The Maryland 8th Congressional District candidate debate was hosted by the local League of Women Voters (LWV) in Rockville’s main public library last night. It will be rebroadcast on “Access Montgomery” public cable channels 19 and 21 three times in the next 7 days.*
Gordon Clark (Green), Steve Hudson (R), Van Hollen (D)
legislative director Bill Parsons at League of Women
Voters debate in Rockville. Write-in candidates
Deborah Vollmer and Lih Young were also there,
but are obscured behind the photographer on the
right. The moderator was LWV president Diane Hibino.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew .
To my disappointment, but not to my surprise, my Representative, Chris Van Hollen (D) was unable to attend; he had to stay on Capitol Hill because of the “bailout” legislation. Legislative director Bill Parsons took his place. The other candidates on the ballot — Gordon Clark (Green)  and Steve Hudson (R)  were on hand, as were write-in candidates Deborah Vollmer and Lih Young.
As I wrote on Monday, I’ve decided to support Gordon Clark  in this election, and I saw nothing to change that decision last night. Clark has a formidable grasp of issues from global warming and energy to foreign affairs to the financial crisis. He also communicates that well, with a forceful, clear speaking style that contrasted well with the other challengers — and with Van Hollen’s last-minute substitute Mr. Parsons, for that matter. I could easily picture Gordon Clark as a United States representative; none of the other challengers met that simple test, in my view.
The debate began with prepared statments by each of the speakers, followed by one minute responses to questions prepared by the moderator, by the audience , or submitted by email correspondents to the LWV. I’ll give a thumbnail impression of each speaker in the following; an embedded video of the debate is just after the jump.
A table with the approximate timing of each candidate statement or response,
using the clock on the embedded ustream.tv video above, is available here .
Topics included: the bailout, global warming, health care, immigration,
civil liberties, education, alternative energy, and social justice experience,
as well as each speaker’s opening and closing statements.
Deborah Vollmer  was effective in raising Van Hollen’s acquiescence in continuing to vote for funding the Iraq and Aftghanistan wars — as recently as September 24’s $68.6 billion vote . She also made the interesting point that Van Hollen is always pro-appropriations and only anti-authorization when there’s a majority with him. She seemed unprepared for other questions, however, descending into near Palin-like filibustering generalities about education, for instance. While raising the Iraq funding issue is to Vollmer’s credit, I think Clark might have done more of that as well if the forum had been a three way debate. Vollmer’s record of activism — which she described in response to the final question of the evening — is to her very great credit (legal work for farm workers). But overall, I think Vollmer’s decision to run was ill-advised; I would rather have heard more from Clark.
The same goes double for Lih Young . At first, I thought maybe the problem was simply pronunciation difficulties; however, her platform is nearly as incomprehensible in writing (see the link) as it was when she was trying to explain herself in person.
Turning to the key figures in last night’s debate, Steve Hudson  is an attractive Republican candidate in that he’s clearly a decent guy with a strong charitable streak: as an eye surgeon, he’s gone to Africa to help people there; he also went to Baton Rouge after Katrina to help people with their medical and legal needs (he also has a law degree). When it comes to political positions, though, he’s 100% standard issue McCain Republican, it seems to me: “the world is a dangerous place,” the financial crisis is due to giving too many easy loans via the Community Reinvestment Act, opposes single payer universal health care, opposes even cap-and-trade carbon programs as reducing productivity. His argument against single payer was that such a program would make the medical profession less attractive and thus reduce quality of care. For my part, I wonder if he and the other very best doctors in the country would really leave the profession (or fail to enter the one) that allows them to do so much good.
Van Hollen’s legislative director Bill Parsons no doubt felt that his major goal was to not create any embarrassments for his boss. He succeeded in that, and acquitted himself pretty well overall. Nevertheless, Parsons doesn’t seem well suited for the glare of even a relatively small spotlight: “responsible, responsive, and properly prioritized” is the kind of slogan only a legislative director could love. He also tended to recite laundry lists of legislation as proof of Van Hollen’s engagement with various issues, when the question is often more whether Van Hollen and other Democratic leadership are aiming too low. However, Parsons was canny in waiting until the final round of the debate to suddenly rebut — inaccurately, in my view — charges about Van Hollen’s support of H.Con.362, a bill threatening Iran with a gasoline blockade whether Parsons sees it that way or not. Parsons rebuttal was left unanswered by the other candidates, including Clark, and thus successfully obscured one of the most serious criticisms against Van Hollen.
