It’s easy to see Maryland’s 5th District congressional candidates as opposites.
Steny Hoyer, the eight-term incumbent from Mitchellville and a self-described “John Kennedy Democrat,” has risen from roots in one of the poorer sections of Prince George’s to become one of the most powerful men in Congress.
Morgan, a two-term state delegate and engineer, says he is a young conservative, and emphasizes that he is not like Hoyer and the more than 200 other House members with law degrees. He’s running a grass-roots campaign, handing out business cards with his home phone number and standing on street corners waving at potential voters as he talks about how Hoyer has lost touch.
But when talking about economic issues such as wages and budgets and social issues such as welfare reform and affirmative action, Hoyer, 57, and Morgan, 32, sound remarkably alike. For instance:
* Both said they oppose quota-based affirmative action programs, such as the federal government’s requirement that a fixed percentage of contracts be handed out to minority businesses. But both favor expanding opportunities for historically oppressed groups.
* Both said they support a recently enacted law to raise the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour by Sept. 1, 1997, although Morgan called himself a “reluctant supporter.” Morgan said the measure could hurt small businesses.
“If they’re paying each individual worker more, they’ll hire fewer people,” he said. “I mean, there’s no free lunch.”
The increase was coupled with a tax cut to aid small businesses. Hoyer said he voted for the increase because “a poverty-level wage” was not appropriate.
“Work ought to pay,” he said. “If we don’t make sure it’s compensated at a decent level, we’re not going to get people going back to work.”
* Both support the welfare reform that Clinton signed this August, which ended the guarantee of financial aid to eligible mothers and children. Hoyer voted for it; Morgan said he would have voted for it too, though he said he favored slashing benefits even further than the bill did.
“I think the bill didn’t go far enough,” he said. “It still allows benefits for illegal aliens.”
The bill denies illegal immigrants access to loans and unemployment benefits, but allows them to receive emergency medical services, non-cash emergency disaster relief and some immunizations.
Hoyer hinted that Maryland legislators might need to put softening touches on the federal reform, which many Democrats criticized as too harsh on recipients.
“The governor has written to us and said that he thought it was appropriate that we pass the bill but that there were certain changes [needed], and I think the state will respond,” Hoyer said. “Now there are some people, for whatever reasons, who find it impossible either to get work or to go to work and we’ll obviously have to take care of those situations.”
The bill requires that welfare recipients find jobs within two years and that states have a certain percentage of their recipients working.
* Both candidates also support an amendment to the Constitution requiring the federal government to spend no more money than it raises in revenues by 2002.
“Balancing the budget is the right thing to do for our next generation,” Hoyer said. “It is the right thing to do for a growing, vibrant economy.”
Morgan, a Laurel Republican, said he would have voted for the amendment, but added the measure should have gone further.
“I think a balanced budget amendment should include a limitation on future tax increases – a super-majority requirement to make it harder to increase the tax burden on families,” he said. “Mr. Hoyer … opposed that,” as did a majority of his colleagues.
Hoyer’s support of the House-passed balanced budget measure illustrates an adjustment of his “policy profile” to fit the 1991 redrawing of his congressional district, said Alvin Thornton, a political scientist at Howard University.
“I don’t think he would have voted that way in the old days,” Thornton said. “He’s had to become a more conservative politician, there’s no doubt about that.”
The 5th District, which formerly included most of Prince George’s County, was revamped after the last census. It now embraces the more rural St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert counties in Southern Maryland, as well as sections of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.
Thornton said the candidates’ views also reflect the centrist political climate. “I think they know where the nation is, and the nation base is Clinton-like now, and that’s somewhere between Republican and Democratic.”
But Morgan said he believes the district is more conservative than Hoyer on abortion, “overwhelmingly [in] support [of] banning partial-birth abortions.” Hoyer voted this year against the ban on the late-term procedure.
The bill would have outlawed a procedure that generally takes place at least 20 weeks into the pregnancy, and involves piercing a fetus’ brain when its head is in the birth canal.
The House overrode Clinton’s veto of the ban in September, but the Senate failed to gain the votes to do so. So the veto stands, and doctors can continue performing the procedure.
Hoyer said he voted against the ban because it did not include an exception for when the birth would pose serious health risks to the woman. It did include an exception for when the mother’s life is in danger.
“I am against late-term abortions except to save the life of the mother or for serious health reasons,” he said.
He said late-term abortions should not be allowed for victims of rape or incest. “If you’ve gotten five or six months, that’s a little late in the game to be saying I was raped or this is the result of incest,” Hoyer said.
Morgan said he would have voted for the ban, and that he is pro-life, except in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother.
Thornton believes Hoyer will win the November election, but Morgan insists he has a better chance than previous opponents to defeat Hoyer, because he is the first elected office-holder to run against Hoyer since his first congressional election in ’81.
“I just feel like if I do something to get my name and our basic message out there, we’ll win,” Morgan said. “Steny Hoyer has a lot of money, but the real advantage he has is name recognition.”
It’s a key advantage, said Rich Parsons, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. “Morgan’s chances are slim to none,” he said. “It’s extremely hard to beat an incumbent, especially one with a record like Hoyer’s.” -30-