ASPEN HILL — In a race that includes no Republicans, Democrat Del. Ben Kramer, and Green Party candidate David Jeang each made their case Thursday as to why they should represent District 19 voters in Annapolis.
Vying to replace Sen. Roger Manno (D-19), who vacated the seat for a primary run in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, voters got to hear the two candidates lay out their ideas on issues including the environment, transportation, education, drug abuse, and the potential arrival of Amazon’s second headquarters.
“All my friends agree, we need someone new in office, someone new who can bring the ideas of my generation to the table … that seriously affect the livelihoods of people in my area that are never talked about,” Jeang, 29, said in his opening statement to an audience of about 25 attendees at the Aspen Hill Library.
“In my time in the legislature, I have been doing a lot of work on a lot of issues, and I am very proud of the work that I have been doing there and that’s why I’m very confident when I’m going to say, ‘I’m going to run on my record, not from my record,’“ Kramer, 61, added.
Moderated by Aspen Hill Library Association chair Elliot Chabot, the forum did not have prepared questions. Instead, attendees took turns to ask questions, with both candidates being given two minutes to respond.
With some differences between them on numerous issues, the candidates especially had contrasting views on the state’s role in bringing Amazon’s second headquarters to the county.
Kramer affirmed his support for the PRIME Act (HB0989), a bill that appropriates an $8.5-billion incentive package for the company, saying it would “bring 50,000 high-paying jobs,” while an increasing share of the budget is being allocated for debt service.
“We have 12,000 fewer private-sector jobs here in Montgomery County than we did 10 years ago … the only jurisdiction to be losing private-sector jobs.”
Jeang responded that the economy could be “grown from within” through locally-owned businesses. “Instead of asking from outsiders to come in with a tax gift package, what could be done is a state-run program to give the equity and funding to those people already living inside the County,” he added.
Mentioning the company’s prior relations with local governments, Jeang explained, Amazon threatened to cancel an expansion project in Seattle in May, after the City Council voted to tax companies with over $200 million in yearly revenue in order to fund public-housing projects. The Seattle City Council voted to repeal the tax in the following month.
When touching on the state’s finance issues, Kramer reminded the audience that, once set by the governor, the Maryland General Assembly has power only to make cuts to the operating budget.
Jeang explained he would work to amend the Maryland Constitution to “decentralize” the budget process to allow input from local citizens’ boards, adding “that would take a lot of work, but that’s why I’m here, to inspire more people to come out.”
On the environment, both candidates expressed a desire to limit carbon emissions in the state. Kramer promised to work with state legislators across the North Atlantic region to tax carbon emissions and ensure that the revenue is returned to residents in return for making sustainable home improvements.
“Every one of us pays the cost of the health and environmental problems that are associated with carbon pollution,” Kramer said. “The folks that aren’t paying that are the folks creating the carbon pollution.”
While calling for a Chesapeake Bay clean-up and reforestation programs, Jeang said he would also pursue a “zero-waste policy” which would phase out single-use plastics, expand food-recovery networks, implement rebate programs on bottles and cans, and ban the use of certain pesticides.
Responding to a question of traffic congestion in the state, both candidates expressed their desire to expand public transit.
Jeang said he would expand the MARC train system by adding a third line in the County, extend the Metro’s Red Line to Olney and Aspen Hill, and secure funding for Bus Rapid Transit.
Kramer said he would support increased state funding for the Purple Line, which is currently under construction and expected to become fully operational in 2021, connecting downtown Bethesda and New Carrolton.
The current delegate also said the indexing of the gas tax to the rate of inflation would provide additional funding for projects around the County, such as the Corridor Cities Transit Way – a proposed bus rapid transit line to connect the Shady Grove Metro Station with Clarksburg.
Paul Bessel, Chair of the Montgomery County Charter Review Commission, asked what the candidates would do to protect senior citizens from bank fraud.
Kramer pointed to the “Financial Exploitation of the Elderly’ (HB867) and the Financial Abuse-Bank Reporting Act” (HB0723) as two of his sponsored bills that address the issue, explaining the bills’ heavy penalties on phone scammers and requiring financial transfer companies to take measures to notify their clients of unusual financial activity.
In addition to financial protections, Jeang said he would address legal circumstances facing senior citizens.
“I’m thinking about things … like repossession because they were not able to file something correctly or cancellation of certain retirement guarantees because a company had changed its policies for some reason,” Jeang said. “One of the things I’d work on is a workers’ bill of rights that would improve certain guarantees for retirement.”
Citing the upcoming recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, also known as the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, Kramer said he would work to expand pre-kindergarten education, increase teacher pay, and ensure that casino profits be used for education.
“The governor has been taking that money out of education and using it elsewhere and putting that [casino] money in,” he added. “The intention of the legislature when approving gaming was that this money would come in on top of what had previously been budgeted for education.”
Outlining a localized approach to education needs, Jeang said he would work to create equity programs “so that every school gets what they specifically request.”
The Maryland State Board of Elections disqualified Republican candidate Alirio E. Martinez Jr. on Aug. 17, after receiving information he had moved to Talbot County, according to the agency’s compliance director Jared DeMarinis.