WASHINGTON – Working in a Congress where the majority is Republican, Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer refuses to let minority status hobble him.
“I would be less than honest to say that I think I could be as effective in this context as I could be with a Democratic Congress,” Hoyer said. “That’s probably not the case.”
“But … I think I’ve been far more effective in this Congress than any freshman could be, Republican or Democrat,” Hoyer said. “I think my district’s results speak for themselves.”
Hoyer faces one Democratic challenger in his March 5 primary, Thomas Defibaugh Sr., 43, an animal control officer in Anne Arundel County.
Four Republicans are also competing for the 5th District seat. The only one among them who has ever held elective office is State Del. John S. Morgan of Laurel.
Morgan said Hoyer is a good example of the Washington establishment that is impeding Congress’ effectiveness.
“He’s part of the gridlock in Washington right now,” said Morgan, 32.
Hoyer, 56, had held key positions in the Democratic Caucus and on a House Appropriations subcommittee until last year, when the GOP took charge.
Last year, Hoyer sponsored only half of the bills that he had in past years. But he said he was able to influence policy in other ways, such as by amending spending bills.
“If you look at my history in the 15 years I’ve been here I’ve never been one to sponsor a lot of legislation,” Hoyer said.
David Paulson, spokesman for Maryland’s Democratic Party, said the Republicans’ confrontational style was an obstacle to collaboration.
“They couldn’t even get their own contract through,” he said, referring to the Contract with America. He added that Hoyer is “one to move forward, not to lash out in anger.”
Hoyer said despite the GOP’s control, he did have some successes last year: working to avoid a shutdown of a naval station at Indian Head, to build a new telecommuting center in Waldorf for 68 federal workers, and to secure future Food and Drug Administration facilities in Prince George’s County.
He said recent concerns in the 5th District have been environmental, especially about water pollution from the Blue Plains waste water treatment plant in Southwest Washington.
He has consistently voted to sustain the Environmental Protection Agency and its role overseeing such matters.
“We’re a water district,” Hoyer said. “We’re surrounded by water – the Chesapeake Bay, the Patuxent River and the Potomac River. The quality of our life is affected by those.”
The 5th District includes the more rural parts of Prince George’s County, a piece of Anne Arundel County, and Charles, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties.
Republicans continue to portray Hoyer as being resistant to change. “He has continued to carry the banner of 1960s liberalism and has opposed the key landmark reform legislation proposed by the Republicans,” said Chris West, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.
A review of his record showed Hoyer has opposed most of the Republican reforms in the Contract with America, including their proposals on welfare, crime and product liability.
But he did support the Republicans’ amendment requiring a balanced federal budget in seven years.
Hoyer said he had supported the balanced budget amendment during both Republican and Democratic Congresses, voting for it in 1992, 1994 and 1995.
“I believe we have a very significant problem with deficits in this country that are going to impact on my children and grandchildren if we don’t get the deficit under control,” Hoyer said.
Now in his seventh full term, Hoyer was first elected in 1981. Last March, he voted against term limits for Congress.
“Those members of the Congress of the United States who are running for their sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth time who vote for term limits are the biggest hypocrites,” he said.
He added that voters can evaluate his performance every two years, and members have the option not to run again if they support term limits. “You have a very simple operation – walk out, don’t run,” Hoyer said.
Among the Republicans competing with Morgan in the March 5 primary is Eugene Robert Zarwell, 54, a consultant in international marketing. He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1988 and 1994.
Zarwell is running on a platform promising tax breaks for workers, in the hope of eventually replacing labor taxes with taxes that are based entirely on how much people buy.
“Some call it a consumption tax. I call it a redistribution of the burden,” Zarwell said.
James J. Inabinett Jr., 37, a College Park attorney, is a former Hoyer supporter and was a Democrat until a year ago. He is an anti-abortion candidate favoring a tax cut, term limits and family values. J. Douglas Parran, 43, is a Calvert County video technician who has run his own political cable television show. He ran unsuccessfully for Hoyer’s 5th District seat in 1992. -30-