Colvin, Harris Debate Health, Money, in House Dist. 1; Colvin Tops GOP Incumbent in $, Letters

October 19, 2018
By

NEWS ANALYSIS

Jesse Colvin, a former US Army Ranger and the Democratic challenger in the Dist. 1 race for the US House, was polite and respectful, even as he delivered political body blows to his Republican opponent, incumbent Rep. Andy Harris during a candidates’ forum on a CECIL.TV delayed broadcast on the Internet.

For his part, Harris was often dismissive, repeatedly calling his opponent by his first name—even as Colvin called him Mr., Dr., or Congressman—and referring to Colvin as a “newcomer” to the District. (Colvin is a fourth-generation Marylander who grew up in Baltimore. Harris was born in Queens, NY.)

For the first time since he wrestled the District 1 seat away from Democrat Frank Kratovil in 2010, Harris is facing a well-funded challenger who has been garnering bipartisan support, including some former top national Republican officials. There has also been a torrent of Letters to the Editor in local newspapers from pro-Colvin writers, while Harris’ supporters have largely been silent.

Colvin has raised a total of $1,575,000 in donations to his campaign, although he had to spend a significant share to win the Democratic nomination in June in a crowded field. Colvin still had $750,877 cash-on-hand for the final weeks of the fall campaign, according to his latest finance report. Harris has raised a total of $1,454,988 in this election cycle, but with carry-over money from past campaigns to offset campaign spending this year, he still ended up with $1,336,884 cash-on-hand going into the final campaign stretch.

Harris’ campaign drew a substantial share of its donations from Political Action Committees (PACs)– $507,567– while Colvin’s PAC tally was a modest $19,279, according to the non-partisan OpenSecrets.org database that is compiled from Federal Elections Commission reports. Harris, an anesthesiologist who formerly practiced at Johns Hopkins, draws much of his financial support from medical organizations and practitioners, who account for $306,443 of his donations. The top occupation of Harris donors is health professionals and HMO’s while retirees are the top donor category for Colvin.

The televised forum was conducted by Cecil.TV in studios at Cecil College, with no advance word to the public or the media, and no audience was in attendance. The forum was moderated by Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College in southern Maryland, and was aired on Thursday on YouTube and Cecil.tv’s website. Also participating was the Libertarian Party candidate, Jenica Martin.

Asked about the Affordable Care Act, the opioid crisis and whether he would support medication-assisted treatment options, Harris deflected the medication-assisted portion of the question—methadone clinics have been a controversial issue in Cecil County—but said he supports collaborations with local experts to determine what is best in individual communities. Opioid addiction is “a scourge in our district,” Harris said, and “as a physician I’ll tell you that a drug addict is never cured.”

Colvin focused on the ACA (which requires insurance coverage for drug addiction treatment) and criticized Harris for backing repeal of the ACA and Republican efforts that could end required insurance coverage of pre-existing medical conditions. Colvin charged that Harris was “in the back pocket of big pharma” (pharmaceutical companies) and could not be trusted to stand up to special interests in the healthcare debate.

Harris took offense and said “I know health care better than you know health care” and countered that Colvin accepted a donation from Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5) and since Hoyer took donations from drug companies, Colvin should return the Hoyer contribution. Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House who also represents Prince George’s county and Southern Maryland, has a “leadership PAC” that donates to many Democratic House candidates around the country. Hoyer’s PAC, “America PAC: the Fund for a Greater America,” donated $5,000 to Colvin’s campaign in August, a Colvin campaign aide said.

Harris said that one of his drug company donors makes Narcan, the drug that reverses the effects of drug overdoses and saves lives. (The price of Narcan has skyrocketed and some law enforcement and health agencies that use it to save lives have charged the manufacturer with price gouging, according to published reports.)

