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Baltimoresun.com - Candidate questionnaire

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Candidate questionnaire

John Sarbanes
3rd Congressional District
Originally published August 24, 2006

Part One: Biographical Information
Name: John Sarbanes
Age: 44
Education: I graduated from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton in 1984 and the following year studied law and politics in Greece on a Fulbright Scholarship. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988, I returned to Baltimore, where I clerked on the federal district court and later began law practice at Venable LLP.
Work experience: I am currently Chair of the Health Care Practice at the law firm of Venable LLP, where I have spent more than sixteen years representing non-profit hospitals and senior living providers in their mission to deliver high quality care to the people of Maryland. Recently, I completed a seven-year tenure as special assistant to the State Superintendent of Schools, with a focus on improving low-performing schools.

Previous political experience: Over the years, I have campaigned hard on behalf of Democratic candidates in various local, state and national campaigns in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and other states. I served as President of the Princeton University Democrats and Co-Chair of the Harvard Law School Democrats.

# Volunteer activities: Over a seventeen-year period, as board member and three years as president I committed thousands of hours of pro bono volunteer time to the Public Justice Center, a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to helping Maryland's neediest with consumer protection, decent housing, and fair treatment in the workplace. For sixteen years, I have served as a board member and for five years as membership chair of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, an organization dedicated to promoting interfaith dialogue. Other activities have included: Co-designed the Distinguished Principal Fellowship Program, a state-sponsored initiative that began in Baltimore City and was recently endorsed by the General Assembly for expansion state-wide.

# Member, Planning Committee for the Jimmy Carter Work Project, which brought the Columbia, Maryland-based Rouse Company and Enterprise Foundation together with Sandtown Habitat for Humanity to launch a hundred-house renovation effort in West Baltimore.
# Co-founded the Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. Appellate Advocacy Fellowship, which brings young lawyers from around the country to advocate for the poor and underrepresented in state and federal courts of appeal.
# Member, Planning Group, East Baltimore Educational Initiative.
# Member, Advisory Group, Blum Teacher Mentoring Program.
# Member, Chesapeake Audubon Society.
# Founder, Dunbar Project, a collaborative, community-based response to the needs of six public schools in the Dunbar community of East Baltimore.

Part Two: Third Congressional District Questionnaire

1. Why are you running? What would be your top priorities as a House member representing Maryland?

I believe that life and career decisions are motivated by one's experiences. My decision to run for Congress stems from seventeen years representing health care providers and seeing the fundamental need for universal health care coverage; from twenty years of professional and volunteer work in education, which has schooled me in the crisis of American competitiveness; from twenty years volunteering for public interest organizations which demand that we turn our attention to working people and the poor in this country.

America faces three challenges. First, to restore a sense of dignity and respect in the way we talk with one another, particularly in our political discourse. Second, to restore this country's reputation around the world. That will come from setting forth a new set of foreign policy principles which recognize that strength comes not from being tough and loud, but from being smart, having resolve and conducting oneself with a sense of humility. Third, we must restore the strength of our country here at home. This is achieved by investing in human resources - in health care and education - and investing in our physical infrastructure. One lesson of Hurricane Katrina was that our physical infrastructure is fragile and crumbling, that we are unprepared for a disaster. If we want to feel safe and secure as a nation, we must believe that we can weather the storm.

My top priorities in Congress will be to join the coalition of those pushing hard for universal health care coverage; to ensure that No Child Left Behind is overhauled to provide the right kind of incentives and supports to children and teachers who are being held to a new, higher standard of accountability; to bring attention to the plight of the poor and underrepresented in our society whose talents, if properly harnessed, will contribute tremendously to the fortunes of our nation; to be a fierce advocate for the environment, spearheading the creation of a Chesapeake Bay Watershed Caucus in Congress; and to play a part in rebuilding the strength and reputation of the Democratic party by offering a positive vision and agenda of what we will do to solve this country's greatest challenges.

2. The Third District includes urban, rural, suburban neighborhoods in three counties, as well as Baltimore. How would you represent these varying, and perhaps, competing interests?

People marvel at the geography of the 3rd District. Some say it is too spread out and has no real core. However, in every one of its communities, people are looking for the same basic things - good schools, affordable health care, a clean environment, and the opportunity to advance. This diverse community deserves leadership that will bring bold thinking, a fresh approach, and someone who can bring different constituencies together. As a health care attorney, I have worked with community hospitals in all parts of the district, including Anne Arundel Medical Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, and Howard County General Hospital. As special assistant to the State Superintendent of Schools, I worked to improve schools across Maryland. I have seen the lessons that educators in urban areas can bring to those in suburban areas and vice versa.

