WYE MILLS — The League of Women Voters sponsored a forum Sunday at Chesapeake College for Democratic candidates seeking to represent Maryland’s 1st Congressional District in the House of Representatives. Heather Mizeur and David Harden answered questions from a moderator and the audience about where they stand on issues prior to the July 19 primary election.
In opening remarks, Mizeur said she has a reputation as a pragmatic consensus builder who knows how to get things done. She said she takes plans and turns them into action and takes ideas and turns them into law. She said she protects the environment by protecting citizens from the dangers of fracking and that she is running for office to be a fierce advocate who wakes up every day looking for ways to advocate for lives and livelihoods in the 1st District.
In his opening remarks, Harden said democracy is a gift. It’s not self-sustaining. He said the U.S. is facing a perfect storm of risk and threats. He referenced last week’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, saying the decision undermined 50 years of precedent and retracted basic reproductive rights. He talked about the events of Jan. 6 and where authoritarianism is rising. He said this is leading to effects in the economy with inflation and a division with rural, urban and suburban communities.
What legislation would you support that affects access to child care assistance for families?
Mizeur: “We have a child care crisis in our communities. It’s not available, and it’s certainly not affordable. I’ve heard from families all throughout the first district that some are choosing not to have additional children because the cost of child care is as much as their housing payment. That’s not OK. Often times this burden falls on the shoulders of women, who have to make a decision whether or not they can join and participate in the economy or risk whether or not their children have safe loving environments to care for them while they’re in the workforce.”
Harden: “I raised three kids. That was not easy, but we were blessed and we were able to do it. They are all in adulthood now and you know what? They have apartments and health insurance so that means we succeeded. Child care is an extraordinary stressor for young families. We have universal kindergarten, but we need universal pre-K. I would support that. I think it’s fundamental not only for our families but for our economy so that it can unleash opportunities for parents that stay at home but could work and for the next generation to learn the skills to clawback the economic opportunity that we’re losing every day to China and Europe.”
What specific legislation would you support to maintain access to reproductive health care for women?
Harden: “In my opening statement, I talked about the Supreme Court decision to wind back 50 years of precedent to withdraw from women and men in the public space a constitutional right that has been on the books since 1972. That decision creates chaos and conflict in our society today. Right now we see states across the country carving back on those basic rights. But we’re in a tough situation. Let’s be clear. Because those that sought to turn back Roe v. Wade worked very hard for 50 years. Here’s what we can do. We can try to codify as much of Roe and Casey’s legal frameworks in Congress as federal law. Second, if anything we’ve learned, it is that state legislatures count. It’s really important that at every state level, those who support reproductive rights get out to advocate and argue, vote and take back the state legislatures.”
Mizeur: “June 24 will be a date that we never forget. 50 years of civil law clawed back and women turned into second class citizens. We don’t just need supporters of abortion health care in Congress, we need fierce advocates, because right now our congressman Andy Harris doesn’t just want to have an abortion ban across the country, he wants to claw back every right we still hold on to here in Maryland. He’s so extreme that he would not allow a woman to have abortion health care even if she’s raped, even if there’s incest involved, even if her life is in danger. This is completely and absolutely unacceptable and not in line with the values of our communities. We cannot compromise on these kinds of fundamental rights. I refuse to do anything less than codifying Roe in national federal law. We need to end the filibuster to try to get it done right now.”
What is your position on federal gun safety?
Mizeur: “Here on the Eastern Shore gun ownership is a part of our identity. I grew up in a small town. I live on a farm. I have guns. I support the Second Amendment. I also understand that with great rights come great responsibilities. I will not be a congresswoman like Andy Harris who is owned by the NRA and the gun lobby. He stands in the way of important gun safety reforms that a super majority of us in the country support, such as getting good background checks and red flag laws and raising the age to purchase so that those who would do us harm don’t have access to these weapons. I support a lot of legislation such as closing the boyfriend loophole, doing background checks for young people, better mental health care that we need. This is an important issue and I will go in to advocate to get those guns out of the hands of those who will harm us.”
Harden: “So you may not know but I was a senior diplomat and a negotiator between Israelis and the Palestinians. It’s hard to envision a bigger divide than between Israelis and Palestinians except when you look at gun safety in the Second Amendment. Most states in the country have a show permit regime. You get a gun, the government and the state shall permit you to get a gun unless you have a compelling reason not to. That is what was struck down this week in the Supreme Court. Ironically, and interestingly, that change from a permit to a shall permit gives us more opportunity, more substantive capability to bring about common sense gun safety. You saw just the other day when Joe Biden signed the new legislation. That change gives us the chance to put in the red flag laws and minimum age and gun safety training as a subject matter for the permit.”
What distinguishes you from your opponents that would enable you to be a more effective member of the House?
Mizeur: “The track record between what I’ve been able to accomplish as a legislator and what Andy Harris has done for us in Congress is a striking contrast, and one that I’ve enjoyed making on the campaign trail and one where I’m finding deep resonance in the community. Turns out though, that’s what a lot of people are looking for, beyond just someone who knows how to problem solve and get things done. Boy, hasn’t it been a long, long time since anyone’s really listened to us? Having the skills to bring people together to have difficult conversations, to listen deeply, and find those solutions that represent the best ideas from all of us is the kind of leadership we’re hungry for in this district.”
