Candidates speak at Aspen Hill public forum

ASPEN HILL — Nine of the 11 candidates seeking either reelection or their first election to one of the three seats in the Maryland House of Delegates from District 19 came to a public forum at the Aspen Hill Library Monday night. 

The Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee, the Aspen Hill chapter of Friends of the Library, the Aspen Hill Civic Association, and the Strathmore Bel Pre Civic Association sponsored the forum. Elliot Chabot, chair of the Library Advisory Committee, served as moderator of the event.

A question from an audience member as to whether the candidates would support the current Democratic House leadership brought differing responses from the incumbent and challenging candidates.

“As it stands, the leadership is not engaged in my campaign and not supporting me,” said Marlin Jenkins, a labor attorney. “I believe Maryland needs to stop talking blue and start acting blue. With our Democratic majority, we should be the example for the rest of the nation.”

“For years, I have had the opportunity of working with Michael Busch as the House leader and the committee chair,” said incumbent Delegate Bonnie Cullison. “For the most part, I can tell you that they’re open, they’re strategic, they’re looking for policy that is in the best interests of Marylanders. I don’t always agree with them, but it falls to those of us who are in the House to make our issues and interests known to them.”

“I believe it’s time for change,” said Brian Crider, a systems analyst. “We need change, and we need it now. Marylanders are not getting the services they need. Our roads are a mess, our healthcare is unaffordable, and this is under the current leadership that’s been there for 40 years.”

“I think that (Senate President) Mike Miller’s got to go,” said Vaughn Stewart, former policy director for Congressman Jamie Raskin’s campaign. “The reality is that he has been an impediment to progress in the Senate for decades. If you believe in universal healthcare, you should know that he has been killing that bill in committee for years. If you believe in 100-percent clean renewable energy, you should know that Mike Miller won’t even let that go to the floor. You can go down through gun bills, domestic violence bills that he has blocked. He is an impediment to progress. Even though we as delegates won’t have a vote to remove him, I’m going to use my platform to say loud and clear that he’s got to go.”

“I, too, have had the opportunity to work with members of the leadership in the House and the Senate,” said Delegate Marice Morales. “I can tell you that as you navigate through the legislature and you’re trying to be effective, it’s not just about throwing rocks at the wall. You have to be able to be effective for your constituents. I think that we do need change, but the reality is that in the legislature, you have to be respected, you have to be flexible, and when it comes to performing for constituents, District 19 has been incredibly effective, and I think that speaks to our ability to work together and speak up when needed.”

An audience member asked the candidates what they felt was the most important environmental issue facing the state and what they would do to address it.

“The most important environmental issue that we face is simply elected officials not taking climate change seriously,” said Jade Wiles, a former healthcare operations manager and volunteer firefighter. “We need more smart cars, more fuel-efficient cars. Green jobs are actually great-paying jobs.”

“Montgomery County passed a resolution that there is a climate emergency,” Crider said. “We need action, and we need action now. The first thing we need to do is clean up our clean-energy portfolio. We need to get rid of our incentive barriers, we need to get rid of our coal-burning plants, and we need to get to 100-percent renewable energy; that’s wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and tidal.”

“I’m very proud to be the only candidate up here endorsed by the Montgomery County Green Democrats and the Sierra Club,” Stewart said. “This issue is very personal to me. I beat cancer last year for the second time in my life.  I had salivary gland cancer when I was 18 and lymphoma last year. I can’t prove it, but I’m very certain that the reason is that Monsanto used my hometown in Alabama as a dumping ground for PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) for decades. We have to be absolute stalwarts of the environment. We have to move to 10-percent renewable energy by 2035 at the very latest.”

“I am very proud of Maryland’s environmental track record,” Morales said. “While the White House continues to try to roll back EPA protections, we set money aside to protect our Chesapeake Bay. We also banned fracking in the state and for me that’s personal, because my parents are from Peru and for years, you had gas companies going into South America and taking over indigenous lands where folks now have health problems.”

“I guess when you think about a Republican, you don’t think about someone who cares about the environment,” said Dave Pasti, an attorney and sports agent and the only Republican candidate who attended the forum. “But I do care about the environment, and I agree with my colleagues on the importance of renewable energy. One thing that hasn’t been talked about as much is sewage runoff. Every time I flush the toilet, I’m wondering where the water is going.  In Frederick, we have a sewage plant that’s overflowing after flooding, and so to me, that’s the most important environmental issue. I would hold municipalities accountable for making sure their treatment plants are able to handle the sewage.”


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