Ruben-Raskin race gets down and dirty

Friday, Aug. 18, 2006

This story has been corrected from a previous version. For the full correction text, click here.

In Montgomery County’s District 20, plunk in the middle of the self-avowed center of good government, the Democratic senatorial primary has involved an unseemly exchange of fingerpointing and ham-handed rhetoric.

‘‘I guess my opponent has no record to run on, and the only thing he can do is go negative on me,” said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, the incumbent.

‘‘We’ve been dealing with very questionable tactics from the very beginning,” said her challenger, Jamin L. ‘‘Jamie” Raskin.

The district, which includes Silver Spring and Takoma Park, has seen political battles this season at political forums, in news pages, going door to door, even in schoolyards. In May, Ruben objected when the newspaper for Montgomery Blair High School endorsed him. She claimed she wasn’t given a chance to state her case. The students there said she didn’t return their phone messages.

Raskin is exploiting Ruben’s 1999 vote in support of electricity deregulation, which is costing residents $468 a year, he claims. At the time, lawmakers believed deregulation would spur competition and reduce utility bills for consumers.

For a host of reasons, the competition never materialized and ratepayers have been left with huge spikes in their bills as hurricanes and Mideast unrest have sent the cost of fossil fuels skyward.

Ruben has said she supported deregulation then because she believed her colleagues would bring forth a measure to legalize aggregation, where municipalities can use their buying power to lower rates for residents. Since 1999, most aggregation bills have been bottled in committee.

In addition to her support of deregulation, Raskin faults Ruben’s acceptance of contributions from corporations. No companies are supporting his candidacy, he said.

According to the Aug. 15 filings, Ruben leads Raskin in the money chase. She has $157,307.36 in the bank compared with Raskin’s $71,843.14.

He has raised more than $174,345.03 since he announced his campaign earlier this year. Ruben has raised $57,426.69 since the January filing.

Raskin also has zeroed in on Ruben’s 2003 vote approving a resolution in ‘‘Support of the U.S. Armed Forces and their Liberation of the Iraqi People.”

Ruben said the vote means she supports the troops. ‘‘I am against the Iraq War but I will support our troops and their families until the last person comes home. If my opponent does not support our troops and their families, I feel that’s unfortunate,” she said.

‘‘The way to support the troops is not to send a valentine to George W. Bush at the White House,” Raskin said.

The resolution passed 44-0, garnering the support of all eight Democrats who represent Montgomery County in the Senate.

In her defense, Ruben rattles off the projects she has showered with state dollars: $38 million for the revitalization of Silver Spring, $65 million for a District Courthouse in Rockville, $17 million for the North Bethesda conference center, $48 million for Strathmore, $37 million for the Clarksburg jail and $12 million for Glen Echo.

‘‘I am so proud of the record I have in Annapolis. I have worked so hard for this district and this county. I brought home millions and millions of dollars to the county and I have the scars to show it,” said Ruben, who sits on the Budget and Taxation Committee.

Raskin won’t be able to do that if he is elected, she said. ‘‘He’ll be sitting in the back row and he won’t be on B&T. ... You don’t throw leadership out the door.”

Despite the flashpoints of the race, both candidates offer District 20 residents a solid Democrat. Both have racked up endorsements that reinforce their left-of-center viewpoints.

But then there’s that mailer.

Next to a picture of Ruben, it says, ‘‘I’m a: 100% Democrat.” Next to a picture of Raskin, it says, ‘‘I’m a: ???????”

In the mailer, Ruben flags his credentials as a Democrat because of his involvement in a case surrounding abortion clinic protests. ‘‘That’s not the kind of Democrat Montgomery County needs. In fact, that’s not even a Democrat at all,” the text reads.

As a constitutional lawyer, Raskin said, he filed a friend of the court brief in the abortion clinic case, objecting to the use of the federal anti-racketeering law against pro-life protesters. Raskin said he filed the brief on behalf of unions and environmentalists. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in an 8-1 decision.

The mailer also questions Raskin’s support of third-party candidates. He supported Ross Perot’s and Ralph Nader’s attempts to be included in presidential debates.

The flier was ‘‘a pretty effective hit,” said Josh Kurtz, a Takoma Park resident and an editor at Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. ‘‘If you’re a voter who is just tuning in, you’re going to be, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’” said Kurtz, a former Gazette political reporter.

That flier prompted a response from U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington.

‘‘This kind of Karl Rove politics has no place in the Democratic Party. The voters should demand a clean and honest campaign,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

Van Hollen, who took his seat in Congress by defeating the Ruben-supported Mark K. Shriver in the 2002 Democratic primary, has been otherwise neutral in the District 20 race.

Correction, April 28, 2006:The original version of this story inaccurately said Democratic state Senate candidate Jamin L. "Jamie" Raskin was a graduate of Montgomery Blair High School. He graduated from Georgetown Day High School. The story has been corrected.