On May 19, Democrat Steny Hoyer and Republican Audrey Scott will face each other in a special election to fill Maryland's 5th Congressional District seat vacated by Gladys N. Spellman because of illness.
By the time their six-week campaigns are over, Hoyer, a former president of the state senate, and Scott, the mayor of Bowie, will have debated each other more than a dozen times at candidates' nights and joint appearances. One of those debates took place April 30 at The Washington Post.
In an informal discussion with Post staff members, the two candidates were asked their views on a half-dozen local, national and international issues. Both Hoyer and Scott seemed rleaxed as they spoke, and although they disagreed on most issues, their exchanges were friendly. Following is an edited transcript of their remarks.
Question: Let's start out with one of the most fundamental questions of politics, which is what you will do when you're faced with a decision where what you think is right conflicts with what a majority of your constituents think is right?
Hoyer: Clearly the majority view changes from time to time, and I think the representative owes it to the public, to the constituency he or she serves in a democracy, not only to serve and be the reflection of the will of the majority but also owes the electorate the benefit of his or her judgment, and therefore, I think it has to be a judgment on how fundamental an issue is it. If it is such a fundamental issue that one must vote on it irrespective of the majority will, I think that's one's duty. And if the majority believes that it is fundamental enough in its own right, then it must change that representative.
Question: Let me just follow it up before Mrs. Scott answers -- are there some issues on which you're not going to change no matter what the people say?
Hoyer: I think that the issue of capital punishment, for instance, is an issue in which I have disagreed with the majority of people in my district ever since I've been in office. It so happens I believe that it is not a proper approach and I have voted consistently against it, but it obviously, enjoys broader support today than, for instance, ti did when I was first elected . . . That's the kind of issue we're talking about. But again, I think democracy only works if in the long run its representatives reflect the views of the majority.
Scott: I would first of all have to commit to my own moral conviction. And I believe that representative government does in effect represent the people, and hopefully the personal morals and the character of the individual would come out during the campaign. So when a voter votes, they have some perception of what person's moral convictions are.
Question: I think probably the question that you must get asked the most, and people probably want to read about the most, has to do with the Reagan budget cuts and economic proposals. What are your views on those issues?
Scott: I met yesterday and sat in on a briefing with [Budget Director David] Stockman and I feel very strongly that the program can work. . . . I'm satisfied that the package as it presently stands will in fact provide a protection to the needy and the handicapped and the elderly, and I would want to see that protection continued. . . .
Question: But most of the big cuts are coming out of social programs. Is that something you feel comfortable with?
Scott: I don't feel comfortable with cuts in social programs; what I see is that there's going to be some reductions in the growth factor; there's going to be some reductions in the formulas, and if in fact this particular supply side economics works, it may not necessitate any cuts in the actual delivery of services. I'd want to know what particular program you're referring to.
Hoyer: There is a consensus in our country in both parties that we have a substantial problem dealing with unemployment and inflation. The Congress as well as the president are attempting to address that problem. . . . The Democratic alternative is much more acceptable to me, than is the Reagan proposal. . . .
I feel more comfortable with the Jones [Rep. James R. Jones D-Okla.] alternative because I think it is more sensitive to a number of programs that I think are very important. The school lunch cuts are not acceptable to me, for instance. I believe that the president has, not intentionally, but I think the Stockman proposals will in fact hurt a lot of people, not only in the 5th Congressional ydistrict which I want to represent, but throughout this country. . . There is clearly, however, I agree, a necessity to cut . . . . looking at the revenue side, the proposal the president makes is Kemp-Roth. It is a theory [that] in my opinion has never proved out and there's a high risk in that theory.
Question: I'd like to ask Mrs. Scott one more thing. It seems to me that you're running to a large extent on the Reagan proposals and on the Reagan idea and your accessibility as a Republican, and yet when it comes to spending that affects the 5th District, you're against any cuts. Isn't your position [that] you don't want too much of Reagan?
Scott: . . . I feel that there will [be], in fact, some flexibility within the Reagan economic package when we start dealing with the budget amendments. What the budget presents to the Congress is a broad-based proposal within which there is much flexibility and even room for parochial decisions and as a representative from the 5th District, I would expect that I should and I will be a strong spokesman for my parochial considerations. Not only would I expect to do that, I would expect that Reagan would expect me to do that and every congressman on the Hill would expect me to do that. And I have no problem that they will be doing the same thing. But that's the political process.
Hoyer: . . . I think people in the 5th District expect somebody to go down there and take a look at the proposals, whether they be budget proposals, tax proposals, defense proposals, international relation proposals, whatever they are, with an independent common-sense approach. I think it is important for us to understand that the Reagan proposals reflect a concensus in the country. Where the problem comes in is that there is a preception on behalf of the president that he is not going to hurt some people, but I think he is going to hurt some people.
Question: What about impact aid? Are you for cutting either the "A" part, which compensates local governments for people who live and work on federal bases but use local services, or the "B" part, which provides money for those who work on the base, but live somewhere else?
Hoyer: I oppose [the cut] vigorously because I think it's going to hurt Prince George's County education directly and immediately. And so I think that's a significant difference between the two of us.
Scott: I absolutely support cutting the "B" part. . . The people who live off of federal bases are already paying property tax, which is the tax which supports the school system. And I don't see a relationship between the need for additional money to support that particular element of the federal employee versus the ones who live on federal property. I certainly support the "A" category of impact aid.
