STEVENSVILLE — As the sun set on the first day of early voting Thursday, incumbent Rep. Andy Harris and Democratic challenger Heather Mizeur faced off in a final candidate forum for the First Congressional District.
The forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Mid-Shore, Kent County and Queen Anne’s County and moderated by Sam Shoge of Rivers and Roads Consulting, asked the two candidates their thoughts on voting rights, reproductive healthcare and the greatest threats to democracy in the United States.
Harris, the district’s six-term Republican incumbent, opened his remarks by citing high costs of living, safety and increasing violent crime, the fentanyl crisis, the southern border and parental rights being stripped away as primary concerns.
“What the problem is, is that 80% of Americans think this country is on the wrong track right now,” he said. “We’ve looked at what’s happened over the past few years and they want a different direction.”
Mizeur opened her comments by sharing her experience talking to voters across the First District, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet and believe that few people in government care about them and their challenges.
“We need a representative who shows up, who listens, who works hard and who reaches across the aisle to solve problems in a bipartisan way,” she said.
Mizeur also criticized Harris, calling him ineffective and one of the most divisive members of Congress.
“We must have leaders that bring us together again,” she said. “Our greatest challenge in our country right now is polarization, and Andy Harris has been part of that problem.”
The two candidates differed strongly in their responses to a question on federal legislation to secure voting rights for eligible citizens.
Harris asserted that some Americans have lost faith in elections, referencing the 2020 election results as a prime example of what should not happen in a democracy.
Harris also criticized Mizeur for her support of H.R. 1, a bill addressing voter access and election security, saying she supported taking states’ rights to set election laws and giving those rights to the federal government.
To restore faith and confidence in elections, Harris suggested voter identification measures, strict observer laws and paper ballots.
Mizeur said democracy relies on the engagement of the country to keep it alive and expressed a desire to improve voter registration systems, set standards for absentee and early voting and bolster election oversight and accountability.
“Post-2020, we need to make sure that votes are not only counted but not stripped away from us when the leaders of our country don’t like the outcome of the election,” she said. “Andy Harris conspired with the White House to overturn the 2020 election, he still promotes the big lie — you’ve heard him just there talking about wild conspiracy theories that have been completely rejected in every court of law.”
“He calls (the) Jan. 6 attack on our Capitol a protest gone wrong and that it was just legitimate political discourse,” she continued.
Later in the forum, Harris addressed Mizeur’s statement on his involvement with the Jan. 6 insurrection, calling her out for accusing him of a federal crime. He spoke briefly on his presence at a December 2020 meeting where former president Donald Trump and senior officials discussed a plan to rally against the 2020 election outcome, saying Mizeur didn’t know what was said during that meeting.
Audience members, who were asked to remain silent at the beginning of the forum, spoke out and urged Harris to tell them what was said.
Harris and Mizeur continued to criticize each other as the forum moved on to the candidates’ thoughts on legislation surrounding access for reproductive healthcare.
“Maryland is the free state, and freedom means a lot to us in the First District,” Mizeur said. “What freedom is more important than an individual’s right to make a decision about her own body and her own healthcare choices?”
She expressed dismay about the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and pointed out that Harris was “so extreme” on the issue that he wants a national ban on abortion, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother.
“This is outrageous and offensive to every single woman in Maryland,” she said. “No wonder Gov. Hogan calls you crazy.”
In response, Harris laughed and refuted Mizeur, saying Hogan didn’t call him crazy.
Harris said that the Life Begins at Conception Act doesn’t ban abortion, and the debate isn’t about whether human life begins at conception.
“So the question is, when does that baby’s right equal the mother’s right? In other words, when did that mother make that decision for that baby?” he asked.
The moderator reminded Harris and Mizeur that Thursday’s event was a forum, not a debate, as criticisms escalated toward the end of the 90-minute talk.
In response to the next question on threats to U.S. democracy, Harris said that the biggest threats are to the Bill of Rights and citizens’ rights as Americans, citing governments closing churches due to the pandemic, biased media swaying elections and the FBI investigating parents at school board meetings as examples.
Mizeur echoed an earlier sentiment, asserting that polarization is the greatest threat.
“Something in our country is really broken and has to be fixed,” she said, adding that the issue isn’t about Republicans or Democrats — it’s about fringe radicalism that divides and separates Americans.
The candidates also responded to a number of audience-submitted questions on the COVID-19 pandemic, support for Ukraine, the economy and agriculture in the First District, gun control, the Chesapeake Bay, post-pandemic education gaps, immigration, Medicare, development, the Jan. 6 committee, bipartisan bills and working with the president to build a stronger union.
The full recording of the event can be viewed by visiting facebook.com/lwvkcmd.