2022 Voter’s Guide: Ben Smilowitz, Candidate for US Congressional District 6


US Congress
District 6

Ben Smilowitz

Democratic

41

Montgomery County

Founder & Executive Director, Disaster Accountability Project & SmartResponse.org I founded the nonprofit organization after Hurricane Katrina to improve the efficiency, accountability and transparency of disaster relief and aid humanitarian.

BA, Political Science and Certificate in Nonprofit Management, Washington University in St. Louis JD, Member of the University of Connecticut, Bar of Maryland

— Director, Online Outreach, Americans United to Protect Social Security — Organizer, Campaign for America’s Future — Coordinator, Missouri Governor’s Youth Cabinet

What is the most pressing issue in your state or district?

When I worked as campaign manager to protect Social Security from privatization, we were opposed by Wall Street. Fortunately, we won this fight. Every issue that voters shared during the election campaign is impacted by money in politics. Today, it is estimated that there are 100,000 lobbyists in Washington. Someone is profiting from every problem we face; from Big Pharma and Big Oil to the gun manufacturers who fund the NRA. In 2020, over $14 billion was spent on elections in the United States – we can’t let our democracy be just another investment opportunity awarded to the highest bidder. I am running against someone who embodies this corrosive effect of Big Money on our political system. I hope to prove that we are still a true democracy – ruled by the people, not the wealthy elite. When we win over the big bucks and special interests, the people will win.

What should the United States do to fight climate change?

Having followed disasters closely since Hurricane Katrina, I have seen more climate devastation than most members of Congress and they have failed to address this crisis with the urgency needed. We are wasting taxpayers’ money and increasing our national debt because we have not prioritized preparedness and mitigation. We need to invest in green energy, green jobs, innovation and carbon removal technologies. We need to redirect our oil and gas subsidies to clean energy research and development that will make us energy independent. Climate investments must be coupled with economic opportunities for our most depressed communities. We must invest in public transportation and promote the expansion of access to MARC, metro and bus lines.

How do you assess the US response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Putin has been attacking the United States for years. From election interference to misinformation to hacking, every action should be seen as an aggressive provocation. We must continue to use sanctions to weaken the Russian economy and military. We must continue to support the Ukrainians, financially and militarily. We should support the admission of Finland and Sweden into NATO and we should explore ways to protect Georgia, Moldova and other countries in the region from Russian aggression.

What should the United States do about the legal status and potential citizenship of undocumented immigrants living here?

We are a nation of immigrants and our immigration system should be humane and fair. My family fled persecution in Belarus and Ukraine. If they hadn’t left, they probably would have been murdered in the Holocaust. Separation from families and indefinite detention should not be how we treat people who have risked everything to seek a better life. We can do so much better. Yes, we have laws to enforce. But we must not forget our humanity. In summary, I support a path to citizenship for our Dreamers. Not so long ago there was bipartisan support for sensible legislation. We must prevent extremists from politicizing this issue. Most people reading this are either immigrants themselves or descendants of immigrants.

How would you describe what happened at the US Capitol on January 6?

A violent uprising. Many officials, who organized and/or participated in the criminal conspiracy to interfere with our democracy, have not yet been charged and must be held accountable. All members of Congress and members of the previous administration who supported, facilitated, or encouraged the criminal conspiracy in any way should be prosecuted and barred from holding elected office.

What should the United States do now to prepare for the next pandemic?

Do not waste time. I have spent the past 15 years focusing on improving our nation’s response to disasters. Improve data collection to better understand and identify gaps in services and access to health care. Address health care disparities and inequalities, especially in rural and urban areas. Improve access to quality preventive health care. Reduce the cost of prescription drugs so people can meet their ongoing health care needs. Hold care homes accountable. Improve and strengthen our communications and public health infrastructure. Invest in NIH and medical research so we can anticipate future pandemics. Strengthen STEM programs so that more young people pursue scientific careers. Strengthen our country’s emergency stocks. Onshore production of critical supplies so that we are less dependent on China. Depoliticize public health. Create a 9/11-style commission that audits our nation’s response and drafts recommendations for improvement. Extend broadband access to rural and urban areas so that more people can use telehealth.

What is the right balance for US transportation spending between roads and public transit?

Roads and public transit are investments in jobs and economic development, not just government spending. In our district and our country, the roads and bridges are in poor condition. Population growth has outstripped infrastructure development and maintenance. Many are forced to drive because public transport options are insufficient, indirect and too expensive. I support MARC service extensions on evenings and weekends to ensure that Frederick and Washington, DC have a direct connection without unnecessary stopovers in Point of Rocks. We should encourage greater use of public transit and cap the amount spent by commuters using the subway at $3.50 per trip. It’s not reasonable to charge $12 (plus parking) per day for round trips. MD-6 voters also want expanded bus service. Let’s think creatively about how to expand public transit and economic opportunity.

What would you like the nation to do to better address income inequality?

We need to make sure people have the basics to succeed: access to quality health care, a good education, job training, a living wage and help with buying a first home. When we invest in people, starting with early childhood and universal kindergarten, we all succeed. How do we pay it? We tax the richest. We close the loopholes. We are strengthening the middle class and giving more people the tools they need to succeed and achieve the American Dream. There’s no reason for kids to go to sleep hungry in 2022. There’s no reason basic prescription drugs should cost half a Social Security check. There is no reason for someone’s zip code to determine health outcomes. Responsible government can justify spending when the quality of life improves. Let’s improve the quality of life for all Marylanders and Americans, not just those who live in particular ZIP codes.

Describe your position on the law on the electoral count, which would put “safeguards” around the certification of presidential elections?

The peaceful transition of power is an amazing thing. It is reasonable to raise the bar on what is considered a legitimate objection when Congress certifies the voter count. More importantly, the passage of voting rights protections and an end to nationwide gerrymandering. We should make it easy for people to exercise their constitutional right and civic duty to vote. We need to reverse Citizens’ United and pass federal campaign finance reform to stop millionaires, billionaires and outside interests from buying congressional seats.

Who is your first choice for president in 2024 and why?

Jamie Raskin. He works the hardest to save our democracy and one of the few members of Congress who knows how to lead in a disaster.


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