Endorsement: Dr. John LaFerla in 1st Dist. Congress Democratic Primary

April 1, 2012


Voters in Tuesday’s Democratic primary have several choices of candidates to take on the difficult, and probably thankless, task of trying to unseat Republican incumbent Andy Harris in the 1st District seat in Congress. But Dr. John LaFerla, a Chestertown physician, is the clear choice for Cecil County voters who want to see Harris held accountable in public debate, especially for some of his, and his party’s, more extreme views on women’s health issues.

We think there is no one better qualified to challenge Harris, doctor-to-doctor, and Eastern Shore resident against Baltimore County resident, on a broad array of issues affecting the district. And despite Harris’ monumental fundraising advantage, LaFerla has shown himself in the past few months to be an impressive political fundraiser, tapping a network of medical professionals, just as Harris has, to fund his campaign. (As of 3/14/12, LaFerla had raised $86,838, while Harris has raised $936,962.)

Like it or not, it takes money to run a credible campaign, and Harris is enough of a high-profile, controversial Republican on many issues that LaFerla should be able to raise funds from donors, especially in the medical community, even though the voter registration odds are against him in the district. LaFerla only decided to run in December but he has made up for lost time with a steady influx of donations recently.

The First District covers all of the Eastern Shore, including Cecil County, and parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, with sections of Carroll County added recently in redistricting. The re-map of the district turns it even more Republican than it was in the past, when moderate Republican Wayne Gilchrest, also from Kent County on the Shore, held the seat for many years and Queen Anne’s County Democrat Frank Kratovil eked out a one-term hold on the seat before Harris defeated him two years ago.

LaFerla has argued in forums around the district, including a recent event in Cecilton, that Harris is too “extreme” and the district should be represented by a more moderate candidate. Gilchrest apparently agrees, and he recently endorsed LaFerla. “It is vital that we elect a leader who puts the District ahead of political extremism,” Gilchrest said. La Ferla “is our best chance of defeating Andy Harris this fall.”

When he first ran unsuccessfully for the seat, Harris was relatively clueless about the Shore. He resides in Baltimore County and practiced anesthesiology in Baltimore. But for his second, successful run, he took on a part-time medical gig in Salisbury and acquired a home in Cambridge. During his first term in office, Harris has traveled extensively in the district—donning rubber boots to get a wet, first-hand look at commercial fishing on the Bohemia River in Cecil County—and getting to know the local issues and citizens.

But it is still not the same as living and working, as LaFerla has for many years, in local communities in the area. LaFerla has been in private medical practice in Queen Anne’s County and in community clinics in Caroline and Talbot counties. Yes, it may be parochialism to root for the home team, but in the fall general election campaign we think it is important that both candidates understand, and have to address, issues affecting rural areas such as the Shore.

The other major candidate in the Democratic primary is Wendy Rosen, a Baltimore County businesswoman. (A third candidate, from Harford County, has raised no funds and has been a no-show at Shore candidate forums.) If Rosen were the Democratic nominee, it might be too easy for two suburban Baltimore candidates to focus on western shore issues and voters, who in the newly drawn maps are expected to outnumber Eastern Shore residents in the general election.

We give Rosen credit for putting her business consulting operation, promoting “made in America” crafts and products, on hold to wage a concerted campaign. But reviewing her record, and observing her performance in Cecilton where she failed to answer the question she was asked until prompted by the moderator, we don’t think she’s the right candidate for this race.

Some Rosen supporters say that as a former Republican who fairly recently changed her party registration, she would be effective in courting moderate GOP voters. Given Gilchrest’s fate, we don’t think there are many GOP moderates left in the district. If any inroads are to be made, it will be with independent, unaffiliated voters.

The rightward shift of the national Republican party especially on women’s health issues gives LaFerla an edge with independents and libertarians, and despite her gender, Rosen has not been as outspoken as LaFerla on such issues.

LaFerla has sent out mailers accusing Harris and fellow Republicans of waging a “war on women” on contraception and health issues. Harris says he is totally “pro-life” and has supported numerous bills seeking limits on abortion, including a measure that would have required a woman to prove to the IRS or a tax preparer that she had been raped before should could deduct medical expenses paid for an abortion.

With presidential candidate Rick Santorum surging in the GOP primaries, his professed views– that abortion should be outlawed even in cases of rape and doctors should face criminal charges for performing an abortion, regardless of the circumstances—give new meaning to the word “extremism.”

LaFerla is far from a one-issue candidate, and he has outlined a full platform of economic and employment issues and solutions, with an emphasis on the unique concerns of the Shore. Stylistically, he would be an effective foil to Harris on the campaign trail, mixing the cool, scientific approach of a doctor with a ready wit and willingness to engage an opponent on the issues forcefully.

The Cecil Times endorses Dr. LaFerla and encourages Shore Democrats to support him in the primary election on Tuesday.

[See his website here: http://laferlaforcongress.us/ ]

[See Cecil Times report on the Democratic candidates’ forum in Cecilton here:

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