2022 Voter Guide: Ben Smilowitz, candidate for U.S. Congress District 6

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U.S. Congress
District 6

Ben Smilowitz



Montgomery County

Founder and Executive Director, Disaster Accountability Project & I founded the nonprofit after Hurricane Katrina to improve effectiveness, accountability, and transparency in disaster relief and humanitarian aid.

BA, Political Science and Certificate in Nonprofit Management, Washington University in St. Louis JD, University of Connecticut Member, Maryland Bar

— Director, Online Outreach, Americans United to Protect Social Security — Organizer, Campaign for America's Future — Coordinator, Missouri Governor's Youth Cabinet

Why are you running for office?

I believe we need to get the corrupting influence of big money out of politics and prioritize accountability in public service. I have two young sons and I worry about their generation's future. At a time when our democracy and planet are threatened, we need representatives that dedicate all their time and energy to public service, not while expanding their multi-billion dollar businesses. Congress is not a part-time job or position bought. Our current representative embodies much of what disillusions Americans about politics. I've been a public interest advocate for 25 years, fighting for accountability in government and nonprofits for the last fifteen. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, I served in Mississippi and managed relief sites as a volunteer. The response was so poor, I founded a nonprofit to improve accountability and transparency in disaster relief. I'm running to bring that motivation and energy with me to Congress.

What is the most pressing issue in your state or district?

When I worked as a director of the campaign to protect Social Security from privatization, we were opposed by Wall Street. Thankfully, we won that fight. Every issue that voters have shared on the campaign trail is impacted by money in politics. Today, it's estimated there are 100,000 lobbyists in Washington. Someone profits from every problem we face; from Big Pharma and Big Oil to the gun manufacturers who fund the NRA. In 2020 over $14 Billion was spent on elections in the US - we can't let our democracy be just another investment opportunity awarded to the highest bidder. I'm running against someone who epitomizes this corrosive effect of Big Money on our political system. I hope to prove that we are still a true Democracy - ruled by the people, not the wealthy elite. When we prevail over big money and special interests, the people will win.

What does the U.S. need to do to combat climate change?

Having closely followed disasters since Hurricane Katrina, I've seen more climate devastation than most members of Congress and they have failed to address this crisis with the urgency needed. We are hemorrhaging tax dollars and increasing our National Debt because we have not prioritized preparedness and mitigation. We must invest in green energy, green jobs, innovation, and carbon removal technologies. We must shift our subsidies for oil and gas to research and development for clean energy that will make us energy independent. Climate investment should be paired with economic opportunity for our most depressed communities. We must invest in public transportation and champion expansions of MARC, Metro, and bus route access.

How do you assess the United States' response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Putin has been attacking the United States for years. From election interference to misinformation to hacking, each action ought to be considered an aggressive provocation. We should continue to leverage sanctions to weaken the Russian economy and military. We should continue to support the Ukrainians, financially and militarily. We should support Finland and Sweden's admission to NATO and we should explore ways to protect Georgia, Moldova, and others in the region from Russian aggression.

What should the U.S. do regarding the legal status and prospective citizenship for undocumented immigrants living here?

We are a nation of immigrants and our immigration system should be humane and fair. My family fled persecution in Belarus and Ukraine. Had they not left, they would have likely been murdered in the Holocaust. Separating families and indefinite detention should not be how we treat people who risked everything to seek a better life. We can do so much better. Yes, we have laws to enforce. But we shouldn't forget about our humanity. In summary, I support a pathway to citizenship for our Dreamers. It wasn't long ago that there was bipartisan support for reasonable legislation. We need to stop extremists from politicizing this issue. Most people reading this are either immigrants themselves or descendants of immigrants.

How would you describe what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6?

A violent insurrection. Many of those responsible, who organized and/or participated in the criminal conspiracy to interfere with our Democracy, have yet to be charged and must be held accountable. Any members of Congress and members of the previous administration that supported, facilitated, or encouraged the criminal conspiracy in any way should be prosecuted and barred from holding elected office.

What should the U.S. do now to prepare for the next pandemic?

Not waste time. I've spent the last 15 years focused on improving our nation's response to disasters. Improve data collection to better understand and identify gaps in healthcare service and access. Address disparities and inequities in healthcare, especially in rural and urban areas. Improve access to quality preventative healthcare. Reduce the cost of prescription drugs so people can address on-going healthcare needs. Hold nursing homes accountable. Improve and strengthen our public health communications and infrastructure. Invest in NIH and medical research so we can get ahead of future pandemics. Strengthen STEM programs so more young people pursue careers in science. Strengthen our nation's emergency stockpiles. Onshore production of critical supplies so we are less dependent on China. Depoliticize public health. Create a 9/11-style commission that audits our nation's response and drafts recommendations for improvement. Expand broadband access to rural and urban areas so more people can utilize telehealth.

What's the right balance for U.S. transportation spending between roads and transit?

Roads and transit are investments in jobs and economic development, not just government spending. Across our district and country, roads and bridges are in disrepair. Population growth has outpaced infrastructure development and maintenance. Many are forced to drive because public transit options are insufficient, indirect, and too costly. I support evening and weekend expansions of MARC service to make sure Frederick and Washington, DC have a direct connection without an unnecessary stop in Point of Rocks. We should encourage greater use of public transit and cap the amount spent by commuters using Metro at $3.50 each way. It's not reasonable to charge $12 (plus parking) daily for round-trip commutes. Voters across MD-6 also want expanded bus service. Let's think creatively about how to expand public transit and economic opportunity.

What would you have the nation do to better address income inequality?

We need to make sure that people have the basics to succeed: access to quality healthcare, a good education, job training, a liveable wage, and assistance with first home purchases. When we invest in people, starting with early childhood and universal pre-k, we all succeed. How do we pay for it? We tax the most wealthy. We close loopholes. We strengthen the middle class and give more people the tools they need to succeed and achieve the American Dream. There's no reason why, in 2022, children should go to sleep hungry. There's no reason why basic prescription drugs should cost half a Social Security check. There's no reason why someone's zip code should determine health outcomes. An accountable government can justify spending when quality of life improves. Let's improve the quality of life for all Marylanders and Americans, not just those living in particular zip codes.

Describe your position on the Electoral Count Act, which would put “guardrails” around the certification of presidential elections?

The peaceful transition of power is an amazing thing. It is reasonable to raise the bar on what qualifies as a legitimate objection when Congress certifies the electoral vote count. More important, is passage of voting rights protections and ending gerrymandering nationally. We should make it easy for people to exercise their constitutional right and civic duty to vote. We need to reverse Citizens' United and pass federal campaign finance reform to prevent millionaires, billionaires, and outside interests from buying seats in Congress.

Who's your top choice for president in 2024 and why?

Jamie Raskin. He's working the hardest to save our democracy and one of the few members of Congress who knows how to lead during a disaster.

Baltimore Sun Media's voter guide allows candidates to provide their background, policy and platforms on issues, in their own words. Any questions or feedback can be sent to, or read more about the questionnaire process here.