WASHINGTON – Democrat Don Mooers has labeled Rep. Constance Morella an extremist, a Republican in the mold of House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Yet their recent responses to problems confronting Congress showed they agreed as often as not.
When answering questions on 12 key issues, the candidates responded with similar answers six times.
Both favor the minimum wage hike to $5.15 an hour, support a national education program that requires states to edge up to a 90 percent graduation rate by the year 2000 and oppose easing clean water regulations.
“It was really the dirty water act,” Morella said of a House-passed bill that did not get Senate approval.
Both candidates agreed the government must maintain a role in affirmative action programs but said they oppose quotas.
“We’re not in a color-blind society,” Mooers said. “There has to be some role until we get there.”
Both also said they would wait for a study to be completed before they decide how to alleviate traffic congestion between Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. And both oppose a government ban of late-term, or “partial-birth” abortions.
“I feel Congress should not be dictating to doctors how they should operate,” Morella said of the abortion ban, which was vetoed by President Clinton.
Mooers agreed and said it could have been the start of even more restrictions on abortions.
“It’s being… taken as a rights issue,” Mooers said. “We start looking back on a woman’s right to choose.”
But when it comes to federal finances, death penalty appeals and welfare reform, Morella, 65, of Bethesda, sticks to more conservative views than her challenger.
The Republican congresswoman supported the welfare reform bill signed this year by Clinton, voted for an anti-terrorist bill that also limited the appeals of death row inmates and voted last year for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Mooers would have voted differently on these measures, he said.
“I think we can balance our budget in a reasonable and responsible way by establishing our priorities,” Morella said. “I think [the balanced budget amendment] gives a guideline … to start and motivate Congress.”
Mooers, 36, of Kensington, a former Peace Corps worker and State Department employee, disagreed. “It’s a gimmick,” he said. “It’s going to tie the hands of legislators.”
Mooers said the Constitution does not “preclude a balanced budget.” He said he liked having 2002 as a goal for a balanced budget but did not see any way to force legislators to balance the budget.
“What are we going to do … throw lawmakers into jail?” he asked.
The anti-terrorist bill that Morella voted for prohibits groups identified as terrorist to raise money in the United States. But an amendment was added limiting the appeal rights of death row inmates.
Morella said the death row amendment was simply “to give fair and due process” without extending it “beyond a reasonable period of time.”
Mooers said he would have voted against the bill if it included the death penalty provision. He also questioned the power the new law gave the government for identifying terrorist groups.
“I support fighting terrorism,” Mooers said. “But there’s not a hard and fast rule as to what you would call a terrorist organization and what you would call a freedom fighter.”
Mooers said he also would have voted against the welfare reform measure enacted this year, while Morella supported it. He said the measure went too far, hurting too many children and legal immigrants.
Under the new law, the federal government will lower the amount of food stamps families receive. Legal immigrants will be restricted from receiving benefits for five years after they arrive.
Mooers blamed the Republicans for singling out immigrants as the cause of America’s problems. But he vowed to change the law if he is part of a Democratic takeover of Congress.
Morella agreed that changes need to be made to the new law but said the reform is a “step toward trying to employ the work ethic to let people develop self-confidence and independence.” Many recipients will be required to find jobs within two years.
Democrats are calling Mooers one of the strongest challengers they have fielded in recent years to face Morella.
Mooers has the advantage of a majority Democratic district. February figures from the state elections board show the 8th District had 173,222 registered Democrats, compared to 112,037 registered Republicans.
But Morella, who is finishing up her 10th year in Congress, has easily won re-election in the last four general elections, never dipping below 63 percent. She beat Democrat Steven Van Grack in 1994 with 70 percent of the vote.
A political analyst says the reason is her political ideology.
“The only kind of Republican candidate that can win in Maryland is a Morella-type Republican, fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” said Alvin Thornton, a political science professor at Howard University and former member of the Prince George’s County School Board.
Here is what the candidates said about other issues in recent interviews:TOXIC CLEANUP
In 1980, a toxic waste cleanup bill was enacted requiring businesses to pay for cleaning up waste they dumped before the law was enacted.
Mooers favors the grandfathering provision, but Morella said it’s not fair for businesses to pay the entire cost of cleanup if they dumped legally before the law was enacted.
“It’s hard to go back to get a company to put the full amount in when they didn’t even know it [was a problem] at the time,” Morella said.
But Mooers disagrees.
“I don’t care,” if businesses dumped legally, Mooers said. “Dumping is dumping, my friend.”WILSON BRIDGE
The candidates expressed differences over the importance of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to the district.
Last month, a coordinating committee decided to replace the aging and traffic-clogged Woodrow Wilson Bridge with a 12-lane, 70-foot-high drawbridge. The estimated cost was $1.5 billion; Congress has discussed giving between $4 million and $4.5 million, which would mean a toll might be required of motorists.
Morella said she supported 100 percent federal funding of a new bridge.
Mooers initially declined to comment on the issue, saying the bridge issue is not important to the residents of Montgomery County. “Montgomery County doesn’t touch the Wilson Bridge,” he said.
He later added he’d work with his colleagues, if necessary, on the issue.
The bridge crosses the Potomac River, connecting Prince George’s County with Alexandria.