Twenty-term incumbent — yes, that is correct — of Maryland’s District 5 congressional seat Rep. Steny Hoyer will go up against Chris Palombi, his Republican challenger, in the upcoming general election.
Both candidates shared with Southern Maryland News their thoughts on the response to the coronavirus pandemic and the national budget.
Palombi said Maryland is “lucky [COVID-19] numbers are going down.” As restaurants and other businesses have reopened, he said he “applauds” their efforts to adjust their business operations and protect employees and customers.
“A vast majority of businesses had the foresight and ability to manage their operations in a manner consistent with good practices of COVID-19 infection protocol,” the St. Leonard resident said, however, he claimed, certain jurisdictions limited businesses within their districts even after state government allowed expanded reopenings.
Palombi pointed out some small businesses were forced to shutter while larger stores with more foot traffic were allowed to remain open and even saw an increase in profit during the ongoing pandemic. A number of small businesses struggled to adjust to COVID-19 guidelines and obtain personal protective equipment and “it’s disappointing some were permanently shuttered.”
Moving forward, Palombi said he would favor a different model for closures which would lay responsibility on companies, rather than state mandates.
“I hope we learn from this and use a high-risk, low-risk model in the future,” he said, as well as use “better established metrics.”
As far as masks go, Palombi said he disagrees with mandatory mask mandates.
“I agree that masks in certain situations can assist in reducing the spread. However, regular cloth masks only reduce the amount of respiratory droplets expelled … there is still disagreement among researchers of whether or not cloth masks are truly effective and how pervasive aerosol particles are” but “proper ventilation of indoor areas and social distancing is probably more effective than cloth masks” he said.
Concerning the coronavirus, Hoyer claimed through a spokesperson that residents “must continue to listen to the advice of our public health professionals and the consensus of our scientists.” He said it is “critically important that all Marylanders continue to follow social distancing guidelines, wash their hands often, and wear a mask when out in public.”
As COVID-19 has forced communities to face unexpected challenges, many families are struggling as a result, Hoyer pointed out, but said until the virus is under control “communities cannot return to normal,” adding, “public health considerations should inform when we ease closing restrictions.”
The longtime Democratic congressman from Mechanicsville said he thinks the counties in the Fifth District are taking the “right approach to re-openings” and stated, “the more our citizens follow the guidelines, the more lives we will save, and the sooner we can safely get back to doing the things we all miss.”
He noted the lack of leadership by the Trump Administration on “implementing a comprehensive testing and tracing program continues to be problematic for county governments, which are left to deal with the reality of enforcing restrictions and closures.”
Advocating to work together
A reporter asked Palombi his thoughts on the current state of the national budget. At the end of September, President Donald Trump signed a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through early December, after the U.S. Senate agreed to have a series of debates about federal funding once the general election was over.
“Congress should be coming up with a budget,” Palombi said. “It’s their job and it’s frustrating knowing they aren’t doing it.”
He claimed they are “kicking the can down the road when their constituents need help” and have been going into recess way too frequently. To avoid a government shutdown, Palombi said he’d work until midnight to get things done.
“There’s no excuse not to pass a national budget … leadership on both sides shut it down and people are tired of inaction,” he said.
Hoyer also believes a national budget should be passed rather than a stop-gap measure. Through a spokesperson, he said “governing by continuing resolution is not responsible and the American people deserve better.” He mentioned this year, House Democrats passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills by early summer and said, “It’s inexcusable that Senate Republicans failed to hold a hearing on a single appropriations bill.”
He continued, “Republicans in Congress continue to prove how little they care about fiscal responsibility, from shutting down the government to failing to work with Democrats to pass appropriations bills,” but “I will continue to work with my colleagues to make the system work, but we must have willing partners on the Republican side of the aisle.”
He said he worked hard throughout his career, including as House majority leader, to responsibly fund the government.
“Shutting down the government hurts tens of thousands of federal employees that call the Fifth District home and countless small businesses in our local economy … but while Republicans refuse to work with Democrats, there is no choice but to pass continuing resolutions to prevent a harmful shutdown,” the congressman said.
Katie Werner, vice president of the St. Mary’s County League of Women Voters, said multiple leagues have been trying to coordinate a debate between Hoyer and Palombi, but Hoyer ultimately declined the invitations because of what he said were scheduling conflicts.
Rashad Lloyd was an unaffiliated candidate for the Fifth District seat but is no longer in the race after failing to collect enough signatures to move forward. In September, Lloyd told Southern Maryland News “it was an insurmountable task to collect 10,000 signatures while most of the state was in lock down.”
When asked if he would run a write-in campaign, Lloyd said without having the ability to engage with large groups, a write-in campaign “would be about as effective as wearing a speedo and swimming goggles on the moon.”