This is one in a series of interviews with candidates vying in Tuesday’s primary for their party’s nomination to represent Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, now held by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick.
ANNAPOLIS- Rob Garagiola has been busy in Annapolis — really busy.
A state senator for more than 10 years, majority leader since 2011 and member of 10 committees, he has sponsored or co-sponsored more than 550 bills in the last five years.
Now he wants to bring that work ethic to Washington. Garagiola is in a competitive Democratic primary race in the newly redrawn District 6 currently held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.
Garagiola said he has become frustrated in the past couple years with partisanship in Congress and with members “putting ideology before the needs of the country.”
“I would say the Tea Party has hijacked the Republican Party and any hope for moderation or compromise has really gone out the window,” he said.
“I feel that I’ve been the kind of person who’s brought Republicans and Democrats together in Annapolis and I think that’s something that’s just very lacking at the federal level.”
Garagiola is running on a campaign showcasing what he’s done in Annapolis. On his website, he doesn’t have an “issues” page, he has a “Record” page with sections like “What I’ll do in Washington” and “What I’ve done in Annapolis.”
“We need to get this economy moving forward again. That needs to be the priority, even over the deficit, balancing the budget and whatnot at the federal level,” Garagiola said.
Focusing on fiscal issues before getting people back to work and making money would be detrimental to the economy he said. First people need to make money, because when people make money, they pay taxes.
Garagiola wants to create jobs, invest in infrastructure and extend tax credits to small businesses hiring new workers and help those businesses get funding.
Garagiola cites his work with Gov. Martin O’Malley with Invest Maryland, a program that auctioned off tax-credits to raise money for investments in new and growing businesses. Garagiola was a co-sponsor on the Invest Maryland Senate bill.
While growing jobs is the priority, fiscal responsibility is still an important issue to Garagiola, who calls himself a “fiscal hawk.”
“President Clinton, when he was president, took him seven years to get to a balanced budget. We can get there, but President Obama has been dealt the worst hand one can deal with.”
Obama’s approval ratings have remained just below 50 percent in this re-election year, while public approval ratings for Congress have dwelled in the teens or lower, depending on the poll.
“And then we have the Bush Tax Cuts that disproportionately benefited very affluent people, not as much the middle class… If those expire, if the Congress did nothing, that’s half our deficit problem right there,” he said.
Garagiola is against privatizing Social Security and has made “protecting our seniors” one of his biggest issues. He is a supporter of Obama’s Affordable Care Act and believes in a woman’s right to choose.
In Annapolis, Garagiola has been a strong supporter of same-sex marriage.
Last year, he sponsored a same-sex marriage bill that passed in the Senate, but later failed in the House. That bill was a model for this year’s Civil Marriage Protection Act that passed in February.
Garagiola has risen in Annapolis fast, having the strong support of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and becoming majority leader in 2011 at age 38. It’s because he got into politics young.
As a student at Rutgers University, he took an internship at a congressman’s office, where his interest in public service and politics was sparked.
“It wasn’t like a dream or anything that I had as a child,” Garagiola said.
After college, he worked as a senior legislative aide to Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves.
“I feel like I’m the kind of person who has the experience and who’s proven that I’ve done that here and I feel like it’s something needed at the federal level to move this country forward.”
After law school, he worked as a health care lobbyist at the firm Greenberg Traurig. His time at Traurig has drawn criticism from his biggest opponent, fellow Democrat John Delaney.
Delaney’s campaign discovered Garagiola had not disclosed lobbying income on financial disclosure forms while he was a senator. He also didn’t disclose his work at Traurig on his website or Senate biography before the discovery. Garagiola’s campaign said he misunderstood the instructions on the form.