There was little disagreement during Sunday’s debate among the candidates vying for Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-Md.) District 8 seat, but sparks flew when the subject turned to Maryland’s congressional districts, which have been criticized as highly gerrymandered.
State Sen. Jamie Raskin (District 20) and state Del. Kumar Barve (District 17) were criticized by businessman David Trone and former Marriott executive and local news anchor Kathleen Matthews for supporting the state’s 2012 redistricting effort.
“Jamie and Kumar [Barve] voted for the gerrymandering in Maryland which did create another Democratic district, and that’s fine if you’re a Democrat,” Matthews said. “But what if it’s Virginia, where the Republicans have the control, and they created more Republican districts?”
Raskin fired back that Matthews and Trone had not voted in two of the last three Democratic primaries. He added he has proposed a redistricting reform initiative that aims to combine members of both Maryland and Virginia’s governments in order to create a bipartisan redistricting commission that would be known as the “Potomac Compact.”
Trone dismissed that idea.
“A commission with Virginia is rhetoric,” he said. “It is going nowhere and is politics as usual. Do want practical solutions? Do we want to get something done?”
With nine Democratic candidates in the running to be the party’s nominee, Democratic voters in Montgomery County have a large group of candidates to examine before the April 26 primary. There are five Republicans seeking their party’s nomination in the primary. The four third-party candidates will not appear on the primary ballot, only the General Election one.
But the debate, held Sunday at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, highlighted how close the candidates’ positions were on most issues.
They wasted no time in going after Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump for his anti-immigration positions, including his call for a temporary ban on allowing Muslims into the United States.
“Our greatness is built by our diversity, our greatness is built by our inclusivity, and yet we’re going the other way,” Trone said. “Hate is a reprehensible emotion that Republicans seem to feel they can prey on, and it’s only moving America in a very bad and dangerous direction.”
Barve (D-District 17) said the issue of immigration is personal to him; his grandfather emigrated from India.
“What I’d like to explain to bigots is, you think you dislike Osama bin Laden? Muslims came to this country to get away from Osama bin Laden,” he said. Pursuing a more open immigration policy, he said, is the right thing to do and will create jobs.
“This is a classic example of having an opportunity to build a coalition between people in the faith community and people in the labor community,” he said.
Raskin discussed his work assisting immigrants in Maryland by working with his colleagues in the state Senate to pass legislation allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges if they meet several qualifications. He agreed with Barve that successful immigration reform must be part of a solution to improve the economy.
“When we invest in American infrastructure, we will be able to see our way to actually having comprehensive immigration reform in America,” Barve said.
Joel Rubin, a former State Department official and the grandson of Russian and Romanian immigrants, said immigration policy change will come if more elected officials in Congress “open their hearts.”
“There are a lot of public policy prescriptions here we’re going to agree on, but what’s missing right now in our public dialogue is a warmth to the immigrants and the immigrant communities that want to be here and want to be part of the American dream,” he said.
While all of the candidates agreed that the rhetoric from Republicans on immigration had gotten out of control, nonprofit executive Dave Anderson said the issue of Muslims coming to the United States is more complicated than his Democratic opponents say.
“The reason we are having this discussion is because the world is enmeshed in wars, especially between countries which identify as speaking for the Sunni Muslims or the Shiite,” he said. “We are fighting a war with ISIS, who is trying to establish a caliphate, to be the Muslim country throughout the world. That’s what’s complicated. You don’t want to be against a 10-year-old Muslim girl at Hoover Middle School, but we must recognize the context and the complexity.”