Over a 15-year period, I volunteered thousands of hours working with the Public Justice Center (PJC) to improve the lives of working people in Maryland. When I was president of the PJC, we represented hundreds of low-wage poultry workers on the Eastern Shore in their struggle to receive fair overtime pay. The PJC won millions of dollars in damages for the workers and achieved significant changes in the practices of the poultry industry.

In many respects, my professional life has been as diverse as the district - with simultaneous commitment to the private, public, and non-profit sectors, focusing on health, education, and public justice.

3. Is the current US energy policy adequate? If not, what changes would you support?

No. With gas prices already soaring above the $3.00/gallon mark, and Maryland residents facing massive electric rate increases in the coming months, we must commit to developing a meaningful and sustainable energy policy which will meet the demands of the American people.

For years, President Bush and the Republicans in Congress have refused to acknowledge the evolving nature of the world's energy needs. Instead they have held to a policy of giving away greater and greater amounts of tax breaks to big oil companies, with little or nothing to show in return. Now we find ourselves in a "perfect storm" of energy usage - increasing world demand, the infeasibility of supply chains to maintain pace, and the inability to turn to alternative fuels in greater proportion because of the failure to invest in their production. The result is taking an ever increasing amount of money from the day-to-day budgets of American families - money that could be used to save for a college education, a more secure retirement, or to help with rising health care costs.

Congress should investigate recent increases in gas prices, specifically whether oil producers are reaping unjustifiable windfalls, but also implement a long-term energy policy that provides capacity to meet current and projected demand. Among the various points of consideration, Congress should commit to passing energy legislation for America's future that concentrates action in the following five areas: (1) consider Methods to deliver short-term price relief; (2) redirect corporate tax breaks benefiting large oil to consumers; (3) initiate a National project of developing alternative energy that would match the resources of the federal government with the entrepreneurial skills of private industry to create the next generation of clean, non-greenhouse gas producing energy sources, similar to President Kennedy's challenge to NASA to reach the moon in the 1960's; (4) modernize our electricity distribution system; and (5) create a global strategy for energy development. For more details on my five-point strategy, I encourage you to view my Energy position paper at our campaign website at www.sarbanesforcongress.com. Please see the attached position paper entitled, "Efficient Energy - Clean and Affordable."

4. How would you address the growing gap between Americans who have adequate health care insurance and those who don't?

Nearly one out of seven Americans lack health insurance coverage and millions more are underinsured. From sixteen years of representing health care providers, I know that many of these individuals eventually receive care, but only at the acute stage when they show up in the emergency room. This is the most costly part of our health care system, and it is subsidized in the form of higher insurance premiums for those who are insured. As a nation, we must make the commitment to universal health care coverage. I believe in a multi-dimensional approach to establishing universal coverage. First, we should consider expanding eligibility to the Medicare and Medicaid systems. For example, the eligibility age for Medicare could be lowered to 55 and the eligibility income for Medicaid could be raised to 350 or 400 percent of the federal poverty level. At the same time, using tax policy and smart subsidies, we could establish a public-private partnership that helps support the cost of health care within the employer based coverage system. This multi-pronged approach would expand coverage from the various public and private sources of health care coverage that already exist and that we know work. A system that covers everyone and is front-loaded with preventative care will yield significant cost-savings over the long term.

Further, there is increasing evidence that physicians are being whipsawed between high administrative and insurance costs on the one hand and declining reimbursement on the other. Washington must set a better standard by properly funding the Medicare and Medicaid programs. First, we must ensure that providers are being compensated at adequate levels so they have the incentive to participate in Medicare and Medicaid and can provide the level of care and attention that their patients deserve. Unfortunately, the federal-state partnership that is supposed to support Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries has made reduced reimbursement to physicians a prime source of cost cutting. The result of these actions is that more and more doctors are deciding to opt-out of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Alternatively, to make up for declining reimbursement rates, physicians are forced to increase their volumes, which means less time spent with patients.

The federal government must set an example of wise and meaningful investment in health care. If the government's advertised solution to the health care crisis is to reduce reimbursement to physicians and other health care providers, the commercial sector can hardly be expected to act any differently. Private payers can point to the benchmark of governmental reimbursement to justify their own reduced payments.

