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Campaign Beat

Gearing Up for War

Candidates For 3rd District Congressional Seat Say Health Care, Immigration, and Iraq Will Define Race

Tom Chalkley

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 7/12/2006

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In 1986, when Ben Cardin won Maryland’s 3rd District Congressional seat, state residents were worried about the threat of nuclear war. Twenty years later, Cardin is retiring from the seat to run for U.S. Senate, and 16 candidates--eight Democrats and eight Republicans--are hoping to earn their party’s nomination to replace him. According to the candidates, nuclear war feels like a distant memory to 3rd District constituents these days, as people now have other kinds of wars on their minds--both home and abroad.

Candidates say that the top issues with people living in this diverse but mostly well-off area of the state--which includes parts of Baltimore, Anne Arundel, and Howard counties, and parts of Baltimore City--are the war in Iraq, the rising costs of gas, energy, and health care, decreasing prescription drug benefits, and education. Some voters are worried about the lack of integrity in government and the fact that should there ever be a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina in Maryland, the federal government wouldn’t have a cohesive plan to take care of its citizens. A few candidates say people are focused on the gay marriage debate and resolving the immigration problem. But no matter what their party affiliations or where they stand on these issues, most of the candidates running in the 3rd agree that people living in the district want the kind of leadership that isn’t being provided by politicians already in office.

“According to the Gallup Poll a few weeks ago, when Americans were questioned about their greatest concern, 67 percent said affordable health care,” says Baltimore County resident Dr. Gary Applebaum, who served as chief medical officer for Erickson Retirement Communities, a health care provider for seniors, for the last 15 years. Applebaum is seeking the Republican nomination for the congressional race.

As a physician, Applebaum says, he is keenly aware of the problems with American health care.

“One of the problems is that we don’t really have a health care system--we have a sick care system,” he says. “In a true health care system, we would invest in making sure that people stay healthy rather than treating them when they get sick.” He says that if the nation put more emphasis on providing preventative care to patients, citizens would be healthier and “cost the system less money.”

Of all the candidates running for the seat, 11th District state Sen. Paula Hollinger is the only one who holds public office. Hollinger, a Democrat from Baltimore County, was a nurse when she was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1979, where she served for eight years before becoming a state senator in 1987.

She says wherever she campaigns the major issue is “the war, and let’s get out of there.” Second to that is health care, which she has kept on the front burner throughout her career as a legislator and in her post as chair of the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

“I can literally go into the health code of Maryland and know that I have authored about half of the code [on] every major health policy issue,” Hollinger says. “The thing that I bring that [no other candidate] in the race can claim is having any experience and being able to go into D.C. and get the job done. I don’t need an orientation.”

But other candidates say they are ahead on the learning curve, too. Democrats Dr. Peter Beilenson, the former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore, and John P. Sarbanes, attorney and partner at the prominent Baltimore law firm Venable LLP, both have fathers who served in Congress. Sarbanes is the son of Maryland’s retiring U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, and Beilenson’s father, Anthony Beilenson, was a congressman for California.

Sarbanes’ familiar name may create a draw with voters, but he says he’s not relying on his family ties to get him elected. Instead he’s campaigning hard and drawing on his experience as chair of the health care practice at Venable, where he has spent 16 years representing nonprofit hospitals and senior-living providers. He says he has also been working to improve education in the state, most recently as special assistant to State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick. He says he hopes to connect with voters on issues close to home--from the anxious senior citizen who doesn’t understand his complicated prescription drug benefit, to the mother who has no other choice than to drop her kids off at a substandard before-school program because her job starts at 8 and school starts at 8:30.

American political leaders “can get up in the morning, as I think Bush does, and think, What can I do today to help people that don’t need any help? And if you do that, you make bad public policy,” Sarbanes says. “If you get up in the morning and you say, ‘What are we going to do today to help people who need help the most?’ you won’t get it perfect every time, but you will make good public policy.”

People living in Baltimore have likely seen Beilenson in action--as former health commissioner for the city, he was frequently in the spotlight discussing public health threats like drug addiction, West Nile virus, and SARS. One of his chief concerns during his 13-year tenure in the position was access to health care, and he founded the Maryland Healthcare for All! Coalition, a group of 1,100 religious and secular organizations that has been working with Congress on universal health care legislation.

“Some on the right don’t seem to believe in universal health coverage,” Beilenson says. “It may not be explicitly explained in the Constitution, but I believe that health care is a constitutional right and a human right.”

Beilenson says his past employment puts him at an advantage over the other candidates in this race, and he says he could bring something to Congress that currently doesn’t exist. “There are 217 lawyers, and 12 doctors, only two of whom are Democrats, in the House and Senate combined,” he says. “Not a single member of the House or Senate has the public-health experience I’ve had.”

That experience, he notes, would be important when planning responses to threats like Katrina or the avian flu.

“The legislators in D.C. who are making these major policy decisions on preparedness are overwhelmingly lawyers or business folk who have absolutely no experience in working with large patient populations,” Beilenson says. “It would be nice to have someone in Congress who’s going to say, ‘What we should really do is be funding preparation and training and protective equipment to our first responders because the locals are going to be responding to virtually any catastrophe for at least the first few days.’”

