ROCKVILLE – Metro served as a uniting issue for Democrats competing in the 8th Congressional District primary during a debate hosted by the Montgomery County Sentinel Saturday night while the candidates offered different views on campaign funding.
State Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D) also differentiated herself from state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20) and state Del. Kumar Barve (D-17) on redistricting after Kathleen Matthews (D) said three of the Democrats running “voted for the current gerrymandering in Maryland.”
Although Raskin and Barve voted for the current Maryland legislative district map, Gutierrez noted she voted against it.
The nine Democratic candidates also faced questions about parental leave, partisan gridlock, enacting federal legislation on climate change, women’s issues and transparency in campaign financing. The candidates also all pledged to sponsor a national shield law to protect journalists and their sources.
All of the candidates except Raskin, Matthews and Gutierrez said they had either gotten high or, in Anderson’s case, “inhaled twice” but did not get high.
Raskin, Barve, Jawando, Bolling and Gutierrez supported legalizing recreational marijuana with regulations. Matthews, Rubin, Trone and Anderson only supported decriminalization of recreational marijuana.
In the first round of questioning at the auditorium in the County’s Executive Office Building, the candidates offered several criticisms of Metro.
Most of their responses revolved around investing more money the region’s largest mass transit rail system while criticisms revolved around unreliability and leadership.
“We absolutely need to continue ensuring the portion of the Metro is funded from the federal level is guaranteed and maintained. There are efforts to cut it,” said Gutierrez, who also took issue with Metro’s regional funding system.
“Is Virginia, is Maryland going to pony-up the necessary money?” she asked.
Raskin praised new Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld’s resume as the former head of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
“I think they need to have a relentless focus on safety – we need to take care of that quickly – and a relentless focus on timeliness because people need to get to work on time,” said Raskin, noting he lives three blocks away from a Metro station.
Barve offered to build a “bipartisan coalition of all stakeholders,” to collaborative solve Metro’s problems.
He included in his group, Democrats, Republicans, regional representatives from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., as well as business and community groups.
“The fact of the matter is, without the Metro system working well, we don’t have an economy in the region.”
Former news anchor Kathleen Matthews (D) described the state of Metro as a “crisis in leadership,” noting ridership is dropping “because of the safety issues.”
“We’ve got to invest. Metro is now 40 years old and it needs help. And you need advocates who can mount a communications campaign to convince members of Congress to fund it.”
Department of State deputy assistant secretary for House Affairs Joel Rubin (D) said he’s “just about given up” on Metro.
“I’ll have dedicated staff working on Metro every day,” he said.
Total Wine and More co-founder David Trone (D) also touched on investment and bipartisanship, saying Metro needs Republicans in Virginia and Democrats in Maryland and Washington, D.C. “to work together to get a solution” instead of “just talking about it.”
Former college professor David Anderson (D) described himself as a regular Metro rider.
In a follow-up interview, Anderson said he supports expanding the Red Line up to the City of Frederick as a means to mitigate traffic congestion on Interstate 270 from commuters traveling south to ride the Red Line at its Shady Grove terminus point on the northwestern side of the line.
“I take Metro five days a week except when I’m traveling, and clearly the problem requires more investment to deal with both safety and efficiency,” he said during the debate.
Former Obama administration aide Will Jawando (D) recalled how his wife twice last week at the Metro “had to help someone who was having a heart attack, who was incapacitated.”
“Part of this is a business solution, in addition to the federal oversight and safety. We need to make sure the customer is at the center of Metro,” said Jawando. “People take Metro because they don’t have another option, not because they want to, so I think we need to focus on customer satisfaction.”
Former biotech worker Dan Bolling (D) brought his response back to ending congressional partisanship, the centerpiece of his campaign.
“Congress’ involvement in Metro is about money. Money is a contentious issue,” he said.
On campaign funding, Trone addressed a question about whether self-funding with a large amount of money affects the concept of one-person, one-vote.
Trone said special interests are “all these groups are continuing to corrode democracy. But luckily, fortunately, I am able to self-fund. And because of that, the only people I have to listen to, hear from, ask with, talk with, are the voters of the eighth district.”
Debate moderator Brian Karem, the executive editor of The Sentinel Newspapers, followed up by asking Trone,
“Are you telling me in effect if you don’t have money, you can’t run for office?”
Trone replied, “Certainly run for office but, at that point in time, unless you’re able to really generate small contributions and not take the PAC (political action campaign) money, not take the lobbyists’ money, you’re going to run the risk of being somebody else’s congressman.”
Karem asked whether there is a greater risk if the congressman elected is part of the 1 percent and not part of “everyone else who doesn’t make that much money.”
“We shouldn’t have to apologize for success,” said Trone. “I started with zero, the same as everybody else in this room, and I’ve done well. That’s a testament to a lot of really hard work and 5,000 team members.”
“Does somebody who has money deserve a better chance than somebody who does not?” asked Karem.
“The fact that someone has dollars is clearly going to give them an edge but it also gives them independence of point of view and that’s the key,” said Trone.
Anderson mentioned he taught ethics for 20 years and said he didn’t think it’s unethical to use “large sums of money for your own campaign.
“What would be unethical is if you thought there’s an amount of money that, if you invested it, it would enable you to buy an election,” said Anderson, adding he wasn’t taking a shot at Trone. “There’s a political question about whether if you’re really rich, can you identify with the constituents you’re supposed to represent.”
Jawando asserted that “it does subvert one-person, one-vote” and said the wealthy are already well-represented in Congress.
Bolling said he applauded Trone “for his success” but added, “I think he’s going to find what Jeb Bush has found, that having lots of money does not guarantee success in electoral politics.”
Gutierrez noted the County is diverse “racially and economically,” saying the point of it running is constituent service.
“It’s who you need to represent and who you’re going to be fighting for,” she said.
Raskin directed a statement back to Trone, referencing his line about not apologizing for success.
“You use it the way the Republicans do,” said Raskin, later adding, “There are a lot of successful schoolteachers and bus drivers and journalists and artists who live in our district and they are just as successful as any millionaire or billionaire who decides to run for office.”
Barve noted “some of us have chosen life paths that don’t necessarily lead to lots amount of wealth” before touting himself as a “middle class kid who grew up in Silver Spring.”
Matthews said she quit her job last June so she could “earn” the vote of constituents.
Rubin cited the federal contribution limit to a candidate’s campaign of $2,700 as the standard that should apply even for self-financing.
“Why should one individual go over that just because it’s their campaign? I think that’s wrong,” said Rubin.
A video of the entire debate is available online on the Montgomery County Sentinel’s website at www.thesentinel.com/mont.