Congressional candidates for Districts 1 and 2 addressed issues, such as the economy, partisan voting and Social Security during a moderated forum at Harford Community College Thursday night.
Some candidates went so far as to take political jabs at the two incumbents, neither of whom was present.
About 70 people attended the Know Your Vote event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Harford County, the Harford County Branch of the American Association of University Women and the Political Awareness Association of Harford Community College.
Attendees were able to write down questions for the panel of potential Congress members and were read for each candidate to respond to by moderator Dr. Deborah Cruise.
Present were candidates Muir Boda, a Libertarian, and John Laferla, a write-in Democrat, both running for District 1 and Ray Bly, a write-in Republican, Leo Dymowski, a Libertarian and Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican, were candidates present for District 2.
District 1 candidate Michael Calpino and incumbent Republican Congressman Andy Harris were not present, nor was District 2 Democratic Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, who was having surgery that night, Cruise said.
Bly, a Vietnam veteran, was the only candidate not wearing a suit. He wore a blue-collared shirt with his name on it and a cap.
His reason for running for office, Bly said, is "to right the injustices a lot of Americans, like me, have been done to them."
Bly continued to explain zoning laws "stopped" his business and felt that the "government is out of control with new laws, trying to run people out of their home and business."
Dymowski is also a part of the U.S. military as a former paratrooper and has worked as a trial attorney.
"Our foreign policy is out of control," he said as one of his reasons for campaigning. He also called Ruppersberger one of the most corrupt politicians in the state who is controlled by special interests.
"We're facing probably the most stagnant economy we've ever had since the Great Depression," Jacobs, a popular veteran Harford County state legislator, said. "We've got to address this economy head on."
Jacobs focused on employment, saying it is an "embarrassment that we have so many people out of work in this country."
Boda said he is "dissatisfied with the dysfunction coming out of Washington."
His main purpose for running, he continued, is because he feels "the greatest threat to national security is the national debt."
"We need to cut spending now, we need to reforms these programs to make them viable," he said. "If not, the government is going to collapse."
Laferla, a physician form Chestertown, said it was important that he attend, so the public could hear his opinions, unlike Harris who was absent.
"I believe that Andy Harris, as I do, loves America and wants to see us succeed, but we have very different definitions on how to get there," he said. "Compromise and cooperation," he continued, is the way to get the country to where it needs to be.
Laferla narrowly lost last winter's Democratic primary to Wendy Rosen, who withdrew from the race earlier this month, when it was revealed she had also voted in a local election in Florida.
The candidates were each asked to respond to the same four questions submitted by the audience, and the first question asked what the candidates believe are the most important steps to improving the economy.
"We have to do something because we can't raise taxes, there's not enough wealth in this country to raise taxes to meet our deficit," Boda said. He suggested eliminating the IRS, the payroll tax and corporate taxes and "move to a national consumption tax."
Laferla felt differently and said the payroll tax "puts money back in the hands of the middle class."
Instead, he continued, the government should start programs to rebuild the country's infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, which helped the U.S. get out of the Great Depression.
Dymowski said he wants to stop spending millions of rebuilding infrastructure in countries where "we create a lot of damage," referring to Iraq and Afghanistan, and use that money here in the U.S.
"We've got to stop strangling regulations that make it nearly impossible for businesses to start up," Jacobs said. "I'm very, very hopeful that we can bring back America back to the point it was years ago."
Bly agreed that "we've got to get rid of these regulations."
Referring back to his business, he said Maryland needs to adopt a fair trade law again in order to "bring back the mom and pop shops" that are being run out by big corporations.
On the issue of supporting or cutting Medicare and Social Security, nearly all the candidates were on the same page.
"Adjustments have to be made," Dymowski said. He added that the country has to look at "the corruption involved" and "really tighten up on the fraud" with the two programs and multi-millionaires should receive very little to no Social Security.
She said using generic drugs more often and putting a cap on punitive damages in medical malpractice suits. "This is what's driving up costs," she said.
"Social Security should not be cut," Bly said. "Medicare should be everybody." He continued to say the country should have universal healthcare to stop the drug companies trying to get into the government's pockets.
Laferla said caps on people with certain incomes could be raised for receiving Social Security and called gradually increasing the retirement age "reasonable."
Boda explained his approach would be to have everyone contribute the same toward Social Security but have the money go into privatized accounts just for the person contributing.
"People just don't save anymore," he said.
On fixing the growing discrepancy between the lower, middle and upper classes, Laferla said, "People should pay their fair share" and the wealthy should pay more in taxes than they are currently.
Boda agreed, but added that a national consumption tax would be the way to go.
"Make it easier to work," Jacobs said. "Get out of the way, let businesses start up."
Bly brought up the issue of fair trade again and said it would force wholesale distributors to sell goods to mom and pop stores at the same price as they do to bigger companies.
"The government is out of control with spending," Dymowski said. "There's no escaping it. Until you cut the size of government the people at the bottom are going to suffer the most."
The last question of the night asked if the candidates would vote along party lines or according to their own person choice, regardless of party.
Jacobs said she would do "what is right regardless of party lines." She added that Ruppersberger said he would vote against the affordable healthcare act, also known as Obamacare, but wound up voting in line with his party.
"He didn't vote his conscience," she said. "That's not right."
Dymowski also went after the absent congressman and insinuated that he wasn't actually getting surgery, but was most likely at that night's Ravens game.
"Until these people wake up," Dymowski said of the incumbents in Congress, "don't expect any changes."
Bly said until voters say enough is enough "we [will] keep getting the same legislators we don't like [in office.]"
Boda said he would vote "based on principle" and he "would not compromise my principles for personal expediency."
Before answering, Laferla said he found Dymowski's comment about Ruppersberger offensive and was told last week by his office when trying to set up a meeting that the congressman would be in surgery that day.
"I'm not waiting for somebody to tell me how to vote," Laferla finally answered. "I hope I would be responsive to my constituents."
A volunteer campaign spokesperson with Ruppersberger's office wrote in an e-mail after the forum that the congressman was indeed recovering from surgery, which was scheduled prior to the event, and there are "at least two other debates on the calendar ... he is looking forward to."
"Congressman Ruppersberger believes that elections should be run on record - not rhetoric," the e-mail continued. "He ran for office because he wants to help people and constituent service has always been his top priority. He has helped hundreds of residents avoid foreclosure, seniors get their Social Security checks on time and veterans receive the benefits they deserve."
The spokesperson went on to write that Ruppersberger "frequently hosts foreclosure workshops, small business seminars and outreach events in local communities. Any claim that Congressman Ruppersberger is not concerned first and foremost with his constituents is absolutely outrageous."