ROCKVILLE – “I wish the country wasn’t so angry at the government right now.”
Public cynicism about politics and people spending more time online than outdoors at events has made it harder for public officials to communicate with their constituents, according to Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3).
“The public is so cynical. They’re so turned off,” said Sarbanes Monday at the office of the Montgomery County Sentinel.
When Sarbanes, the son of former Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D), first started campaigning for the third congressional district during the 2006 campaign cycle, he said “a lot more people” attended parades, festivals and carnivals, making it easier for him to interact with members of the public at events.
“So it’s harder to just find the public,” he said. “So if you can find them, they’re built this filter against politics in general.”
He attributed that attitudinal shift to the “huge” influence of money in politics and blamed reporters for “indulging impulses in the audience” rather than focusing on what they need to know.
Sarbanes explained raising money for campaigns as a sort of Catch 22, in which candidates relying on small donors have to spend more time chasing money than people who self-fund their campaigns.
However, self-funders may not disclose the source of their income to the same extent as other candidates have to disclose the identities of their donors.
Sarbanes said people who self-fund campaigns like real estate mogul Donald Trump (R) and former Democratic congressional candidate David Trone say they’re not bought and paid for by special interests.
“Trone made the same argument Trump makes,” said Sarbanes.
Despite $13 million of spending, Trone lost the eighth congressional district primary to state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20), who is competing against Frederick resident Dan Cox (R) in the general election.
According to Sarbanes, Trump is not likely to win the fall election but he may leave a legacy that will affect politics for a generation.
“Well, I think what’s Trump’s doing is he’s injecting a toxin into the body politic,” he said, later adding, “He’s going to leave behind a group of seething Americans.”
He described that group as people who say or do what they want regardless of facts or other people, explaining the candidate they support is “incapable of restraining his impulses.”
“I’m just really concerned about what he’s doing to political discourse,” he said.
Partisan polarization isn’t just limited to the campaign trail but, increasingly, also to governing, according to Sarbanes, a fifth-term congressman who sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce committee.
He attributed that to the demands of fundraising, noting members of Congress typically spend between 30 percent and 70 percent of their day asking for money.
Sarbanes would not say how much time he personally spends dialing for dollars.
That leaves left time for members of opposing caucuses to mingle away from committee meetings.
Five of the six bills sponsored by Sarbanes since the start of the 114th Congress have yet to make it out of committee and now have less than five months to clear both chambers in order to be signed into law prior to the start of the 115th Congress Jan. 3.
His one bill that passed this cycle makes it easier for people to administer Naloxone in order to prevent deaths from drug overdoses.
Meanwhile, his “Government By the People” bill, which would allow the government to offer a $6 to $1or $9 to $1 match for small-donor donations raised by candidates, has languished in a subcommittee, despite 160 co-sponsors.
Only one of them is a Republican: Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.).
Sarbanes also noted his district is one of the most gerrymandered in the country and has called for a “national solution” to redistricting reform, such as independent commissions, in order to limit the influence of politics on drawing congressional boundaries.
Locally, Sarbanes helped secure a $10 million TIGER grant for developing Bus Rapid Transit along 14 miles of U.S. 29.
“I’m actually optimistic about the benefits it can offer,” said Sarbanes.