Tuesday, Sept. 7, candidates for the Democratic and Republican 5th Congressional District met in St. Mary’s hall for a forum hosted by the Center for the Study of Democracy and the St. Mary’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The forum came just one week before the primary.
Democrats Andrew Gail, Sylvanus Bent and Republicans Charles Lollar and Collins Bailey attended. Incumbent Democrat Steny Hoyer did not attend the forum but sent a statement saying, “unfortunately, I received this invitation in late August and was unable to reschedule previous obligations so that I could attend.” Republicans Chris Chafee and Chris Robins also did not attend the event.
Hoyer won the Democratic nomination on September 14th and Lollar won the Republican nomination.
Todd Eberly, acting Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and Professor of Political Science, explained that each candidate would be given three minutes for an opening and closing statement and 90 seconds to respond to each question from the audience. Eberly also introduced Wayne Scriber, President of the St. Mary County’s chapter of the NAACP.
“I hope that this forum will help you make an informed decision,” said Scriber. The NAACP is a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse candidates.
The candidates explained their exigence for running during their opening statements. Based on a coin toss, the Democrats begin in alphabetical order. Sylvanus Bent, a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, said, “I am and American and America comes first.” A conservative Democrat, Bent focused on “jobs, jobs, jobs” and said, “we need to make capitalism work again.”
Andrew Gail, a school teacher, said, “I want to make as much positive change as possible.” In his late 20’s, Gail said, “I am just a little younger than the other candidates.” Gail added, “the fundamental problem [with our government] is the role of money in politics.”
Collins Bailey, the Republican nominee in 2008, said he would bring three things to Washington, “common sense, business sense and sense of duty.” Baily added, “when you don’t read the bill, that violates common sense.” Bailey also promised that if elected, he would take no salary and serve only two terms.
Charles Lollar, winner of the September 14th Republican Primary, said, “as a Marine officer, I understand that we are facing too many problems in this country.” Lollar added, “we need to start talking about the issues as average Americans.”
Questions from the audience were reviewed by a three person panel comprised of NAACP representatives and ranged from national issues like immigration reform to local issues like the importance of Pax River Navel Air Station.
Lollar and Bailey agreed on most issues including opposing health care reform, opposing stimulus spending and maintaining the Bush tax cuts.
Gail and Bent agreed on a few issues but disagreed on just as many issues. Most notably, Gail supported health care reform and the stimulus package while Bent opposed both. Bent also argued for small business incentives to create jobs while Gail argued for infrastructure projects to create jobs.
Each candidate also agreed that Congressman Hoyer had been in office for too long. Baily said, “Hoyer can’t even come out to speak to his constituents, that violates my sense of duty.”
The audience, consisting of students, professors and community members, also agreed, cheering at several jokes about Hoyer’s tenure. The audience also seemed less receptive to Gail’s issue proposals, booing his support of health care reform, the stimulus package and immigration reform.
“It’s awesome to have local politicians out to discuss issues even at such a small school,” said Junior Amir Reda. First-year Adam Hall, who said fixing the economy as central to this election cycle, added, “it was really helpful to get a sense for what folks were saying [about the economy].”
The Center for the Study of Democracy, NAACP and the League of Women Voters will host another Candidates forum on October 25th for Congressman Hoyer and Charles Lollar.