Harden: “For 22 years I represented America. I didn’t represent Republicans and I didn’t represent Democrats. I represented America, on the toughest issues in the most dangerous places on earth. I served in Iraq. I was a negotiator between Israelis and Palestinians. I was the first into Yemen. I ran America’s Syria response. I’ve been tested by fire. President Obama thought I was good enough to lead America’s response to global crisis. I care about making sure that we have a democracy for our children. So if you want to sing Kumbaya, if you want to not see the threat in front of us, that’s fine. But if you want to brawl or if you want to fight or if you want somebody who’s going to stand up, who knows this community, who is from this community, who in the heart of hearts is of this community to take on Andy Harris and defeat him, then I am your candidate.”
How do you plan to motivate our 18 to 24 year olds to get involved in our democracy and turn out to vote?
Harden: “So I’m a father of 20 somethings. We’ve gone through the entire childhood and early adulthood. And you know what they have? They have passion. They have fire. They have commitment. They will tell me when I got it wrong. And they’ll say it really honestly and effectively. This is our future. And I care about this. Because these are my kids and they will have kids and we cannot, cannot lose our democracy. I am not kidding you when I say we are in a fragile, reversible state in our democracy. Our kids know a life that has been one of crisis, beginning with 9-11, the deep recession, the Jan. 6 attack on our capital, the craziness of Donald Trump and the rise of authoritarianism and nationalism and now SCOTUS and the clawbacks of our fundamental rights. We don’t need to motivate them. We need to unleash them.”
Mizeur: “Well, first, I’m going to turn the question on its head. It’s they who are motivating me. They’ve been involved in my campaign from day one. We have three paid employees in this campaign that are in the age range as young as 18. I have kids who are taking gap years from college in order to work on this campaign. I’m leading a movement that they’re proud to be a part of. I put together a volunteer army to do community service projects throughout the First Congressional District. I’m a former AmeriCorps National Community service member and I brought into every race and every campaign the desire to make a difference now, not to wait for an election. So we’ve been collaborating with nonprofit organizations and working at food banks, building homes, rebuilding oyster barrier reefs in the Choptank River. The engagement from youth in this campaign, from the very first days that I launched it, has been part of what has been a motivating force for me.”
The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and scientific technical working group of the Maryland climate change commission projected significant sea level rise by 2050 for the East Coast including the Chesapeake Bay. What will you do to address the associated threats?
Mizeur: “My wife Deborah and I call the Chesapeake area region our home. We are honored to be stewards of land here in Kent County. The connection to the land and the water and the resources of our region is deeply grounding and motivating to us and how we show up in the world. You can’t live in Maryland’s First Congressional District and not be connected to the importance of the rising sea levels in our communities and how that’s impacting us with saltwater intruding into our agricultural lands, communities that are being labeled as potential first lines of climate change refugees because of the rising tides. But just having fancy solutions in Washington, D.C., that don’t go anywhere is never going to solve this problem. So, I sat down with farmers, environmentalists, nonprofit leaders and academics to talk about what we could do to address the problem and find consensus and agreement.
Harden: “Dorchester is the fourth largest land mass county in the state of Maryland. In 20 years, it will be the 14th as result of sea rise and land loss. I’ve worked on climate change around the world for decades. I’ve written on it. I’ve published on it. Climate impact is something that I do for a living and I’ve done for many, many years at this point. The fact of the matter is, we can’t solve anything on the Eastern Shore unless we work with the local people. We need to work with the watermen and the farmers, but most of all with the watermen. Most of the pollution is from free-rider pollutants in metropolitan areas and Pennsylvania. It all comes down the Conowingo Dam. Most of the money that is for the Bay goes into the pockets of environmental NGOs and not to drive real solutions that reduce the level of sea level rise.”
In closing remarks candidates Mizeur and Harden addressed the audience of several dozen local citizens.
Harden: “When I represented America in the toughest places on Earth, whether it was Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Gaza or Syria, I had to have clear eyes. I needed sound judgment and I had to report accurately back to the National Security Council. If I inflated it or guessed it wrong or overstated my case, people died. I had to decide how much food to buy, how much shelter to provide, how to evacuate hundreds and thousands of people. How to represent America. Telling it straight in a complex crisis, got me through it. We have to demonstrate to people who don’t support Joe Biden, who think the prices of gas are too high, that maybe Jan. 6 wasn’t that big a deal or that the states should regulate reproductive rights. We have to win, losing is not an option. We have lost time and time again to Andy Harris. I am not a career politician. This is my first time running. I don’t profit from politics. I’m not involved in politics. The only thing I’ve ever done is serve. Now that means we have to have a strong spine, a spine of steel, courage in our hearts to stand up and say enough. We’re clawing back our democracy, and we need the leader who can do it. I ask for your vote.”
Mizeur: “I told you about my father, a United auto worker, a welder at Caterpillar for 32 years. One of the most important lessons that I learned from him on those picket lines was to always have the courage of your convictions, to always speak up and fight for what you believe in. And probably most importantly, my father always taught me that you have to do what is right. Not necessarily what is easy. It would be my greatest honor to be your congresswoman and to be your voice in Washington D.C. One of the things I have learned in more than 20 years is that those who are closest to the problem are the best people to seek out for the solutions. That’s why I have been meeting with farmers and watermen, small business leaders, educators, environmentalists and child care workers throughout this region to come up with an approach, a vision and blueprints for action on how we can do it differently for our economy. For the climate crisis, for health care needs in our region, we must have a congresswoman who shows up, who listens, comes up with consensus, approaches and then goes to Washington, D.C., to be the fiercest advocate you have ever had.”
The winner of the primary will face incumbent Rep. Andy Harris in the general election in November.