By Cathy Keim
I was just thinking the other day that now that the holidays were over, the Congressional races in Maryland should start heating up. Before the thought disappeared, my home phone rang – and I was asked to take a survey. I usually enjoy these surveys, as I try to see behind the questions and guess who is paying for the poll. If they have a live person, then I will ask questions to see if they will give out any information.
This automated poll asked questions about Congressman Andy Harris, the incumbent, and former Delegate Mike Smigiel in the Maryland First Congressional District race. The questions were worded in this format: “If you knew such-and-such about Andy Harris, would you be more likely to vote for him, less likely to vote for him, or no difference?” After several questions the questioning switched to Mike Smigiel, repeating the process but with different questions. The phone poll closed by asking who you would vote for if the election were today and gave three choices: Andy Harris, Mike Smigiel, and Sean Jackson. This surprised me, as I was not even aware of the third candidate.
I went to the Maryland Board of Elections website and found that candidates can file a Certificate of Candidacy until February 3, meaning we still have several weeks for additional candidates to file. So far one Democrat (Joe Werner of Harford County) and three Republicans (Jonathan Marvin Goff, Jr. and Sean M. Jackson, both of Harford County, and Smigiel from Cecil County) are listed. I am assuming that Andy Harris will file before the deadline.
(Editor’s note: Since Cathy wrote this, Matt Beers, a Libertarian candidate from Cecil County, has filed for the First District seat with the state Board of Elections. Meanwhile, federal campaign finance filings are not completed for the last quarter of 2015, but only Harris and Smigiel are listed with FEC campaign finance accounts.)
The primary is not until April 26, so we still have plenty of time for these candidates to present their positions.
But what are their positions? At least with Congressman Harris we have a current track record that can be poked and prodded, thus enabling the prospective voter to review the information and make a decision. But is it really that easy to know how any politician voted?
And even more to the crux of the matter: which vote do you look at?
John Kerry, former Senator and current Secretary of State, famously uttered the words, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” cementing his reputation as a flip-flopper. But knowing which vote you are looking at and the context in which it was cast is particularly crucial in an election year. Voters’ memories are short, so a candidate usually only needs to vote as his constituents desire in the last few months before an election.
Congress just voted to pass the omnibus spending bill which provides funding for Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, refugee resettlement, and oodles of other awful programs. If your Congressman voted no on it, then he should be in the clear, correct? Well, maybe not. You need to step back and examine the background behind the bill. Why was it allowed to be brought to a vote so it could be passed with Democrat votes? The Speaker of the House controls what comes up for a vote so Speaker Ryan did not have to bring the omnibus bill up for a vote where he knew it would pass with mainly Democrat votes. But he did.
Paul Ryan was elected Speaker of the House after John Boehner was forced out for not leading the fight against President Obama. Only nine Republicans opposed his nomination as Speaker. If a Republican Congressman voted for Paul Ryan to be Speaker but then voted against the omnibus bill, did he or she vote correctly?
Let’s go further back. How do last year’s votes count? What if a Republican Congressman voted for the CRomnibus bill in December 2014? Should that be held against them if they voted against the omnibus bill in December 2015? It takes a bit of interest and time to dig through the old votes to get the whole picture. And that is why politicians can dissemble so well. Who can keep up with the constantly changing stream of votes?
Remember: as Election Day draws closer and closer, we are going to see votes on one politicized project or issue after another — none of which will significantly change anything because the Omnibus bill, funding the Federal Government through next October, was passed in December. Congress, under the GOP leadership of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave up all power of the purse and the only restraint that was possible on an out-of-control President in his final year.
Do not be impressed by these showcase votes! The deed is done and all we can do is hang on for the increasingly bumpy ride until the new President is elected — and it may get bumpier yet depending on who is elected.
So how did Andy Harris vote in the last two Speaker of the House elections? He voted for Speaker Boehner last January, even after the CRomnibus horror was pushed through (which he also voted for). He voted for Paul Ryan to replace Boehner as Speaker this fall. Despite these votes, however, he “bravely” voted against the Omnibus Bill this December.
So, to paraphrase John Kerry, Congressman Harris voted for Speaker Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and CRomnibus before Harris voted against the Omnibus Bill.
Those are the facts. What is the truth?