U.S. Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-6th, yesterday declined a proposal from primary opponent Thomas H. Hattery for a series of debates and rejected the state delegate's claim that she has avoided debating him.
On Monday, Hattery, a Democratic delegate representing Frederick County, visited three Byron district offices to publicly challenge the seven-term congresswoman to a series of one-on-one debates, one in each of the six counties that make up the 6th District.
"This is a large, diverse district and we should debate in each community," Hattery said in a statement. The 37-year-old Mount Airy resident said Byron is avoiding debates.
Yesterday, Byron called that claim "ludicrous," pointing to her attendance at two candidate forums -- one each in Howard and Frederick counties, and another scheduled Jan. 18 in Cumberland.
"We've already had debates," she said.
At the Dec. 2 forum in Emmitsburg, all five 6th District candidates -- Byron, Hattery and three Republicans hopefuls -- fielded questionson a variety of issues from a panel and from the audience.
Additionally, Byron, 59, criticized Hattery's decision to tour her districtoffices Monday, two days before the General Assembly was to convene and confront a host of critical issues, not the least of which is thestate's $225 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year.
"I thought Tom was a lot smarter than that," Byron said, adding she would expect an elected state official to use time "a little more wisely."
On Monday night, the congresswoman appeared at the county public library in Eldersburg, where about 50 people filled a meeting room to ask questions and offer comments.
When asked to express her thoughts on how to help the U.S. economy out of the current recession,Byron said she favored a cut in the capital gains tax. But she also said that, based on what 6th District residents and business people tell her, "Things aren't as bad as the media perceives."
Some residents called for investment tax credits for businesses as a way to getthe economy turned around. Others took the opportunity to express anger and dismay at how Congress conducts business and its inability tocontrol spending.
"In our household budget, we have to get along with a lot of things we'd love to have," said Eldersburg resident Bill Chaney, adding that he wonders why Congress can't do the same.
Sykesville resident Win Morin asked Byron why she voted in favor of congressional pay raises -- which translated to a $33,000 increase for the congresswoman -- and yet opposed an increase in the minimum wage.
"Most people in your district don't even make that much ($33,000)in base salary," Morin said. "I just think it's a large discrepancy in ideology."
But Byron said she supported the pay raise legislation because it included limits on a range of sources of outside incomefor members of Congress. She also said there was little support among 6th District business people for a minimum-wage increase.