University of Maryland UAS Test Site Director Matt Scassero (r) gives a briefing to Rep. Steny Hoyer (l) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

Leonardtown and California, MD — U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen [D – 8th District] visited Charles and St. Mary’s counties Wednesday, Aug. 31 as part of his “Summer Tour” in which he is visiting all of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions for his campaign to win the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring.

Van Hollen had to drive in rush hour from his home in Montgomery County. He was joined for the day by Rep. Stony Hoyer [D – 5th District]. Hoyer is running for re-election to the seat he has held since 1981. The tour was in Hoyer’s backyard, as he lives in St. Mary’s County.

The tour included a morning visit with the Charles County Chamber of Commerce’s Military Alliance Council at the Indian Head Pavilion, lunch with St. Mary’s community leaders at the offices of the Dorsey Law Firm in Leonardtown and afternoon visits at the University of Maryland UAS Test Site at the St. Mary’s County Airport and the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center next door. Hoyer concluded his visit with a later stop for an interview at The BayNet.

Attorney Philip Dorsey acted as MC for the luncheon. He said he was born with a “D” on his birth certificate. He described himself, as many in St. Mary’s County do, as “socially progressive and fiscally conservative”. He said of the November election, “I hope the party will try to bring back those who are middle of the road.”

Dorsey said there were four people in the room who epitomized what he considered to be the best of the Democratic Party. One was his friend Doug Gansler, former Maryland Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate, who co-hosted the luncheon. In addition to Hoyer and Van Hollen, Dorsey also mentioned former Maryland Delegate John Bohanan.

Hoyer in his talk and throughout the afternoon praised Bohanan, who is a former aide in his office and who dealt mostly with defense industry matters. Hoyer said of Bohanan’s defeats by a slim margin in the 2014 election, “It was the single worst decision this county may ever have made.” He called Bohanan the “quintessential example of what a government public servant should be.”

Hoyer feels the November election is the most Important one in his many years in office. He said the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is a choice between “responsibility and security or irresponsibility and insecurity.”

It was a day for touting the area’s military installations. Noting he had been to Indian Head earlier, Hoyer said the bases here are “important not only to Southern Maryland but to the defense of our country.”:

In introducing Van Hollen, Hoyer said, “Chris Van Hollen is going to be very good for Southern Maryland.”

His colleague in the House returned the praise by saying of Hoyer, “He never forgets the people he currently represents,” harkening back to the old political axiom, “All politics is local.”

Van Hollen, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, called Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal “Ryan’s Retreat.” He said he has skills as a negotiator which will allow him to work across the political aisle to achieve compromise, such as in the budget deliberations.

Van Hollen said many politicians in Maryland concentrate on the urban areas. Van Hollen who visited Southern Maryland frequently during the primary said he intended to do so as well during the general election cycle. He said his summer tour is an indication that he considers all corners of the state to be important.

In a press release issued after the visit, Van Hollen said, “It was great to be in Southern Maryland today meeting with business and community leaders who are working every day to build up their communities. Families here and across the state want leaders who will work together to get things done — from stronger schools to better paying jobs to protecting our nation, those aren’t partisan issues, they are issues that speak to America’s strength and future. I will work every day with great leaders like Congressman Hoyer to move Maryland forward.”

During the visit to the University of Maryland UAS Test Site, Hoyer credited Bohanan for having the vision for the future of aviation and interesting the University of Maryland in participating. The director of the site, Matt Scassero, gave a briefing on the accomplishments of what he called the busiest test site in the country.

Maryland joined with New Jersey and Virginia in creating the Mid Atlantic test site. Hoyer said he personally called New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to encourage the cooperative effort.

