U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer is seeking a 21st term representing Maryland’s 5th District in Congress and faces Chris Palombi, a 36-year-old Republican running in his first campaign.
Hoyer, who turned 81 in June, is the majority leader and No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He has represented the 5th District since winning a special election in 1981.
Palombi has been a Calvert County resident for nearly his whole life — and even voted for Hoyer one time, he said. He currently lives in Calvert County with his wife, three children, pets and a flock of chickens, according to his website. A former Capitol Hill police officer, Palombi now coaches girl’s hockey at St. Mary’s County Ryken High School and serves as the school webmaster.
The district encompasses Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, and parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. It had about 524,000 registered voters as of 2018, about 305,000 Democrats, 123,000 Republicans and around 96,000 third party or unaffiliated voters.
In Maryland’s June primary, Hoyer beat four challengers with 64% of the vote. Palombi defeated four other Republicans in the field, winning 36% of the vote.
Since 2000, Hoyer has defeated each of his opponents by a margin of at least 29 points in the general election. Before that, his closest race was in 1992 when he defeated a Republican candidate named Larry Hogan by 10 points, who became governor a couple of decades later.
Despite the difficulty of unseating an entrenched incumbent, Palombi believes his libertarian platform of limited government and free-market principles will appeal to voters.
“I think we do a pretty good job of getting Democrats and independents to say, ‘You know what, this Palombi guy is not just a letter next to his name; he’s much more than that,’” he said. “He wants what’s best for the country. He wants to make sure that we’re fighting for individual rights and freedoms for everybody.”
In March, Congress passed the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package — Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — in response to the pandemic, providing much-needed financial relief to American families. In the months since its passage, Hoyer and the majority Democratic House passed additional stimulus packages, but they have not received a vote in the Republican-held Senate.
Hoyer has been critical of President Donald Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, calling it “shocking” and “one of the worst, if not the worst in the world.” He has also criticized Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for “not participating” in passing additional stimulus.
Hoyer said people are suffering, and more financial help is needed in the form of unemployment insurance to additional stimulus checks.
Palombi agreed that the federal government must do more for people now that unemployment benefits and small business loans have dried up.
But, the pandemic has become politicized, Palombi said.
He criticized both parties for putting party loyalty over working families who need help and said he is in favor of passing a “skinny” stimulus bill that would provide some funding for schools and more paycheck protection loans to small businesses. He recommended that those loans be directed only to small businesses and not “multimillion-dollar companies.”
Hoyer was majority leader in 2010 when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. He has remained a strong supporter of the law, which has faced several attempts at repeal from congressional Republicans and in the courts. If he stays in his seat for another term, the Democrats intend to move toward universal health coverage with “everybody covered by insurance,” Hoyer said.
While the federal health care act was well-intentioned, it has had adverse effects, Palombi said, such as higher costs and overregulation. The Republican said he favors keeping coverage for people with preexisting conditions covered under the act. But he would replace the employer-sponsored health insurance deduction with a refundable health care tax credit allowing consumers to have more choice in their healthcare coverage.
The change expands the power of individual health savings accounts and contribution limits, he said.
“We want to make sure that everybody’s able to have affordable coverage and absolutely the best quality coverage that they can have,” he said.
Jobs and the economy
In the next term, getting people back to work will depend on having a national coronavirus plan, Hoyer said. Continuing to invest in testing and extending containment in other countries will help in that effort.
A $1.5 billion infrastructure bill will also be a priority next year, Hoyer said, who supports investment in roads, bridges, the electrical grid and expanding access to broadband internet.
Congress needs to pass additional stimulus legislation, Palombi said, especially loans for small businesses hurting from the pandemic. He supports infrastructure investment and protecting Maryland’s drinking water.
Climate change and the environment
Palombi characterized himself as an advocate of the free market for environmental protection allowing “ingenuity and competitiveness” in the private sector to outweigh government overreach. He also credited Gov. Larry Hogan for efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay, adding that Maryland must hold surrounding states accountable for their environmental actions affecting the bay.
New technologies like hydrogen fuel cells and other net-zero technologies could be built in the 5th District.
“Why couldn’t we bring that here,” he said. “How many jobs would that create?"
Hoyer has a long history of environmental advocacy. He has voted for every major environmental bill during his tenure, according to his website, which notes that he’s secured federal funding to add 8,000 acres to the Patuxent Park and expand Piscataway Park in Prince George’s County, among other parks in his district.
Legislation that addresses climate change will be a priority in the next term, Hoyer said.
Palombi served for five years as a Capitol Police officer and was detailed to both chambers of Congress. That experience helped him learn the inner workings of the legislature and inspired his run for office.
In the wake of the police protests, some reforms are needed, Palombi said, such as finding ways to eliminate excessive use of force. If elected, he plans to implement continual training after an officer leaves the academy. He also said he would push for universal use-of-force guidelines.
Maryland Policy & Politics
“It’s always good to revisit policies” and “continue to find ways to be better,” he said. “Is there a way we can be accountable and transparent? We have to have that."
In June, Hoyer co-sponsored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, named for a Black man whose death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.
The legislation would prohibit federal police officers from using chokeholds and no-knock warrants, restricting the transfer of military equipment to police and raising the threshold for the permissible use of force, among many other changes. The Senate has yet to take up the bill.
“We need these policies,” Hoyer said, adding that he rejects the idea of “defunding the police.”
“We need the police, law and order that is carried out within the Constitution and within the law, that is just,” he said. "[It’s] not anti-police, it’s pro-people.”
Residents can text “VOTE” or “VOTA” to 77788 to receive a link to register to vote online. The deadline to register to vote in Maryland is Oct. 13, but there are also options for same-day registration at the polls during early voting and Election Day with the correct identification and materials.
Residents who are already registered to vote and would like to request an absentee ballot can text “VBM” or “VPC” to be sent a link to the online request form. The deadline to request an absentee or mail-in ballot is Oct. 20.