I love candidate forums. They are the closest thing we have to "testing" the candidates on their true convictions and concerns. Any observer will be able to see who has passion and who has another appointment to get to. Unbridled tempers flare while cooler heads sit back and watch. These forums are the best part of the campaign season.
On Saturday, I attended the African American Coalition of Howard County's General Election Candidate Forum. I was actually the only candidate from 9B there. I won't ascribe any disrespect or dismissal to Bob Flanagan, as I know the campaign can be long and sometimes things happen. It was just unusual to be without the usual "contrast" that comes with a head-to-head election.
Due to the large number of candidates for the House of Delegates (we were all on stage at the same time), each district was only asked one question. For District 9, the question was how to help those who had "done everything right" and still could not find a job. I answered last and most of the comments about education and job training had already been made. I fully agree that the best thing we can do to help raise employment is to provide a platform for workforce development while improving the business climate for Maryland-based businesses through streamlined regulation and a fair, predictable tax burden. However, when it was my turn to speak, I commented that we also need to consider those who had not "done everything right", simply because there were so few that would fit the offered description. Do we foreclose opportunity for those who are trying to return to the straight path or recover from a bad choice? I think we need to, because our government pays for bad decisions (i.e., prisons, food & medical assistance) and benefit from productive members of society. Maryland needs a real expungement law for those who have decades of clean living and needs to provide more ladders of opportunity for those currently homeless looking to pick themselves up off the ground. That is not to the exclusion of those who have "done everything right", but rather as a part of a holistic approach to unemployment.
On Monday, I attended the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum and this time was joined by my opponent. We were asked a series of questions about issues that the League has made a priority in this election, including fracking, redistricting, Affordable Care Act launch, referenda, and transportation. These forums will eventually be made available online. I will provide brief summaries of my responses here:
Fracking - The gorilla in the room on fracking is methane gas. I am certainly interested in examining the utility of a fuel that burns cleaner than coal and may be a "bridge" to renewable energy, but have yet to be convinced that it can be mined from the ground in a manner that does not release a concerning amount of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is 20 times more effective at trapping radiation than CO2 and 60% of all methane emissions come from human activities. This is a persistent concern with natural gas and one that I will need to see addressed before embracing it as a matter of public policy.
Redistricting - There is uniformity in my race on this issue, as both Bob Flanagan and I support an independent commission to draw Congressional and state district lines. I think an important caveat is that the purpose of such a commission should not be to create "competitive" districts as much as create districts that keep communities whole and allow meaningful representation. Even with common sense redistricting reform, we will still have races decided in the Primary. The difference will be that the people will be empowered to mobilize their individual communities to be heard and, frankly, exert meaningful control over their representative. We don't have that when zip codes are sliced and diced to meet certain demographics or target vote numbers.
Affordable Care Act Launch - Give some candidates a hammer and say "Affordable Care Act launch" and you are bound to see some happy demolition. I don't think anyone is happy with how the roll out went, but we're being elected to fix problems, not just yell about them. I have significant concerns about the burdens placed on small businesses to meet the requirements of the Act and want to see what we can do to help ameliorate that burden. That said, we also need to recognize the admirable purpose of the ACA, which is to expand health insurance coverage, particularly for those with preexisting conditions. You don't meet those two concerns with a hammer. Looking back, we need government contracting reform to foreclose the opportunity for no-bid contracts. I would project that the genesis of 70% of government waste is a no-bid contract and we have an obligation to fix that.
Referenda - My opponent and I agree that the referendum process must be reformed to provide more clarity to petitioners at the beginning of the process by approving language on petitions before they are brought out for signature. To be clear, this does not mean that all petitions will be approved. There are certain pieces of legislation that are too complicated to be communicated via petition and will have to be brought to referendum in parts. I also think we need referendum reform to ensure that the civil rights of minority groups are not put to petition ever again.
Transportation - I call this a fundamental "think outside the box" issue. The "box" is "build more lanes", which is a fundamental waste of government resources. Since the late 1990's, we've known that when you increase road capacity, it is filled within 5 years. However, when you expand transportation options and change the way people get to and from work, you diversify the channels of transport and ease the burden on roads. As I said at the forum, we can't just build rail and presume people will use it. We need to start with dedicated bus lanes that provide an advantage for taking the bus, which will then create a "culture of mass transit". Once that is in place, we can evaluate the utility of additional options, but I think it would be foolhardy to take a "build it and they will ride" approach to billion dollar transit systems.
This post was much longer than I anticipated, which means there is probably more than enough to start a discussion. Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!