Q&A With Congressman John Sarbanes

| October 26, 2016 | 0 Comments

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Democrat John Sarbanes is the incumbent Congressman for Maryland’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives and he is running for re-election. Maryland’s 3rd District includes the South Baltimore Peninsula, Southeast Baltimore, and parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, and Montgomery County.

The General Election is on November 8th. Representative Sarbanes will be running against Dr. Mark Plaster from the Republican Party and Nnabu Eze from the Green Party.

SouthBMore.com caught up with Representative Sarbanes to learn more about his career and his campaign.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Born and raised in Baltimore, I was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006 to represent Maryland’s Third Congressional District. In the House of Representatives, I serve on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, along with its Subcommittee on Health and its Subcommittee on Energy and Power. On these committees, I work to protect the Chesapeake Bay, safeguard the environment and improve our health care system.

I am also spearheading efforts in Congress to fight big money in politics. From creating to jobs, to health care policy, education and environmental protection, big money warps Congress’ priorities and erodes the public’s trust in government. To give everyday citizens a voice again in Washington, I authored and introduced the Government By the People Act (H.R. 20) – bold new legislation that ensures Congress works for the people’s interest, not special interests.

Before representing Maryland’s Third Congressional District, I spent 18 years as a lawyer at Venable, including six as Chairman of the firm’s Health Care practice. I also served for seven years with the Maryland State Superintendent as liaison to the Baltimore City Public Schools. I graduated from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and studied law and politics in Greece on a Fulbright Scholarship. After graduating from Harvard Law School, I returned to Baltimore, where I clerked for Judge J. Frederick Motz on the federal district court. The following year, I began practicing law at Venable.

What motivates you to represent this district in Congress?

I believe I can help improve people’s lives and that I can represent their voices in Washington. Every two years, I reflect on my time in public service and ask myself, “Can I still continue to make a difference as a Member of Congress?” I believe that I can. We may not agree on 100 percent of the issues, but I can make these three promises to the people I represent: 1) I will listen carefully to your concerns; 2) I will act with integrity as your public servant; and 3) I will work as hard as I can to improve our communities and our country. Staying true to these values, I believe that I can be an effective voice for you in Washington.

What are some accomplishments you’re proud of as a member of the House of Representatives? And what are your goals moving forward?

Recently, I was proud to work on bipartisan legislation that addresses the nation’s opioid epidemic, a crisis felt by many communities in Maryland and around the country. The legislative package passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama. I was proud to have one of the bills that I authored – the Co-Prescribe to Reduce Overdoses Act – included in the legislative package. This bill will help expand access to Naloxone, a life-saving overdose reversal drug.

I’m also proud of my work on behalf of veterans, who have made every sacrifice for our country. I strongly believe that although we can never fully repay the debt we owe our nation’s veterans, we must strive to honor their service and fulfill our commitments to them.

After working with a disabled Gulf War veteran who was denied Social Security benefits – along with organizations like the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America – I introduced the Benefit Rating Acceleration for Veteran Entitlements (BRAVE) Act to make it easier for disabled veterans to access Social Security benefits. When gridlock in Congress held the measure up, I worked directly with the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make this new, streamlined process a reality. To date, more than 16,000 veterans have benefited from these efforts.

I also authored a bill – which was signed into law as part of the Serve America Act – to create a Veterans’ Service Corps (VetCorps). This initiative empowers Americans to support veterans by engaging in service projects like retrofitting housing for disabled veterans, transporting veterans to medical appointments, assisting with rehabilitative classes such as physical therapy, creating care packages for military members serving overseas and volunteering in veterans’ hospitals, among many other service projects. In October 2015, I joined the Corporation for National and Community Service – the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps – to officially launch Vet Corps with a commemorative pinning ceremony to recognize veterans in Maryland who have made a meaningful impact on their communities as civilians.