Returning finally to Gordon Clark, I remind readers again to bear in mind that I’ve decided to support him. Though I’d seen him in public settings before, I hadn’t seen him in a formal setting like last night’s, and I was impressed both with his delivery and with the concision of his remarks.
Clark on the financial crisis: “I don’t know whether Congress’s inaction until now or its stampede is worse.” He criticized the bailout bill being considered by the House as containing no meaningful elements reversing the “rampant deregulation” of the recent past, or of the foreclosure crisis.
Clark on health care: “the health care crisis in this country can never be resolved while the system is left in the hands of companies whose profits come from denying coverage.” He supports the Conyers single payer bill before Congress, noted that Van Hollen wasn’t among the 91 co-sponsors, and said he’d be the 92d co-sponsor if he was elected.
On civil liberties, Clark urged that the Patriot Act be revisited and revoked, and decried the Maryland State Police surveillance scandal, saying he was looking into whether he himself had been under surveillance for being in a Maryland anti-war group during that time.
Global warming is the key issue for Clark — and really for all of us, of course. Clark rightly hit Van Hollen hard for his recent radio address statement “Let me be clear — Democrats support more drilling.” On this score, by the way, I’m learning that just about any nonsensical policy can be justified if it’s touted as a “bridge” to a sensible one. The case in point here is “clean coal”, about which Clark made the excellent observations that “clean coal is an oxymoron” and that it “is sequestered carbon” — let’s leave it that way. Clark supports Al Gore’s call for 100% renewable energy in 10 years, and said this ought to be a (jobs producing) Manhattan Project, Marshall Plan, and Apollo program all rolled into one.
But you don’t need me for Clark’s platform when you can go have a look yourself. 
If I have one mild criticism, it’s that I guess I do question the way Clark raises the campaign contribution angle in many of his remarks. At least when you hear the nickel version, it can sound like Clark is saying Van Hollen is simply bought and paid for if he gets a campaign contribution from a corporate contributor.
I think it’s not quite that blatant; rather, there’s a slow general identification with a contributor class, and with an ethic that accepting such contributions is “realistic.” That in turn sets the stage for political compromises — especially the kind where you set the bar too low to begin with — even as the recipient continues to consider himself righteous, idealistic, and not at all bought or paid for. I think (or maybe I just prefer to hope) that Van Hollen really is a decent, honest guy; while I certainly don’t have the detailed Congress-watching experience Clark does, in Van Hollen’s case, at least, things like his consistent labor advocacy would seem to disprove a simple “corporate” analysis.
Now I know I often roll my eyes when I hear Democrats praising Republican colleagues and extolling “bipartisanship” for its own sake. At the end of the day, this is the “Putin’s eyes” fallacy — what’s supposedly in your soul doesn’t matter as much as what you do or don’t do.
So I’ll add that I think immersion in the campaign finance, Beltway, Congressional culture can lead you to put too much trust in (or at least concede too much authority to) people who shouldn’t get it. With the bailout bill, for example, it may look like a sellout, but I think it’s more like Van Hollen is the bank guard who sees the sign on the truck pulling up says “Paulson Security Services,” just like it “should” — and waves the heist team right up to the loading dock. Maybe you fire the guard either way, but if you had to put that up to a town vote, you wouldn’t claim he was in on it.
* October 3: 5;30pm-7:30pm; October 5: 10pm-midnight; October 8: 11am-1pm. A table with the approximate timing of each candidate statement or response, using the clock on the embedded ustream.tv video above, is available here .
OTHER COVERAGE: PolitickerMD: MD-8 challengers unload on Van Hollen, despite his absence .