`Big issues' are varied in the Eighth District

War, immigration and gangs among concerns for challengers

September 07, 2006|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,sun reporter

Sometimes Deborah A. Vollmer takes her campaign out to Metro stops; other times she knocks on doors. Sometimes, she puts on her "Impeach Bush & Cheney" T-shirt and walks the streets of Bethesda, striking up conversations with whoever stops to comment.

Wherever she goes, the message is the same: The war in Iraq is illegal, immoral and shameful. She is running for Congress to bring the troops home.

Vollmer is one of four challengers seeking to wrest Maryland's 8th District seat from Democratic two-term U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen. Vollmer, also a Democrat, will face Van Hollen in the party primary Tuesday; Augustus Alzona, Jeffrey M. Stein and Daniel F. Zubairi will compete for the Republican nomination in the heavily Democratic district.

"I'm taking nothing for granted," said Van Hollen, a former Montgomery County state senator who defeated Republican incumbent Rep. Constance A. Morella in 2002 to gain the seat (Vollmer came in fourth in the primary that year). "We're running a strong grass-roots effort. We've got our lawn signs up. We've got our phone banks going."

In recent interviews, candidates for the district, which includes parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, championed a variety of issues.

Alzona, 54, a certified public accountant and management consultant from Bethesda, spoke of enacting "comprehensive and fair immigration reform."

"There needs to be an emphasis on securing our borders," said Alzona, a naturalized citizen from the Philippines whose campaign Web site includes an excerpt from the oath taken by new citizens.

Alzona said he opposes what he calls the amnesty provisions of the Senate immigration reform bill supported by President Bush, but also called it "unrealistic to seal the borders and turn this place into Fortress America."

Stein, 31, an attorney from Rockville, talked about declines in manufacturing, jobs and wages, and expressed concern that the United States is ceding its sovereignty to the international organizations such as the United Nations.

"We've moving away from the principles that this country has always been rooted in," Stein said. "A principle America has always had is that we govern ourselves and we trust ourselves to govern."

Zubairi, 30, of Bethesda, founder of a business that specializes in information security and infrastructure protection, identifies "the big issues" as education, the environment, transportation and gang activity.

"Internationally organized gangs and nationally organized gangs have become a major issue in our district, yet our elected leadership has ignored it," Zubairi said, noting the recent arrests of alleged members of the Crips and the El Salvadoran Mara Salvatrucha.

Zubairi said he would back gang-prevention programs in the schools and the community "to cut off their supply of membership."

Van Hollen, 47, an attorney from Kensington, said, "We need to do an even better job of opening the doors of opportunity to more people." The first bill he introduced in Congress, he said, was to fully fund No Child Left Behind.

"We are now woefully short in terms of what had been promised to our schools and teachers," he said.

He spoke also of moving more aggressively toward energy efficiency and renewable energy sources for national security and environmental reasons, and doing a better job of containing health care costs while expanding access.

Vollmer said she agrees with Van Hollen on most issues, but they part company on Iraq. She favors an immediate withdrawal and said she would vote against any additional funding beyond what would be necessary to bring U.S. troops home safely.

Van Hollen was not in Congress when the legislative branch authorized President Bush to use military force in Iraq, but he has criticized the decision to go to war and the conduct of military action.

He said he supports beginning to draw down forces in Iraq, but he opposes an immediate and total withdrawal because he "strongly believe[s] it would lead to even further bloodshed and even more chaos than we see even today."

Zubairi said he supported the decision to invade Iraq based on the information that was available at the time, and Stein said he probably would have supported the decision. Both said the United States must now stay to stabilize the country.

"I don't believe in a troop withdrawal unless the Iraqis are able to protect themselves against an insurgency," Zubairi said. "We need to do our job and finish our job there and leave Iraq in a state where they can secure themselves and they can build an economy of their own, a democratically based economy that can serve as an additional ally in the region. I strongly believe it's possible."

Stein doesn't support timetables or immediate withdrawals.

"At this point, you have to stay and finish the job, because the consequences of not doing that are severe," Stein said. "I would just apply the lessons of how this war maybe didn't go so well to the way we conduct our future foreign policy."

Alone among the Republican candidates, Alzona said he always opposed the war. He called a democratic, peaceful Iraq in the short to medium term "an unrealistic goal."

"Iraq is not postwar Germany," he said. "It's not postwar Japan. ... The Iraq war was a mistake, and we should begin a strategic withdrawal of troops as soon as it is practical. We cannot pull out precipitously, as in what happened in Vietnam. But it's time to start talking about a timetable."matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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