U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8th) is serving his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was reelected in 2004 with 75 percent of the vote. Following the announcement earlier this month by Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) that he will not seek reelection next year, Van Hollen said he is considering a run for the seat.
Q: Are you planning to run for the Senate seat Sen. Sarbanes will vacate in 2006?
A: “We’ve launched a very active and energetic exploratory effort. We’re going to take a very hard look at running for the Senate. But I’m not going to be rushed into making a bad decision. I think that the old adage ‘look before you leap’ is one that is important here.
“I want to talk to people throughout the state and determine whether or not we can reach the necessary political momentum. That requires talking to people throughout the state, hearing what they have to say, and determining whether we can reach critical mass — political critical mass.”
Q: Can you talk some about your time in the House of Representatives? What have been some of the highlights in your mind?
A: I enjoy the House. It’s a great honor to be in the House. And I’m working my very hardest every day to try and give our community the very best representation. I’ve worked on a whole range of issues. I’ve been very active and involved in higher education. Last year, just last fall, I was able to get an amendment attached to a piece of legislation that resulted in exposure of a billion dollar scam in the student loan industry, and we were able to redirect monies that were a windfall for certain parts of the student loan industry and redirect some of those funds to help more students.
“This year, I’m a co-sponsor and working on legislation to increase the amount of scholarship funds that we can provide to students. All students who work hard, regardless of whether they come from a well-to-do family or not, should have the opportunity to go to college.
“I interact with my constituents in different ways every day. Sometimes it’s working with them on a national issue, sometimes it’s working with them on local community issue, sometimes it’s working one-on-one.
“Some of the most moving moments have been when I’ve had an opportunity to provide World War II veterans who were in the twilight of their years the recognition that they had earned through their service to our country many years ago that they had never received. In one case we had a ceremony with a veteran’s family and he passed away a very, very short time afterwards and the family was very touched that we were able to make sure he received the recognition he deserved before he passed away.”
Q: What are some of the pros and cons of possibly working in the Senate as opposed to the House?
A: They are both places where you can help your constituents, serve your community, and serve your country well. I want to make it clear. And unfortunately, it does go back in some ways to a civics class.
“We’re working very hard in both the House and the Senate — we meaning the Democrats — the Democrats are working very hard to gain a majority.
“When you’re in the minority party, the Senate rules and structure provide greater opportunities to the minority party to stop really bad legislation from being enacted and to try and enact a more forward looking agenda.”
Q: How do you respond to the criticisms that the Democratic Party has weakened its stances or 'taken the middle road' too much in recent years?
A: “I don’t think we’re taking the middle road too much. I think the Democratic Party needs to do a much better job of communicating its positions more clearly to the American people. There’s this constant question: should you go for sort of the base vote in the Democratic Party, should you run to the left, or should you go to the center to try to broaden your appeal. I think it’s a false choice … I haven’t joined any of the [House Democratic] caucuses. I am, as Will Rogers used to say, a Democrat without prefix or suffix. I think there’s a lot Democrats have in common and we shouldn’t splinter ourselves.
“[Like] providing an opportunity in life for everybody. We don’t guarantee success in America, but we should guarantee people have as close as we can get to an equal opportunity. We don’t believe that you climb up the ladder of opportunity and pull it up after you. … There’s much more that unites Democrats than divides us and we should focus on what unites us.”
Q: How does your family feel?
A: “They’re very supportive.
“If you make a decision to get involved in a campaign, it has to be a family decision. In 2002, my family, especially my daughter who is the oldest, were very involved in the campaign. My daughter started an organization called “Kids for Chris” which carried a lot of weight.”
Q: What can you say about Sen. Sarbanes?
A: “Sen. Sarbanes, I think his departure is a great loss to the state of Maryland and it’s a loss to the country. He is a very thoughtful person, he is I think a statesman. He is someone who always put the public interest ahead of the special interests. And he is someone who represented the average American and always wanted to make sure that every individual got a fair shake. I had the opportunity to know Sen. Sarbanes first as a staff member and later as a colleague in Congress. … In the late 1980s I worked as a staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee [and worked with Sarbanes, a long-time member of the committee, on NATO, arms control and other issues.]
“Sen. Sarbanes deserves credit for a lot of things. Some of them he’s gotten credit for, like [the] Sarbanes-Oxley [Act, which mandated greater corporate financial accountability through more stringent reporting practices.] … There were a lot of people who tried to water it down … and it was just by Sen. Sarbanes’ persistence that that law has some teeth in it. Lobbyista descended on Congress and tried to water it down take the teeth out of it and Sen. Sarbanes held firm.”
“I think he’s been a model of integrity in the U.S. Senate.”