Cardin, Van Hollen make Salisbury appearance

Maryland’s sitting U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen made history on Friday by appearing together in Salisbury, but the men — in warm conversation, with honesty and insight about their positions and controversial matters — made it seem more like a visit from friends.

“We don’t get treated this well in Washington. We’re staying. We’re not going anywhere,” Cardin joked to applause from the standing-room-only audience in the Guerrieri Academic Commons at Salisbury University.

“We want this to be a conversation,” he said of the event presented by the Greater Salisbury Committee in collaboration with SU.

First, the men presented university President Janet Dudley-Eshbach with a proclamation and thanked her for “changing the landscape of SU,” adding buildings and, more importantly, Cardin said, “changing the lives of so many young people to make a difference in our community.”

Moderator Greg Bassett, substituting for an under-the-weather Mike Dunn, CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee who presided over last year’s “A Conversation With,” settled into one of three comfortable chairs in front of the room, with both senators to his left, and asked them to describe their jobs.

Sen. Ben Cardin.

The U.S. Senate, Cardin explained, is a legislative body responsible, with the House of Representatives, for enacting the policy of the country.

“It was designed to be an institution that would not move quickly but would be a deliberative body. It is meant to be a body that will act as a check and balance, not just in the Executive Branch of government but at the Legislative Branch by giving rights to all,” he said.

“My job is more than just showing up and voting. I have the opportunity to put a spotlight on the important issues of the people of Maryland and our country, to be able to be a voice for the people of Maryland and for the international community.

“Perhaps the most important thing we do is overseeing, to make sure those who do have positions of power exercise those positions in an appropriate way,” he said.

“It’s one of 100. It’s an incredible opportunity and I really do thank the people of Maryland for giving me that opportunity,” Cardin said.

Van Hollen added that the difference between the House and the Senate is, in the Senate, the rules require senators to try and come together on a bipartisan basis to make accomplishments. In the House, everything is done by majority rule.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen.

In the Senate, at least 60 votes are needed for most legislation.

Asked about effects of the media, Van Hollen said there is now a proliferation of news sources, “so, people are tuning in to those sources they are watching on a regular basis, those that are more attuned to their views going on.”

“I worry a lot that people are receiving their news in a polarized way,” he said.

“Let me give you some advice,” Cardin interjected, advising turning off cable TV (news shows)  “three or four or five or six days a week.”

“Give yourselves a break. Stay focused on what you think is important,” he said.

Cardin said he works on much legislation that receives attention “but how it got done didn’t get a lot of attention.”

“We get a lot of things done that you didn’t see on cable news, but it’s done,” including benefits to Maryland residents, he said.

Bassett asked Cardin if he had aspirations to be Maryland governor and the senator laughed.

When he was Speaker of the House in the Maryland legislature, Cardin said he had opportunity to run for governor against Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer or to run for Congress. “I chose running for Congress and winning,” he said.

“I’m very happy with the decisions I made. Paul Sarbanes, to me, was one of the greatest senators in the history of America,” Cardin said about the former, longtime U.S. senator, who grew up in Salisbury and preceded Cardin in the Senate.

His brother, Tony Sarbanes, was in the audience on Friday.

“You should be very proud that his values were homegrown here in Salisbury. It was a surprise to me when he decided he would not seek re-election. I really did want to run for U.S. Senate. I wanted to be in the U.S. Senate and I never looked back,” he said.

Bassett reminded the audience and the senators that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot were in Salisbury last February for the first “A Conversation With,” an event of such triumph that it’s still being talked about today.

“The governor really seems to like us. We have a kind of a chip on our shoulders here on the Eastern Shore. Do you guys like us?” Bassett asked.

“Yes,” Cardin said emphatically, remembering former Sen.  Barbara Mikulski telling him Maryland has unique areas, all worth visiting.

“Salisbury is a wonderful, wonderful area. I love the outdoors. I love the bay.  I love the people. There’s a politeness on the Eastern Shore which reminds us of the great traditions of our country. Absolutely, this is an area we want to be able to preserve for the future,” he said.

“Let me talk for one moment about working together,” Cardin continued.

“When the campaigns are over, you’ve got to govern. Compromise is not a bad thing. This nation was built on compromise … we all need to listen to each other. By doing that, we can have policies that will be in the best interest of all of us.

“We’ve got to protect the bay and we’ve got to protect agriculture and they are consistent.

“You do that by listening. You do that by being there.  Throughout my career, I’ve always had incredible relationships … people of the Eastern Shore were friends.

“I love being here. I love ya and I love representing the people of Maryland,” he said to applause.

When he travels across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore, “It kind of lifts a little bit of the weight off your back,” Van Hollen said.

“It is always great to be on the Eastern Shore. All the different traditions and ways of life that have made the Shore a center for agriculture, a center for watermen.

“And now the challenge is to make sure we marry up the old agriculture of the Eastern Shore and the poultry industry and all of those industries that have been part of the Eastern Shore with places like Salisbury University, where people look for new opportunities.

“The key for all of us is to work together and make sure we build on those strengths. This university is a great example. It has grown by attracting students from all over the country,” Van Hollen said.

“You’ve got to find a way to build those bridges,” he said.

Concerning wind energy, Van Hollen called it “a great opportunity for Maryland and the Eastern Shore and an important innovation for energy as well as a great jobs opportunity.”

While he understands Ocean City officials’ concern that wind turbines visible from the shoreline could hurt tourism, he said wind farms will create an opportunity for Maryland to be a leader.

“We are moving in that direction. There are a lot more clean energy jobs in our country now … I disagree with Congressman Andy Harris on this issue of off-shore wind in Maryland,” he said, referring to the amendment Harris proposed that would kill the project off Ocean City.

“I’m fairly confident we will prevent the federal government from ending that project,” he said to applause.

Bassett asked if the long-boisterous but now mostly retired Sen. Mikulski regularly advises Van Hollen, who succeeded her.

Laughing, Van Hollen said he has always considered Mikulski, who is teaching at Johns Hopkins University now, a force.

“Ben and I keep in regular contact with Barbara Mikulski … and seek her advice on the best way forward,” he said.

Likewise, Cardin discusses matters with Sarbanes.

Bassett asked if gerrymandering is a problem in Maryland and Cardin replied redistricting will be political no matter how it’s done.

“It’s done by the states, so it’s one thing to say Maryland is doing it overly political, but what about the rest of the states? I think we’d be better off with the confidence of the voter… I think they would be properly represented,” Cardin said.

Van Hollen said he prefers the non-partisan approach.

There is legislation in the Senate calling for national, non-partisan redistricting, he said.

“I think that is the way you have to go as a country … you have to address this on a national basis. If we want to do redistricting right in this country, we have to do it on a national basis,” he said.

Not discussed on Friday were two emotional issues of the past week, the mass shooting in Florida and the Senate’s inability to act on legislation protecting “Dreamers” who are at the center of the federal immigration debate.

Both Cardin and Van Hollen went to great lengths in statements on Thursday calling for increased gun control laws. Each man also decried the continued failure to make needed changes to the immigration system.

Before the senators spoke, Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver welcomed them and said he is certain they have the best interest of the Eastern Shore at heart.

Mayor Jake Day, referring to Friday morning’s groundbreaking for the new Riverside Amphitheater, joked the city had two senators shoveling dirt. He presented them with a city proclamation, designating Friday as Senators’ Day.

Dudley-Eshbach said the city and the university were gratified to have “such honorable and well-spoken senators here, representing the state of Maryland.”

“I’m so appreciative of this opportunity to have two of our finest public servants with us. To think they have come to hear from us, I think that’s pretty extraordinary,” she said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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