Senate hopefuls limited to a few words at forum

September 06, 2006|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,sun reporter

A week ago, Allan J. Lichtman was arrested while protesting his exclusion from a televised debate between Democratic hopefuls for the U.S. Senate. Last night, he got his chance to speak.

"I see there are no police officers here, so I think I can speak freely," he said. "I am not a professional politician, but I think the voters are yearning for something more ... "

Lichtman, along with fellow protesters Joshua B. Rales and Dennis F. Rasmussen, joined frontrunners Benjamin L. Cardin and Kweisi Mfume and 13 other Senate hopefuls for the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Maryland.

All of them - Democrats, Republicans and Kevin Zeese, who is backed by the Green, Libertarian and Populist parties - are running for the open seat left by the Senate retirement of Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes. Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, running in the Republican primary, did not appear.

With 18 participants in a program that lasted less then two hours, there was time only for opening statements, 60-second responses to questions about Iraq and senior citizens, and final statements. Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, said he needed just 15 seconds to say what he stood for.

"Stop funding Mr. Bush's war," he said. "Let the Iraqis take charge of their own destiny. Rejoin the world. And bring the resources back to Maryland for jobs, education, the environment, crime control and health care for all."

Cardin asked the sparse audience at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation to consider his experience as a member of Congress and a former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates.

"This nation is moving in the wrong direction in so many different areas," he said. He noted his vote against authorizing President Bush to use military force in Iraq, and his work to extend Medicare to cover preventive health, and spoke of making the nation energy-independent in 10 years.

Mfume, a former congressman and NAACP chief, proposed what he called an "urban Marshall Plan" that would provide child day care for working women and skills training for young people. He spoke of recruiting and retaining schoolteachers, universal health insurance, pension reform and funding stem-cell research.

A. Robert Kaufman, a socialist running for the Democratic nomination, criticized Cardin's votes to fund military operations in Iraq and called on Mfume to clarify the universal health insurance system he has proposed.

Rales called himself an entrepreneur who worked his way through school and started a successful business from scratch. He spoke of runaway deficits, failing schools, and the 46 million Americans who lack health insurance.

"The time has come to start finding new voices," he said.

Rasmussen, a former Baltimore County executive, said "partisan gridlock" had prevented the government from developing strategies to address Iraq, immigration, health care needs or spending.

"People are looking for a new direction," he said. "I'm running as a common-sense moderate. I believe that's the best way to govern."

Zeese said real solutions lay beyond the major parties. "We need to break this two-party straitjacket," he said.matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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