TV journalist-turned-Democratic candidate Andy Barth, who spent 35 years at WMAR-TV news (channel 2), says he’s running because “people have lost trust and confidence in their government.”

“I’m not the same old political names and faces, and I won’t be politics as usual,” says Barth, a Howard County resident whose No. 1 campaign issue is the war in Iraq. “I support the troops 100 percent, but it’s time to bring them home. And within a year is certainly doable. Less time would be better.”

Baltimore County resident Oz Bengur, a Democrat who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the 2nd District congressional seat in 2002, says he was the candidate who first started talking about bringing the troops home from Iraq. He says back in November 2005 he challenged other candidates to discuss the issue, but “some of them didn’t even have anything [about pulling out of Iraq] on their web sites.”

Bengur’s desire to see an end to the war is personal, as well as political. His son is serving in the Marines, and he just came back from Iraq. When he campaigns door-to-door, he says, he often hears from people who have loved ones serving in Iraq.

“There are only seven of 535 members of Congress who have children in harm’s way,” Bengur says.

Democratic candidate Mishonda Baldwin signed up for the military so that she could get money for school, but the Howard County resident says she was called up in February 1991, at 19 years old, to serve in the Gulf War. Some of the soldiers in her unit were killed during a mission she didn’t go on because she fell ill.

“When that message got back to me, it totally changed my life,” she says. Since then, Baldwin has been a military strategist, attorney, minister, businesswoman, and leader with the Young Democrats. She says her decision to run for Congress came while watching Hurricane Katrina coverage.

“I had prepared myself to be able to seize all of the things that America says you can have with the American dream,” she says. “Then, as I sat in front of the TV and I cried my eyes out, [I realized] we need people who can stand up and have a voice.”

Baldwin is using her voice to encourage voters to send more veterans to Capitol Hill. Right now, she says, there are only 38 veterans serving in Congress, and 58 are hoping to be elected this year.

“We need to put some veterans in Congress, so that we can read an intelligence report so that we don’t get baffled into making dumb decisions because we don’t know any better,” she says, referencing President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

Security at home is the main issue on the mind of Democratic candidate Kevin O’Keeffe, a Baltimore City resident who has worked as an assistant to former mayor Kurt Schmoke, lobbyist for the Baltimore City Public School System, and most recently as director of government relations for Anne Arundel County. O’Keeffe says the state has many high-profile sites, such as BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, the Inner Harbor, and the Naval Academy, that still need to be secured from the threat of terrorist attack.

“We have important assets, and vulnerable ones,” in the 3rd District, he says. “It’s important that congressmen fight to protect them.” O’Keeffe says he’s also interested in education and gas prices, bolstering support for community colleges in the 3rd District, and in creating a subway link from Crofton to BWI Airport.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement with the transportation system in Baltimore,” he says. “Then you have less people using cars, and it helps the environment, and people paying high gas prices.”

When Republican candidate Rick Hoover ran for Congress in the 3rd District in 2004, he lost to Robert P. Duckworth in the primary. Still, the Anne Arundel County resident won 14 percent of the vote, so he thinks he has a good chance of getting the Republican nomination this year. If he wins, the former minister-turned-construction driver says setting the Democrats straight would be first on his agenda.

The Democrats are not “listening to what the American people are telling them they want,” Hoover says, noting that citizens are opposed to gay marriage and support keeping troops in Iraq.

“Homosexuality is ridiculous and damaging to society,” he says. “It’s perverse. It’s like an addiction. Despite how many people stand up and say that they’re normal, we know they’re not.

“So many times [Democrats] are opposed to what the Senate is trying to accomplish,” Hoover continues. “But the American people gave the Republican Party a mandate to be productive by giving the Republican Party control of the legislative and executive branches.”

Republican candidate Bruce Robert Altschuler of Howard County agrees that pulling troops out is not the answer to resolving the war in Iraq and says the nation should be paying more attention to such issues as natural-disaster preparedness and creation of alternative energy sources. Altschuler says he has a three-part plan to make the U.S. 100 percent energy independent that includes shutting down coal-burning power plants, increasing the use of nuclear energy, and using agricultural waste to produce fuel.

Solving the energy crisis, he says, will help re-industrialize the nation and thus solve many of the funding problems plaguing the country. “We [would] have the money for health care and the health insurance that we so desperately need, like Social Security and social services, funding for schools, hospitals and medical research,” Altschuler says. “The solutions are there, but the politicians are being politicians instead of being statesmen for our country. We’re fighting a war, but it’s not against people, it’s to maximize resources.”

A few lesser-known Republicans, such as Howard County resident Eugenia Ordynsky, an immigration lawyer, and Scott Smith, a small-business owner, say immigration is key on their agendas. Ordynsky wants to bring back a program under which illegal immigrants would go through the process of getting a green card and pay a fine for disobeying immigration laws. Smith, an Anne Arundel County resident, says “legitimate” companies like his are getting priced out of work because other companies are using illegal workers, paying them less, and cutting costs.

Republicans Paul Spause of Howard County, David Trudil of Baltimore County, and John White of Anne Arundel County could not be reached for comment. Democrat John Rea of Anne Arundel also could not be reached. Rea ran for the seat in 2002 but received only 10 percent of the vote; he lost the race to Cardin.

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