The event hall at the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department was packed with nearly 200 people for last week's forum featuring all nine Democratic candidates for three open seats in the House of Delegates for District 12.
The Nov. 13 forum, hosted by District 12A Del. James Malone Jr., provided each of the nine an opportunity to introduce himself or herself, explain why they are running and answer nine questions from Malone.
In the next election, delegates will represent all of District 12, including parts of Catonsville, Arbutus, Columbia and eastern Howard County as a result of the 2012 redistricting.
Malone and Del. Steve DeBoy now represent District 12A ,and Del. Liz Bobo, represents District 12B. All three announced they would not run for re-election, leaving the delegate race wide open for the first time in decades.
The nine candidates at Wednesday evening's forum reflect the district's geographical diversity.
Adam Sachs, Terri Hill and Clarence Lam live in Columbia. Eric Ebersole, Rebecca Dongarra, Michael Gisriel and Renee McGuirk-Spence live in Catonsville. Nick Stewart lives in Halethorpe and Brian Bailey lives in Lansdowne.
Wednesday's questions touched on many hot-button issues that incumbent legislators may face in the upcoming 2014 General Assembly.
All the questions began with the phrase "Are you for or against" followed by one of the following issues: death penalty, minimum wage, state funding for abortions, state funding for textbooks and computers for private schools, speed cameras, hydraulic fracturing (frakking), offshore wind energy, repeal of the "rain tax."
A summary of the candidates' responses to the "Are you for or against" questions follows:
• The death penalty: Gisriel was the only one against the repeal of the death penalty.
• Increasing the minimum wage: All nine candidates were unanimously for increasing the minimum wage.
• State funding for abortions: All nine candidates were unanimously for state funding for abortions.
• State funding for textbooks and computers for private schools: Gisriel was the only candidate in support of state funding for private schools
• State funding for textbooks and computers for private schools: McGuirk-Spence and Sachs were the only ones against the decriminalization of marijuana.
• Speed cameras in school zones and state road work zones: All nine candidates were unanimously for speed cameras in school zones and state road work zones.
• Hydraulic fracturing of a well for production of natural gas, known as frakking: Bailey, Dongarra, Ebersole, Lam and McGuirk-Spence were all against hydraulic fracturing. Gisriel, Hill and Sachs thought there needed to be more research before they could decide. Stewart was for more study on the issue.
Dongarra cited her degree in biology from St. Mary's College of Maryland when asked about frakking and said the legislature should work to find greener energy sources.
"The land is ruined once they come through," she said of frakking companies. "Land is a nonrenewable resource."
Stewart cited economic benefits as the reason he supports more research.
"I think there are risks," he said. "But we also have benefits. I can make it cheaper to heat our homes for families who are struggling to do so. It also reduces our reliance on coal and dirtier energies."
• Offshore wind energy: McGuirk-Spence was against, Sachs and Stewart were undecided and the other six were for.
• The repeal of the stormwater remediation fee known as the rain tax: Every candidate except Hill and Sachs were for the repeal or amending of the rain tax.
Malone said he hosted the forum to ensure the public was informed, and informed early. The primary election doesn't take place until June 24, 2014.
"I think it's very important that everybody know that in the state legislature next year, we could have as many as 70 new delegates in the Maryland House of Delegates," Malone said. "There are only 141 [total]."