ROCKVILLE – How does a Republican win in Montgomery County, where all of the County Council members, state legislators and congressional members are Democrats?
On Monday night, four of the five candidates running for the Republican nomination in the 8th Congressional District faced off in a debate hosted by the Montgomery County Sentinel at the Executive Office Building.
Management consultant Liz Matory, North Bethesda United Methodist Church Pastor Jeff Jones, 2012 Republican candidate Shelly Skolnick and financial services and policy analyst Aryeh Shudofsky debated without the only other candidate seeking the party’s nomination: Dan Cox of Frederick County, who was represented by an empty chair placed behind his name tag and a live microphone.
Candidates first answered a series of litmus test questions.
Shelly Skolnick and Aryeh Shudofsky both said the United States is not a Christian nation, Jones said it is by a slim margin and Matory said “yes and no.”
Jones and Matory both said they backed Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) for president. Skolnick did not announce his preferred candidate, and Shudofsky touted House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who is not officially a candidate but would be eligible to be nominated at a contested convention if one candidate does not have a majority of pledged delegates in the first round of voting.
On whether they would support real estate mogul Donald Trump (R) if he won Republican nomination, Skolnick said he would back the party’s nominee even if it was Trump. Shudofsky, Matory and Jones said they would not support Trump.
All the candidates agreed evolution is a fact. Shudofsky also called the narrative of the Bible “a fact” while Jones, a pastor, said the Bible is “not a scientific textbook.”
On whether man-made global warming is a fact, Shudofsky did not give a definitive answer but called for balanced approach to addressing climate change.
“While we should be aware and ensuring that there is a livable world to pass along to the next generation, we need to keep in mind we can’t do it to the detriment of our ability to live in the world today.”
The other candidates agreed humans do contribute to global warming.
Sentinel Newspapers Executive Editor Brian Karem then asked the candidates whether they supported building a wall across the length of the Southern border.
Matory, Shudofsky and Skolnick all said the wall would be feasible but would not support building it.
“I would go with we don’t need a wall,” said Jones. “We shouldn’t build a wall. Immigration reform is desperately needed.”
However, when Karem asked if any of them had seen “the Big Bend area of Texas,” referencing a national park along the Mexico border, none of the candidates offered a reply.
“That’d be like building a wall across the Grand Canyon,” said Karem. “It can’t be done.”
Three of the Republicans opposed legalizing marijuana. Skolnick said he favors removing the federal restrictions on marijuana so that states can set their own policy.
Matory said she was concerned “the big people would take over” the marijuana industry, in the same way as “big liquor” or “big tobacco.”
After the litmus test round, the candidates answered questions from panelists, the first of which dealt with freeing up funding for agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that enforce gun laws.
Matory and Jones supported increasing funding for the ATF while Skolnick said he would like to examine the management of the ATF.
Shudofsky said he did not support additional funding for the ATF and questioned whether ATF should be allowed to enforce gun laws or “imposing those regulations,” saying the states should enforce their own laws.
“I think we’re assuming the federal government should be the ones regulating guns and that shouldn’t be the case. Every state is different. Every state has (its) own laws about concealed carry.”
Addressing problems with the Metro, Jones said a “good strong manager will solve most of the problems.
“The federal government cannot take over every entity, every organization, every structure, regulation; that’s not its job. But the Constitution gives the Congress budgetary powers.”
Skolnick recommended cutting rush-hour fare rates by half for two hours before and after the most heavily traveled times to encourage people to spread out the time they board the trains. He also backed expanding bus stations for Metro so people can wait for buses in “comfort and safety.”
“So I’m saying there are things that can be done using existing funds to encourage better management of the Metro,” said Skolnick.
Shudofsky called for privatizing Metro or turning it into a public-private partnership, an idea seconded by Matory.
On abortion, Matory offered a mixed answer about whether she supports reversing major portions of Roe vs. Wade.
At first, she said, “I support safe procedures in instances like threat to health, rape, incest and, you know, stuff like that. I think we need to encourage a culture of life, absolutely.”
However, when pressed, Matory said she didn’t think it would be her role in Congress to make it illegal outside of cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.
“I think 50 percent of Americans actually do think it’s an immoral practice,” she said. “Is it my role as a federal legislator to restrict that? I don’t think so. But in my opinion, I’m not for abortion.”
Jones and Skolnick both called for removing the government from women making their own decisions about abortion.
“Being pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion,” said Jones. “It means giving people the right to make the decision, and that needs to be allowed.”
Shudofsky said the government needs to provide for people who can’t provide for themselves, “which includes an unborn child.”
However, he later added, “I accept what the law is.”
During a discussion about voting fraud and the Voting Rights Act, Shudofsky he does think it is a problem, though he did not provide statistics to back his claim. “I do think it is.”
“I worked for a member of Congress from Arizona,” he said. “That’s what we saw.”
Matory said she supports the Voting Rights Act as a “direct” recipient of its protections, both as an African-American and as a woman.
“Voter fraud actually is done by Democrats against other Democrats in most places,” said Matory, who ran for the state House of Delegates in 2014 as a Democrat in the District 18 race.
Jones decried how the Voting Rights Act was “gutted” by the Supreme Court and called for the voting process to be “more open.”
Skolnick said there is a potential for voter fraud and backed an initiative to vote by mail, saying voter fraud is more likely to happen during the registration process than at the ballot box.
“It’s so easy to do by mail,” he said.
Jones and Skolnick both supported a requirement for voters to present photo identifications in order to vote.
Matory said it should be “persuadable” instead of mandatory, and Shudofsky said it should be the states’ choice to make.
Toward the end of the debate, Matory, Jones and Skolnick all said they back the federal minimum wage while Shudofsky said he opposes its existence.
Only Skolnick backed a pilot program to mandate paid parental leave, saying eight weeks of maternal leave could be funded through the nationwide unemployment insurance fund without imposing costs on businesses.
“Maybe go to 12 weeks if it’s not too costly. Maybe add paternity leave. But try it as a pilot,” said Skolnick. “I think maybe every other country except one or two in the world has some form of paid leave. And you could do it maybe for other illnesses but I would start it off with maternity leave, eight weeks through the unemployment insurance fund.”
Matory called for the Republican Party to be a more welcoming to minorities.
“We need to have more people like me being spokespeople for our party. I think neoconservatism was a little too harsh,” she said.
Jones, a self-identified moderate consensus builder, said he’s a Republican because he sense “more respect for people of faith participating as a Republican.”
Skolnick said he thinks the party is changing, as evidenced by Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) victory in 2014.
“I think hopefully that will encourage more Republicans in Maryland, and especially the 8th Congressional District, to follow the Larry Hogan model of being a moderate Republican, not a conservative Republican, if you want to win in the 8th Congressional District,” said Jones.
“It’s to the candidate themselves, it’s to the voters themselves, to focus on what the Republican Party is actually about and what the principles and the platform is about,” said Shudofsky.
Matory, Jones and Skolnick all said they support public student loans, in Skolnick’s case by mandating volunteer services to the states and local governments.
Shudofsky said the federal government should provide “for those most in need” though he again pivoted toward supporting the private sector in his answer.