My friend, Ben

By Susan Olsen #ourvoicesourmaryland Contributor 

        When I attended the Tawes Crab Feast in Crisfield in July, I noticed some campaign workers trying to get Independent Neal Simon on the ballot to run against Senator Ben Cardin.

I got curious.  “Why would anyone want to replace Ben?” I thought.  I decided to ask them.

It was an enlightening conversation.

My first question was “Why is Neal Simon running against Senator Cardin?”  “Well,” these two adorable twenty-somethings told me, “he’s old. We need some new blood in there.  Now, since I am 65 myself, this did not impress me too much. I challenged them. “What about his experience and contacts,” I asked.  They did not have an answer for that one.

        Instead, they countered me with, “He always votes the party line.”  Really? I asked them about Senator Cardin’s remarkable ability to work across the aisle.  They did not know about this, so I told them a story. Last year, I was in a public meeting with the Senator, and I asked him a question.  I said, “Senator Cardin, you always vote the way I want you to. I trust you to do what is best for the people of Maryland. What can we do to help you?” His response was unexpected, at least by me.  He said, “Work with Republicans.”

        I hope I always remember that moment because it was transformational for me.  I came to the realization that Democrats and Republicans are so angry with each other that we usually do not talk to each other anymore, at least not about politics.  Politics has become a taboo subject. Many of us consider it impolite to share our political viewpoints with people we work with or encounter in everyday situations. How are we ever going to accomplish anything if we cannot even talk to each other?       

        I asked my new young friends if Neal Simon had any political experience.  They were enthusiastic. “Yes, he was a CEO of five different companies.” I stopped them and asked again, “Has he ever held political office?”  They looked at their feet and said, “Well, no.  But he really wants to help people.” I said, “That is great!  I am sure he is a wonderful person.”

        I left it at that, not wanting to diminish the fervor of these two young men.  After all, it

seems so rare to see such political passion in young people these days.  I was thinking hard though.

        Do we really need another wealthy, white, male businessman in Congress right now?  People talk about term limits, but I think we need the experience Senator Cardin offers in the age of Trump.  This is not the time to bring in a political novice. It takes skill to maneuver in these muddy waters. I believe my friend, Ben, is the only person on the Senate ballot who can lead us out of this quagmire.  Of course, Senator Ben Cardin is a friend to all Marylanders.

        Think for a moment about what Senator Cardin has accomplished:

  •      If you are on Medicare, you have zero copays for preventive health services, including cancer screenings.
  •      If you think you are having a heart attack and find out you are not, your insurance company will still cover the emergency room visit.
  •      Senator Cardin authored the provisions that guaranteed dental care for all children.  In addition, he was responsible for elevating the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities.
  •      Senator Cardin led the fight to restore full funding for the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program when President Trump zeroed it out two years in a row.
  •      Senator Cardin authored the language that is getting more money to local communities to get lead out of their water pipes.
  •      Senator Cardin brought together a sharply divided Senate for a 98 – 2 vote to strengthen sanctions against Russia for attacking our country in the 2016 elections.
  •      Senator Cardin worked with Senator Chris Van Hollen to secure funding for the EPA in the FY Omnibus, after the Trump 2018 budget slashed EPA funds.
  •      Our friend, Ben, is a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  He and Senator Chris Van Hollen recently announced that $369,400, obtained through the EPA’s National Environmental Performance Partnership System, is being transferred to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).  This funding will help:

o   reduce risk from toxic air pollutants

o   improve water quality

o   clean up and reuse contaminated land

o   manage hazardous wastes properly

        At the end of our conversation, one of the men said, “Well, if you are so sure of Ben Cardin, will you sign our petition to put Neal Simon on the ballot?  Maybe he needs some competition.” I declined.

The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Our Maryland or Our Maryland Education Fund.