Incumbent Republican candidate Wade Kach and Democrat Colleen Ebacher answered questions at a League of Women Voters forum Tuesday night in an effort to convince voters to make one of them District 3’s representative on the Baltimore County Council.
The debate revealed stark differences between Ebacher, a progressive Democrat who positions herself as a bridge-builder, and Kach, who has developed a reputation on the County Council for opposing the majority.
A standing-room only crowd of more than 50 people attended the event at the Hereford Branch Library, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County.
Both Kach and Ebacher made an effort to portray themselves as independent, not beholden to developers and “special interests.”
Though they differed on some hot-button national issues such as housing vouchers and immigration, the candidates largely agreed on local issues including school construction and land protection.
Protecting the environment
Both Kach and Ebacher talked extensively about environmental preservation, but each had a different focus.
Asked about the most important legislation she would sponsor, Ebacher talked about renewable energy and reducing emissions.
“We have to reduce our carbon footprint,” Ebacher said. She proposed introducing electric vehicles to the county’s fleet, enforcing reforestation rules for developers and educating children about renewable energies. Ebacher said she would also focus on improving public transportation and walkability in neighborhoods to create alternatives to cars.
Kach, on the other hand, talked less about emissions and more about preserving farmland and open space in northern Baltimore County. He said he was concerned about solar panels being installed on farmland, a controversial issue in the county.
“Taking prime and productive land to turn over to solar will haunt us in the future,” Kach said. “We as a county must be self-sustaining. If we give up this land, it will be difficult to ever get it back.”
Both candidates positioned themselves as independent from developers. Asked whether each have taken donations from developers, Ebacher said she had not.
“My campaign accepts no money from developers or business PACs,” Ebacher said. “My only interest in this race is you.”
Kach said he had taken money from developers, including Royal Farms, but that those campaign donations have no impact on his decision-making on the council.
“All that really matters is that a person in elected office meet, listen to his or her constituents and do what is best for the district and the constituents he or her represents,” Kach said.
Both candidates pledged their support for new buildings for Dulaney, Lansdowne and Towson high schools. But each had different ideas for funding them.
Kach pointed out the $260 million the state owes the county for forward-funding schools, saying he believes the county could get that money back more quickly under a new county executive administration. He also proposed cutting the STAT program, which is funding a computer for every Baltimore County student, saying for younger students it is “not needed.”
Ebacher suggested creating a 10-year plan outlining which schools will be built and when. She also suggested urging the state to use surplus revenue for schools and instituting developer impact fees, and said she supported taking a second look at the STAT program.
Kach and Ebacher revealed significant differences on issues that are polarizing on the national level, including immigration and housing vouchers.
Kach said he supports local authorities holding undocumented immigrants until Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrives; Ebacher said she opposes it, saying it is a waste of resources and destabilizing to the fabric of a community.
Kach said he does not support the HOME act, a bill that would prevent landlords from discriminating against renters using vouchers. He said he would prefer to encourage people on the vouchers often referred to as Section 8 to stay in their communities by building “affordable, quality housing in areas people want it.”
“The last thing I want to see is people taken out of their communities with a Section 8 voucher, moving somewhere else, and the community they left is even worse than it was a year or two ago," he said.
Ebacher replied by noting that large portions of voucher users are seniors or disabled, and that nobody is forced to move using a voucher.
“Discrimination in any form is wrong,” Ebacher said. “They deserve an equal opportunity to live in our community.”