During an interview at The BayNet, Hoyer (shown at left) talked about what is on the minds of many people whose livelihood depends of the future of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station – BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure). He said, “I think the likelihood of a BRAC will be dependent on whether the Congress makes the judgement that BRAC is necessary to make the defense expenditures more efficient and effective whether or not consolidation of activities is called for. Congress has been reluctant to do another BRAC and the administrations, both the Democratic and Republican, have sought additional BRACs and Congress has been reluctant to do that on the theory that we have done BRACs, we have affected savings but it is not necessary right now to do an additional BRAC. I’m not sure that Congress will continue to believe in that as funding becomes tighter and tighter. You see Trump saying he wants to substantially expand military spending, and you see Democrats largely and the Republicans essentially adopted the level that the Obama Administration has requested. We haven’t passed any appropriation bills but in the Republican (with the) defense bill they took the president’s number. So I think the administration will ask for the Pentagon to ask for us for a BRAC. It is a much easier way from a political standpoint, not partisan politics, politics of everyone representing their district standpoint to affect closure and reassignment of various activities.”

Hoyer doesn’t necessarily believe the next round of BRAC will happen but he doesn’t fear it if it does. He said, “I don’t fear a BRAC because I believe that a BRAC is occurring every day in the Pentagon. And what I mean by that is there are discussions in the Pentagon on a daily basis about ‘we can do what we’re doing at A; we can do that over at B, and consolidate it at C.’ I think that goes on all the time. The difference is: A BRAC process, you get to see the discussion go on. On the daily basis, you don’t know who is talking to whom about what and therefore it is somewhat opaque. But on the other hand, i think most members think a BRAC puts their enterprise at risk. We in Southern Maryland, we have the advantage (that) we largely do research, development. test and evaluation. So no matter what the size of the force, whether you have 100 planes or 1,000 planes, you want those planes to have the best technology that is available to the warfighter and safer, but to also make it a more effective airframe. So, that’s what we do. We’re not necessarily dependent on the size of the force, because we look at the quality of the weapons and instruments available to them.”

Hoyer was reminded that folks at China Lake would love to have what is done at Pax River. He talked about that and how unmanned systems’ testing fits into that picture. “I think we’ve done pretty well. You are absolutely right there are a lot of people out at China Lake and other places that think that some of the activities that we do that they would be able to do them better at their place. But I think we’ve been pretty successful over the years, not 100 percent successful. But much of that in some respects deals with the CO with NAVAIR or above deciding themselves that we ought to put Activity A over here than at Pax. But we remain pretty stable and our workforce is pretty stable. Just talked about, you were with us, about some exciting work with unmanned aerial vehicles, which we have the extraordinary capacity to do, which I think we’re going to do better than anyone else in the United States. At Webster Field we have the capacity with all the assets we have for research, development, testing and evaluations of airframes which UAVs are obviously an airframe, and have to be piloted but it’s an airframe. We have all of the assets to test that airframe to figure out how to work better. So I think we’re well positioned to expand into an area that will be expanding. “

In the interview Hoyer said he favored tax simplification, but the Republican Congress has resisted efforts for that even from its own members.

Hoyer was asked if Obamacare would be modified. He said,” Hopefully,” particularly to ease the burden on small business. He said the Affordable Care Act wasn’t responsible for the increases in healthcare premiums.

It was noted to Hoyer that in his time in office St. Mary’s County has moved politically away from him. He agreed noting that he lost his own election precinct in the last election. He was asked if there was anything that could be done to reverse that trend. He said bluntly, “I don’t know if I can get them back,” adding that it does bother him since the county was almost two to one Democratic when he was first elected.

Hoyer observed, “If you are voting on performance you wouldn’t vote against me. If you are voting against Democrats, you would vote against me.” Hoyer also observed, though, that the heavy Democratic leaning in Prince George’s and Charles counties has allowed him to prevail in face of the opposite trends towards the GOP in St. Mary’s and Calvert

Hoyer also said that the big issues of the past, such as BRAC, have been replaced by incrementally smaller victories which may have led voters to take him for granted.

Hoyer is being challenged this election by Republican Mark Arness. Van Hollen’s GOP challenger is Delegate Kathy Szeliga.

Reporter Jacqueline Atkielski contributed to this article.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.