For U.S. Senate, strength on issues matters -- Gazette.Net







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Benjamin L. Cardin, the state’s junior U.S. senator, deserves to be his party’s candidate again. Elected to the Senate in 2006, Cardin was a member of the House of Representatives from 1986 until he ran for his current position. Before that, he served for many years in the General Assembly as a delegate. That experience is evident in Cardin’s deliberative approach to domestic and foreign-policy issues.

Cardin, while a hard-core Democrat in a very blue state, has shown that he is willing to go against the grain. The Pikesville resident was in the congressional minority when he voted against funding the Iraq war. Recently, he told The Gazette’s editorial board that “it was a tough vote, but it was not a close call,” noting that while evidence appeared to indicate that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — which were never found by outside inspectors — there was “no information that they threatened the U.S.”

Cardin has carved a statesman-like niche as a proponent of human rights, having served as chairman and co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission). Many years after the Cold War, Russia poses a major problem for the U.S. because it’s “moving in the wrong direction” on human rights, he said in a meeting with Gazette editors. Cardin has been vocal on human rights abuses in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, pointing out that he, Cardin, might be better known there than in his own country.

For years, Cardin has called for an “Apollo-type” commitment for the U.S. to become energy independent. In fact, he said he warned President Barack Obama — wisely, as it turned out — to undertake a large-scale energy initiative before tackling contentious health care reform.

Cardin, whose campaign had almost $2.7 million on hand as of Dec. 31, also has played a role in securing mass transit funding, including for the Washington area’s Metrorail system, and in strengthening water-quality protections.

In the current session of Congress, he plans to reintroduce his Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act, according to a spokeswoman, to boost the health of the Bay. Last session, it made it out of Senate committee, but the measure has failed to pass. Cardin also chairs the Senate’s Water and Wildlife Subcommittee.

Cardin understands the historical role of the U.S. Senate and notes that it’s a “more collegial” body than the House — at least it’s supposed to be. At a time when the Super Committee couldn’t reach agreement on a debt-ceiling compromise and the public is increasingly frustrated by the partisanship in Congress, Cardin said senators of the two parties have to be able to work together for the country’s good. He cites his past working relationship with Republican senators such as John McCain and Lamar Alexander. Cardin also showed some outside-the-box thinking when he told The Gazette’s editorial board that he would consider replacing the income tax with a consumption tax, a position he has long held. In the meantime, he said, income tax rates should be “reasonable.”

Cardin has eight opponents in the primary, with state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington serving as the main competition.

The Republican primary for U.S. Senate has 10 candidates, with two separating themselves from the pack: Daniel Bongino and Richard J. Douglas.

The better choice is Bongino.

A former U.S. Secret Service agent and New York City police officer, Bongino says he is “genuine middle-class guy” who represents “everyday American ideals.”

He has strong opinions on the key issues in the race. He would like to see the tax code streamlined, including a reduction in both the corporate and capital gains tax rates, while eliminating loopholes. He told The Gazette editorial board, “I’m not against some degree of tax progressivity.” More immediately, he would like to see interest rates raised.

On education, Bongino calls for school choice vouchers and charter schools, as well as rewarding good teachers and year-round schooling. On his website, he calls the high dropout rate among black youths “tragic and inexcusable.”

He believes the current Medicare system should remain intact for those 55 and older, but says it must be retooled for those under 55.

On energy, he believes natural gas reserves in western Maryland should be tapped, in part as a jobs’ creator. The state is undertaking a study of the benefits and risks of hydrofracking, the process that involves shooting pressurized water into shale to release the gas.

On environmental issues, Bongino, who says he has raised $200,000 via more than 600 donors, calls for balancing protecting the state’s “natural beauty” with long-term economic growth. As he says on his website, “We need to look at bold proposals such as leasing rights on public lands and waters with guaranteed access for our citizens.”

Locally, he supports construction of the Purple Line to take commuters between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Douglas, meanwhile, cuts an impressive figure as a candidate. He has an extensive military background, even serving in Iraq in 2006, and was chief counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also held the post of deputy assistant Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush.

Douglas has focused much of his campaign on the need to defeat “entrenched incumbents like Mr. Cardin.” His position on the issues is too heavy on platitudes, however. For example, on how to improve the economy, his website states: “The key to success is willpower, focus, courage and leadership. I offer all four. Mr. Cardin does not.”