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Democratic rivals for 6th District seat talk business at forum

March 26, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Democratic candidates for the Maryland 6th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives gather Monday at Hager Hall for a forum sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce. From left are Charles Bailey, John Delaney, Robert J. Garagiola, Ron Little and Dr. Milad J. Pooran
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Seated side by side at a candidates forum Monday morning, Democratic Congress hopefuls John Delaney and Robert J. Garagiolatook a break from their recent attacks on each other.

On Monday morning, in a forum largely free of negative comments, Democrats in Maryland’s 6th District Congress race answered business-related questions provided in advance by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event.

Delaney and Garagiola — who have repeatedly blasted each others’ records in recent weeks — shook hands after the forum was over.

Then, Monday evening, four of the five candidates gathered at Frederick Community College for a second forum, sponsored by The Frederick News-Post, The Herald-Mail, FCC and WFMD Radio. Garagiola, a state senator, was absent because the legislature was in session. In a statement, he pledged to answer questions from the forum on his website.

The FCC forum was free-wheeling, with questions on term limits, ethics, health care, climate change, the U.S. Postal Service and gun laws.

With primary elections about a week away, the chamber hosted Democratic candidates at Hager Hall Conference & Event Center for a discussion of taxes, regulations, infrastructure investment and economic development.

The chamber held a similar Republican candidates forum last week.

Five candidates — Delaney, Garagiola, Charles Bailey, Ron Little and Dr. Milad L. Pooran — are seeking the Democratic nomination in the April 3 primary.

Responding to a question during the chamber’s forum about businesses’ access to capital, Pooran said banks aren’t lending at fair rates. The federal government could require certain levels of investment, he said.

He suggested block grants to help young people repay student loans if they establish businesses in certain areas.

Delaney said small businesses need a way to pool resources, similar to a cooperative he started last year for community banks, letting them “keep their local flavor, but take advantage of the fact that they operate as one for purposes of certain functions.”

He said he started two companies in Montgomery County that have hired more than 1,000 people and loaned money to more than 5,000 small businesses across the country.

But Bailey said creating a better economy and putting more money in people’s pockets should be the focus.

“Small businesses don’t need cash,” he said. “They need customers.”

On the topic of leveraging government investment to create private-sector jobs, Garagiola mentioned Invest Maryland, a venture capital program the state created last year.

Asked about tax regulations, Pooran said businesses need consistent and clear laws to follow.

“The role of government is not to regulate per se,” he said. “It’s to be the referee or the umpire.”

Little suggested that economic development rise upward from the community, instead of filtering down from the government. He said Washington County has many features, including skilled labor, the arts and low crime, that would attract businesses.

He pitched the idea of expanding Hagerstown Regional Airport.

“After the neglect of the last 20 years, there’s not much industry left in the 6th District,” Bailey said.

He suggested reopening the full C&O Canal as a tourist attraction and a public works project. Workers could be paid in wages and college courses.

Delaney said he supports hydrofracking, including in the Marcellus Shale formation in Western Maryland, to increase natural-gas production as part of a mix of energy sources.

Pooran agreed, saying the federal government should set standards for safety but shouldn’t impose onerous burdens.

Garagiola said Congress is considering reducing transportation funding by as much as 30 percent, which he called “the wrong way to go.”

Wastewater treatment, water and broadband also should be among the “critical investments” government makes to create jobs and improve the quality of life, he said.

He added that he’d like to amend procurement law to give geographic preferences, helping bidders secure a contract in their community.

The Democratic primary winner will face the Republican nominee in the Nov. 6 general election.

In his quest for an 11th term, U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the incumbent, has seven GOP opponents: state Del. Kathryn L. Afzali, state Sen. David R. Brinkley, former state Del. Robin Ficker, Joseph T. Krysztoforski, Robert Coblentz, Peter James and Brandon Orman Rippeon.

Republican candidates are scheduled to be at a forum at FCC Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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