Question (to Hoyer): You seem to be saying that you agree with some of Reagan's philosophy about cutting the budget, but there are some people in your party, specifically Sen. Kennedy, who would reject a lot of that argument and say that the government has been a positive force and would present a completely different philosophy as an alternative. Do you see yourself on that side or do you see yourself in the middle?
Hoyer: I see myself in the middle. . . I agree with Sen. Kennedy, I think government has been a positive force. . . But government, like every institution, can do things which are inappropriate . . . so clearly, I think Stockman's review is going to be positive. So to that extent I suppose I'm in the middle. I think the American public believes that it is time to review government. I really frankly think a very tough review of government is going to find that 95 percent of the services delivered are needed and delivered properly. There is -- as there is in every large organization of any size -- room for improvement. . . . But we're going to have to tighten our belts and it's going to be tough.
Question: What about foreign policy? Are you in favor of the shift in focus President Reagan seems to be making, and did you support the appointment of Alexander Haig as secretary of state?
Scott: I would have supported the appointment of Haig and think that we've had a very visible and a very concrete manifestation of that appointment [in the repeal of the grain embargo] . . . [Under Carter] the perception of America was weak, the leadership was perceived as weak and the grain embargo was necessary. Now I think . . . the election of President Reagan and the appointment of Haig in concert together has changed that preception.
Question: Do you know which side Haig was on in lifting the grain embargo?
Scott: I would hope that he had agreed with Reagan, but personally I don't know.
Question: He didn't, he was against lifting it.
Scott: It doesn't matter which side he was on . . . [What matters] is the perception of the Russian government and other Communist governments which are not favorably inclined to the United States. That perception was that we were weak. Now it's that we are stong, and such techniques as the grain embargo are no longer necessary and I support the elimination of that embargo now because I don't see any reason to continue it and to hurt the American farmer. That is one example where I think that Haig's appointment has been justified and I would expect that there would be others.
Hoyer: I don't think if I'd been a member of the United States Senate I would have raised objection to Haig's appointment. . . . [I] think that since his appointment as secretary of State, he has been somewhat like a bull in a china shop; I'm sure that he has gotten that message from the president and Meese and others and he ought to be a little more politic in his approach. At the same time, frankly, I think he's right on the grain embargo, I think the grain embargo, A, was a good thing that Carter did. And B, the president has inappropriately rescinded it. . . .
Question: Some more domestic questions. What is your position on federal gun control?
Scott: I would first of all like to see some stiffer penalties, mandatory sentencing in the commission of a crime with a firearm, I'd also like to see the court system reevaluated and perhaps somehow eliminate the revolving door. . . . There is presently a law, prohibiting the importation of these Saturday night specials, and this is, you know, gotten around in a very convenient manner by just importing the parts and the pieces and assembling them here, which makes a farce out of our law, and I think that that loophole be closed.
Hoyer:. . . . The federal statute, as I understand it, provides for a 21-day waiting period and doing a check, I think either of those is appropriate, the 21-day does not concern me, I would support that. I think that's a very important aspect of the purchase of a handgun. Secondly, I think the mandatory sentence provision is, has a good effect, because it's an additional penalty which is mandatory . . .
Question: Would you support a uniform federal law on handguns?
Hover: Yes, I think particularly the waiting period between the purchase and delivery is a very beneficial aspect.
Scott: Well, I'm not sure I would . . . I have a very strong commitment to the states' authority and ability to govern themselves and to respond to constituency needs. And I feel that we shouldn't deny them nor dilute that authority. And this is something which I am not yet convinced that we need.
Question: What did you think of the Reagan administration's plans to basically get rid of most of Amtrak?
Scott: I feel that it is a major cut, but I also feel that the system certainly is not economically sound. And I feel that is cannot be subsidized at the amounts that we have been subsidizing it, that the government has been providing the Amtrak support. And it's a major problem and I'm not sure exactly what the answer is.
Hoyer: I agree, you have to look at the long-term ramifications. And I would not support that cutback until I was convinced that the long-term ramifications weren't adverse. We have to maintain a public transportation system in this country. I understand the extra problems Amtrak has and I think we'll both agree that from an economic standpoint right now Amtrak does not look like a good deal.But I would want to -- before I supported that, would want to be convinced that the long-term ramifications of that approach, which in the short term seems economically reasonable, are not adverse.
Question: Let's end it with the most vitriolic issue in the campaign -- why do you think Steny Hoyer is a carpetbagger?
Scott: He lives outside the district. He can't vote for himself. . . . I think psychologically the impression is that . . . there isn't anyone who resides in the 5th District who is capable of representing the 5th District, so therefore someone from outside has to come in and represent us. And I feel very strongly that Steny certainly has the right to run for Congress or any other seat for that matter. But he has that privilege within his own district in the 4th District -- to run as a candidate against the incumbent there.
Hoyer: I'm not a carpetbagger. A carpetbagger is somebody who moves from one jurisdiction to another for the purposes of running for office. I haven't moved anywhere. It so happens my house is three blocks south of the district, . . . I can't believe that any fair-minded person thinks I am a carpetbagger in Prince George's County having served as chairman of Prince George's County senate delegation for six years, president of the senate from Prince George's County, working on behalf of Prince George's, living in Prince George's County all of my adult life, I've lived in the 5th District longer than Mrs. Scott.
Scott: I think thou dost protest too much.
Hoyer: Well, we'll see if the public thinks that . . . As I said, I lived in the 5th District longer than my opponent.
Scott: Quality not quantity.