Harris also deployed the argument that taking donations from people who also take donations from someone else is objectionable with regard to Exelon, the owner of the Conowingo Dam in Cecil County, that is embroiled in a fight with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) over a required water quality permit to continue federal licensing of the dam. The state wants a commitment from Exelon to limit sediment flows or face millions of dollars in fines.
Colvin charged that Harris was “in the back pocket” of Exelon and unwilling to hold the utility responsible for sediment pollution that is being released by the Conowingo Dam into the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay. The dam’s flows have recently been cited by scientists as responsible for massive oyster deaths in Kent County.

Harris retorted that “You took money from people who took money from Exelon.”

On the substance of the sediment issue, Harris said that it would be too costly for Exelon to pay the costs of removing accumulated sediments behind the dam and that there should be a solution to create a new land mass, such as the Hart-Miller islands project that was built from sediment dredged from the Baltimore harbor to build the Fort McHenry tunnel. (That project was financed with millions of federal dollars approved by the House Appropriations Committee, where former Maryland Rep. Clarence Long (D-2) finally pushed needed legislation for the project after years of reluctance.) Harris is currently a member of the Appropriations committee and has not advanced legislation to pay the potential billions of dollars it would cost to dredge and deposit the dam sediments on a new land mass. At the forum, Harris did not say how, or by whom, the costs should be paid.

Colvin accused Harris of being a no-show Congressman, with an opening salvo questioning, “When was the last time you saw Dr. Harris? Did he look like he was excited to be there with you?” Harris has held few in-person town hall meetings with constituents in the past two years, favoring telephone conference calls that are usually scheduled at about 5 p.m.– not exactly prime telephone availability time for working families and parents coping with kids’ school and sports schedules. Colvin also challenged Harris for never visiting a veterans’ health clinic in Cambridge.

Harris made a jabbed response, saying he was glad that a “newcomer” could find his way to Cambridge and that he did not need to visit a VA health clinic because he talked with veterans at VFW and American Legion halls where they would feel more comfortable talking about veterans’ health issues. Harris said he favored letting veterans decide if they wanted private healthcare or continuing the VA hospitals system.

The televised discussion was organized by Cecil.TV, a private Internet-based video operation founded by Doug Donley. Donley told Cecil Times that he decided not to announce the forum in advance or permit a public audience because he was concerned there might be protesters and that would pose a security problem for Cecil College. While Colvin agreed from the outset to participate, much of the other organizational details were set after lengthy negotiations with a consultant for the Harris campaign, which insisted that the Libertarian candidate be included and initially wanted a different moderator for the forum. Donley said he deemed the suggested moderator as “too partisan” and instead went with his own choice of Eberly, who is a widely respected academic who is often quoted on politics by major newspapers in the region. The Libertarian candidate sided with Harris on several issues, such as repeal of the ACA and potential privatization of the veterans’ healthcare system.

Meanwhile, the Harris and Colvin campaigns have recently been bickering with counter complaints alleging financial improprieties by each side and involving their wives.

Colvin’s camp contends that Harris violated financial disclosure rules by not including 2017 income earned by his wife from political consulting work for Harris and other political candidates. (According to Federal Election Commission records, Harris’ campaign account paid a total of $7,200 in the first half of 2017 to a consulting firm, Indy’s Services, operated by his then-fiancé Nicole Beus. The Harris campaign payments stopped after the couple married in mid-2017.) Harris has said it was an oversight in not including his wife’s income and the forms would be amended.

Harris contends that Colvin failed to list on disclosure forms a Washington, DC condo co-owned by his wife and her father. Harris also alleges that the Colvins improperly claimed a homestead property tax credit on the condo in 2017, although the couple moved to a home in Maryland shortly before he filed to run for the House seat. The Colvin campaign responded that the couple did indeed live in the condo in 2017 and were entitled to claim the credit, but would not do so on 2018 filings. And since Jesse Colvin had no ownership interest in the condo, he checked a “No” box on a disclosure form that asked if there were any other property holdings not listed on the form. Colvin said he would amend the form to check the “yes” box since his wife had a partial interest in the condo.

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One Response to Colvin, Harris Debate Health, Money, in House Dist. 1; Colvin Tops GOP Incumbent in $, Letters

  1. Real Republican on October 22, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    I scored the debate for Dr. Harris.

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