Chris Van Hollen

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen is a candidate for the U.S. Senate. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wants Black Marylanders to know he understands their concerns and would be the best person in this election cycle to represent them in the U.S. Senate. Van Hollen spoke with the AFRO on April 8 at his Baltimore campaign office. He is competing against U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) for the April 26 Democratic Party primary nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).

He vowed to be a senator for all Marylanders. “I have spent my entire life in public service and bringing people together,” the representative said. “As a senator, I will be fighting for the promise of America. That is fighting for equal rights and equal justice for all.”

The primary winner will represent the party in the Nov. 8, 2016 general election.

Even though a March 13 Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll showed that Edwards leads Van Hollen, 34-28 percent, a NBC4/Marist poll, conducted from April 5-9, shows Van Hollen leading Edwards, 44 percent to 38 percent, respectively. Van Hollen leads in his home Montgomery County while Edwards has a huge advantage in Baltimore City and her home, Prince George’s County.

Van Hollen has represented the Montgomery County-based eighth congressional district of Maryland since 2003 and is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee,

“Van Hollen said he wants Blacks to prosper saying he is a “big advocate for expanding opportunities for minority businesses.”

“In my district, I helped set up a Minority Procurement Center and it is doing well,” he said. “I want to make sure that whether the contracts are at the city, county, state, or federal level that minority businesses can compete.”

Van Hollen said that he is an advocate for supporting HBCUs  and has worked with the Congressional Black Caucus to see that President Obama’s free community college initiative doesn’t hurt those institutions.

Criminal justice reform is on the mind of many Blacks and Van Hollen agrees that change in the system needs to take place. “I was for stopping mass incarceration before the conversation became popular,” he said. “While in the legislature, I pushed bills that banned racial profiling in traffic stops, and I believe that drug addiction should be treated as a health care matter and not a criminal justice issue. We should end filling jails.”

Van Hollen said that he is an advocate for stopping gun violence but a super PAC supporting Edwards has recently attacked him on that point. The super PAC said in essence that Van Hollen has been beholden to the gun lobby on Capitol Hill while Edwards has famously fought the National Rifle Association.

Van Hollen disputed the super PAC commercial’s assertion and blasted Edwards for airing such a piece.

“In Annapolis, I took on the NRA-and I won,” the representative said. “In Congress, I’ve put forward a plan to combat gun violence based on proven research from Johns Hopkins University. Any effort to distract from the need to tackle this critical issue in Baltimore and across the state is beneath Maryland voters.”

Maryland State Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-District 43) supports Van Hollen and is not happy about the ad that the Edwards’ camp has put out.

“The issue of gun violence is tearing Baltimore apart,” Conway said. “It’s shameful that groups supporting Congresswoman Edwards would veer so far from the facts on an issue that impacts so many Maryland families.”

Conway is one of a several state legislators that are supporting Van Hollen. Sens. Nathaniel McFadden (D-District 45), Delores Kelley (D-District 10) and Joanne Benson (D-District 24) plus Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett are also in the Van Hollen camp.

“When Chris represented a portion of Prince George’s County , he was instrumental in providing critical federal funding to assist our communities, our economy, our safety, our infrastructure and our environment,” Baker said.”

Edwards has gotten support from members of Maryland’s legislative body such as Maryland Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-District 25), former Maryland Sen. Karen Montgomery (D-District 14) and Maryland Dels. Carolyn J.B. Howard (D-District 24), Michael Vaughn (D-District 24), Jay Walker (D-District 26), who is the chairman of the Prince George’s County House of Delegate delegation, as well as Baltimore’s Jill Carter (D-District 41), Antonio Hayes (D-District 40) and Cory McCray (D-District 45). While Van Hollen has gotten support from Prince George’s political figures, Edwards has done the same in Montgomery County.

“Donna has a strong history of standing with Montgomery County families on economic fairness, environmental stewardship and strengthening retirement programs for our seniors,” former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan said.

Edwards recently got the endorsement of former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Maryland Del. Josaline Pena-Melnyk (D-District 21), who are candidates for her Fourth Congressional District seat in the Democratic Party primary.

“From her fierce advocacy on domestic violence issues to defending women’s rights, Donna has been a champion for Maryland women and their families,” Brown said in a statement.