Maryland Senate hopeful Max Socol has said he’s been eager for the opportunity to face his opponent, incumbent state Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, in a public debate.
A Monday evening candidate forum hosted by the Maryland District 18 Democratic Caucus gave Socol the platform to do just that — and to take multiple swings at Waldstreicher on everything from gun control to road-widening plans.
Waldstreicher, for his part, refrained from responding directly to the attacks and focused instead on highlighting the work he’s done since becoming a state senator in 2019.
At one point, Socol, a community organizer, claimed Waldstreicher was “nowhere to be found” when it came to fighting Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal to widen the Beltway and Interstate 270. Waldstreicher declined to rebut that accusation and, during his comments, spoke about how he’d tried to bar the state from seizing residential property when constructing toll lanes.
“I could not stand idly by while the homes of my constituents were threatened,” he said of the 2019 bill, which failed to pass the state legislature.
Later on, during a conversation about climate change, Socol challenged Waldstreicher not to accept donations from utility companies and fossil fuel interests. The sitting senator ignored those comments and instead spoke about co-sponsoring the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022, legislation that sets goals for reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions.
Voters participating in the July 19 primary will choose between Waldstreicher and Socol as the Democratic nominee for District 18, which encompasses Wheaton, Kensington and most of Chevy Chase.
During Monday evening’s forum, the state Senate rivals appeared alongside Democratic candidates for the district’s three delegate seats. Incumbent Dels. Emily Shetty and Jared Solomon are running for reelection, while political organizer Aaron Kaufman is hoping to fill the vacancy left by outgoing state Del. Al Carr, who is running for the District 4 seat on the Montgomery County Council.
In response to a question about an increase in violent crime in Montgomery County, several of the Democratic candidates said bolstering mental health services, supporting education and youth programs and improving people’s quality of life are central to making the community safer.
“Making sure that people have housing, jobs, mental health services, access to all of these things — particularly in the wake of the pandemic, where so many people have been struggling — is really critical,” Shetty said.
She and other candidates also spoke about the significance of firearm safety measures and reviewed some of the steps Maryland has already taken on gun control.
For instance, Shetty noted that the state recently banned the possession and sale of “ghost guns,” or firearms that are unserialized and untraceable. Police have said one of these ghost guns was used in a shooting earlier this year at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Derwood.
State legislators have also banned assault-style weapons and expanded background checks for gun sales, Waldstreicher noted.
“After Sandy Hook, many states and the federal government refused to act,” he said. “But Maryland did not. Maryland moved forward.”
Socol, however, said it can take years for gun control measures to clear the Maryland General Assembly — and he argued legislators need to move more quickly in addressing an urgent problem.
“I think there’s a disconnect between saying yes, we are deeply concerned with the rise in violence in our communities and deeply concerned with gun violence, on the one hand,” he said. “And on the other hand, saying that any given bill, especially on gun violence, is going to take five years or more to move through a committee and get to a vote in the Senate.”
The District 18 candidates also fielded a question about whether they think the state’s gas tax holiday should’ve been extended, as inflation continues to drive the cost of living up across the nation.
Solomon said rather than continue to suspend the gas tax, he’d prefer to provide stimulus payments to families that are below a certain household income.
“If you’re trying to decide what kind of groceries you can buy, but you don’t have a car, cutting the gas tax doesn’t do a whole lot for you,” he said.
He also spoke about eliminating taxes on essential items such as diapers and infant formula and expanding access to child care scholarship programs in the state.
And with medical bills saddling many families, controlling health care costs is another way to help those who are struggling just to make ends meet, Kaufman said.
Waldstreicher highlighted his support for raising Maryland’s minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2025 — and said he recently tried to accelerate that timetable with a bill that would’ve required employers to pay at least $15 per hour starting in July. However, the measure stalled in the state legislature earlier this year.
Shetty and Socol said state lawmakers should go a step further by indexing Maryland’s minimum wage to inflation, so earnings can keep pace with the increased cost of living.
Bethany Rodgers is a freelance writer who formerly covered schools and development for Bethesda Beat.