Another initiative that I am passionate about is environmental education. Like many Marylanders, I share a strong connection to the Chesapeake Bay and I am committed to protecting its health for future generations. One way to do that is to inspire our kids to become the next generation of environmental stewards. Unfortunately, many students in Maryland and across America lack access to kinds of environmental education programs that can better connect our children to the outdoors and instill a sense of environmental conservation. Since I was elected to Congress, I’ve worked to expand hands-on, outdoor learning opportunities for students. To that end, I introduced the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI), a bipartisan bill that would bolster American students’ environmental literacy and better connect young learners with the outdoors. As Congress took up a new K-12 education bill late last year, I worked with my colleagues to include a provision from NCLI into the final bill, which was ultimately signed into law. The provision will provide teachers with resources to create and expand environmental learning programs.

Are there any changes you’d like to see in Congress? How would you contribute to that change?

I believe that the staggering amount of money in our politics – contributed in large amounts by a small handful of wealthy and well-connected donors – is having a corrosive effect on our democracy. Members of Congress are too dependent on these contributions to run competitive campaigns, and as a result, Congress often advances public policy that puts special interests ahead of people’s interests.

As I travel throughout my district, I hear from many people who are fed up with our current system. And across the country, poll after poll shows that Americans are frustrated by the amount of money in our politics. That’s why I introduced the Government By the People Act (H.R. 20), a bold new reform that will provide everyday Americans – and the candidates they support – with the tools they need to fight big money in politics.

The Government By the People Act has three specific policy prescriptions:

1)    Empower every citizen with a $25 tax credit to make a campaign contribution.

2)    Amplify each voter’s voice by matching small-donor contributions.

3)    Protect the voices of everyday citizens from being drowned out by Super PACs and shadowy outside groups.

By breaking Congress’ reliance on wealthy donors, the Government By the People Act will make our government more responsive to the needs of everyday Americans.

How do you feel your campaign for re-election been received so far?

I feel that Marylanders are energized by the positive, solutions-driven campaign that we are running. Over the last eight years, we’ve made considerable progress on a number of important issues, like expanding access to high-quality health care, advancing civil rights and addressing climate change. But we still have so much work to do if we want to continue improving the social fabric our nation, strengthen our economy and lift up each and every community. I know that if we continue to make smart investments in our institutions, in our infrastructure, and importantly, in our people, then we can provide Americans with more opportunities to receive a good education, secure a well-paying job, have better access to high-quality health care, and enjoy a happy and secure retirement.

Maryland’s 3rd District has been called one of the most gerrymandered districts as it covers parts of South and Southeast Baltimore, as well as slivers of Howard, Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties. What challenges come with representing such a geographically diverse district?

I have a strong presence across the many communities that I represent, and I am deeply committed to providing residents in Maryland’s Third Congressional District with timely and effective constituent services.

On the topic of redistricting, I believe that it’s important that the public have confidence in the way that Congressional districts are drawn. I am committed to creating national, independent and objective standards for drawing Congressional districts in order to restore that confidence. To that end, I have worked with my colleagues in Congress to co-sponsor and advance the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015, a comprehensive proposal that would establish independent state redistricting commissions on a nationwide scale. Rather than piecemeal reform on a state-by-state basis, implementing federal redistricting reform will ensure a more fair and impartial process for drawing Congressional districts.

What do you like about South Baltimore?

South Baltimore is a budding economic hub for the city and for the state of Maryland. We’ve seen tremendous growth across the area in recent years – especially among technology startups and incubators like City Garage and Betamore – and I look forward to seeing continued innovation and job opportunities come out of the area. One example of South Baltimore’s growth is Port Covington, which, with the right mix of public and private investment, can help improve many communities across Baltimore.

South Baltimore also has a proud history. Look no further than Fort McHenry, which played a crucial role in preserving and defending our nation during the War of 1812.

I believe that the culture of South Baltimore really embodies the spirit of Baltimore as a whole, and demonstrates the potential of what Baltimore, as a city, could be. The residents are hardworking, resilient and proud.

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Maryland’s 3rd District

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About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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