, Libertarian Jenica Martin and Republican incumbent Andy Harris, answer how to preserve freedom of the press.