5. What should be done about the enormous federal budget deficit?

There does not have to be a budget deficit if our leaders would have the courage to repeal the Bush Administration's irresponsible tax cuts. The current taxation policy is fundamentally unfair and leading us down a road to financial disaster. And our children will be paying for George Bush's tax cuts for years and years as they attempt to eliminate the shameful deficits run up by this administration. In the face of a budget crisis, we must respond with original proposals that are progressive, fair, and working family-friendly. This will spur enhanced economic activity that will grow our resource base, help reduce the deficit, and contribute to our fiscal stability.

6. What further investment -- monetary and military -- if any, should the United States make in Iraq? When should U.S. troops leave Iraq?

It is long overdue for the Bush Administration to provide Congress and the American people with a concrete plan for bringing our troops home. The Democratic leadership in Congress must take action immediately by petitioning the President to deliver to the appropriate committees in Congress within thirty days two proposed disengagement plans for Iraq: one that would bring our troops home within six months; the other that would bring them home within twelve months. In making this request, Democrats should make it clear that they will use all substantive and procedural leverage available to them to force delivery of the plans, including resisting the President's budget priorities. As long as the Pentagon and the Defense Department resist providing concrete scenarios for disengaging our troops, it is impossible to evaluate the risks and benefits of any particular course of action. The Bush Administration must get its head out of the Iraqi sand and offer the American people a meaningful plan for bringing our troops home.

An effective plan must embrace the following components: (1) set a timetable for disengagement; (2) adopt an effective counter insurgency strategy; and (3) bring the international community into the reconstruction and stabilization effort. The U.N. and other international organizations have demonstrated expertise in nation building in places such as the former Yugoslavia and East Timor. We should explore the opportunity for an increased role for the U.N. in rebuilding efforts. This could include the appointment of a U.N. High Commissioner for Iraq, much like the U.N. High Commissioner in Bosnia.

We're in a difficult place - we cannot afford to continue an open-ended commitment to keeping troops in Iraq, which only fuels the insurgency while giving Iraqi leaders an excuse to postpone serious efforts to create a real government. We need a real plan with a timetable and achievable goals. That is our best hope for a successful outcome in Iraq.

7. The health of the Chesapeake Bay is one issue district voters have in common. What would you do to promote the bays health?

If elected to Congress, my primary focus in my first year will be on policies that will benefit the Chesapeake Bay. This should be no surprise, since the 3rd Congressional District has many miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline and tributaries of the Bay flow through the entire District - in fact the southern tip of the district is Thomas Point outside of Annapolis, and the district crosses over the heart of Baltimore Harbor. As I stated in my recent position paper on this area (available at the campaign web site at www.sarbanesforcongress.com, under the issues tab) the Chesapeake Bay is one of our nation's great natural wonders, as well as the most important natural resource in Maryland's economy. I believe that Congress must fully fund programs that increase open space around the Bay and help upgrade pollution controls on municipal waste water plants, as well as provide adequate resources to farmers to control agricultural run-off and put real teeth in our environmental enforcement efforts. Specifically, I am supporting a number of programs aimed to address five important goals for the Chesapeake Bay:

# Increase federal funding and tax benefits for preserving and expanding open space around the Bay watershed;
# Upgrade sewage treatment plants throughout the Bay area, and extend the sewer systems so that more communities have access to municipal sewage treatment;
# Provide farmers with sufficient resources to follow Bay-friendly practices to reduce agricultural run-off; and
# Tighten Clean Air Act provisions and increase enforcement to reduce deposition of pollutants from the atmosphere into the Bay.
# Support robust enforcement of the statutes and regulation that are already on the books. Although Congress needs to regain some of the ground lost under the Bush Administration, the fact is that a strong enforcement program is at the core of any conservation effort. In my view, a strong enforcement program levels the playing field, so that the vast majority of businesses and individuals who play by the rules and pay for the costs of environmental compliance are not undercut by unscrupulous competitors who break the law. Strong enforcement is a very important tool in the effort to achieve real progress in environmental protection. Please see the attached position paper: "The Chesapeake Bay: Balanced on the Edge."

8. Do you support limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and if so what are they?

I support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. If we are serious about advancing both the quality of health care and reducing costs, we must tap the full power of modern science. The President's stem cell policy experiment has been a failure, and America must begin modernizing potentially life-saving medical research on embryonic stem cells as medical researchers in other countries are regularly making medical strides with new breakthroughs.

9. If you now hold public office or have in the past, briefly identify your top three accomplishments while in office.

As appointed liaison from the Maryland State Superintendent of Schools to the Baltimore City School System for seven years, I am most proud of my work on the Student Promotion Policy, the Blum Mentoring Program, and the Distinguished Principal Initiative.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/elections/bal-sarbanes-form2006,1,5645534.story

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