The Baltimore Jewish Council hosted the Maryland Candidate’s Forum for U.S. Senate on Monday, March 28 in the Kraushaar Auditorium with candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties. The pool of candidates are vying for Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski’s seat who decided not to seek reelection after her tenure as the longest serving congresswoman in history. In a highly contested race, the candidates are crossing the state and raising millions of dollars in anticipation of the April 26 primary election. The format of the forum featured first the three Republican candidates and then a break before the two Democratic candidates. The forum was moderated by Andy Green, opinion editor of The Baltimore Sun and a wide range of topics were discussed.
The Republican forum featured candidates Richard J. Douglas, Chrys Kefalas, and Kathy Szeliga. Douglas is a former Pentagon official, U.S. Senate aide, and veteran. Kefalas has worked for both Republican former Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. and Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and got his start working for his family’s restaurant. He is also one of the youngest candidates and is openly gay. Szeliga is the minority whip in the Maryland House of Delegates but also owns a small business with her husband and is strongly in opposition to many of the regulations in the state on businesses and individuals. Topics discussed incuded, taxes, immigration, terrorism, Donald Trump’s controversial comments, relations with Israel, and how they would carry on Mikulski’s legacy. While there were many instances of differing opinion, the forum was carried out in almost a conversational manner where all candidates remained sitting down.
Some of the most exciting moments of the event occurred between the Republican forum and the Democratic. Just as the moderator was about to announce the Democratic candidates, Green Party candidate Dr. Margaret Flowers entered the stage from the side. She introduced herself to the audience and informed them that she had originally been invited to participate in the forum and then her invitation was revoked only in recent weeks. As she was speaking, several members of the audience (who were discovered to be part of the Flowers campaign) began to pass around flyers. These flyers informed readers that her exclusion from the forum was in violation of IRS regulations that require non-profit organizations to be non-partisan and also described the timeline of events leading up to the forum. Flowers was informed that she was uninvited to the event because she did not have the minimum five percentage points of support in the respective party polls; however, there has been no polling on Green Party candidates. In fact, by Maryland law, Green Party candidates are not allowed to be on the primary ballot and therefore the Green Party is holding a self-funded primary election.
During her protest she emphasized that Maryland is dominated by a two party system and that it doesn’t uphold democratic standards by excluding some candidates. She was escorted off the stage by Goucher Public Safety officers and allowed to speak outside to anyone who wanted to hear her viewpoints. Flowers said afterwards, “Many times during the first half of the forum, the moderator and Republican candidates emphasized that in this political moment voters are fed up with the status quo and are looking for alternatives. Yet, the one candidate who was invited and provides an alternative to the two party system was excluded.”
After she was removed from the stage, the moderator was visibly unsure how to proceed. They decided to take a short break when it seemed like there was a chance they may invite her to debate the Democratic candidates. After a few minutes though, the two Democratic candidates, Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, were introduced and the second portion of the forum resumed.
Edwards is a single mother who serves as U.S. representative for Maryland’s fourth district, which includes Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. She was the first African American woman to represent Maryland in Congress. Van Hollen is the U.S. representative for Maryland’s eighth district and represents Montgomery County and is the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Both candidates have similar credentials and the race has been very close between them. The forum had a lot more of a debate feel than the Republican portion which could be attributed somewhat to the fact that the candidates stood up when they were answering the questions. The candidates were asked questions on campaign financing, bipartisanship, crime, immigration, and gun regulation among other topics. One of the extremely contentious points was that Edwards’ campaign has received contributions from the group EMILY’s List which helps pro-choice women run for political office. Van Hollen had early on asked Edwards if she would pledge to not accept donations from Super PACs. However, Edwards would not back down that she was supporting the cause of women in office and advocates for issues such as equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, and paid sick leave.
The debate drew a large crowd and many students stated that they stayed longer than they had anticipated because of the interesting topics. Additionally, Flowers’ campaign made quite a splash and the news of her removal from the debate was spread around campus, on social media, and websites such as the Real News Network.