Trying to set himself apart in the crowded race for the Democratic nomination in the 8th Congressional District, Del. Kumar Barve Monday frequently cited his long experience in public office and his emphasis on economic issues during an appearance before a group of local Democrats in Silver Spring.
“As a person who has spent 25 years in the legislature, I have focused on many of the social issues on which I think the [Democratic primary candidates] are identical—when it comes to women’s right to choose, when it comes to marriage equality,” Barve told a gathering of the District 18 Breakfast Club. “But the distinguishing feature in my instance is that I have a track record of having worked on programs to get skills to people in the middle skill range.”
Citing estimates that as many as 4 million skilled jobs nationwide “are going unfilled, and have been going unfilled [since] the height of the Great Recession because nobody was trained to do them,” Barve, a Rockville resident, declared: “All of us in this campaign support raising the minimum wage and indexing it to the rate of inflation. But if we as a party limit ourselves to that, we will have bypassed 60 percent of the middle class of the country, because 60 percent of the middle class earns more than the minimum wage currently.”
Two other leading contenders for the 8th District Democratic nomination, former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase and state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park, are scheduled to follow Barve before the District 18 Breakfast Club in separate appearances scheduled for September and October.
Besides Barve, Matthews and Raskin, the Democrats seeking their party’s 8th District nomination include Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase, former County Councilmember Valerie Ervin of Silver Spring, and former Obama administration official William Jawando of Silver Spring, who sought a delegate seat in District 20 last year. David Anderson, a Potomac resident who is an official of a Washington-based internship and seminar program, also has indicated he plans to run in the Democratic primary.
Elizabeth Matory of Silver Spring, a candidate for delegate in the District 18 Democratic primary in 2014, late last week filed papers with the Federal Election Commission indicating plans to run in the District 8 congressional race as an independent.
Susan Heltemes, organizer of the District 18 Breakfast Club, said the group had limited speaking invitations to “those who are viable” contenders for the Democratic nomination. Recent FEC reports showed Raskin raising $550,000 and Matthews $500,000 as of June 30, with Barve in third place having raised just short of $300,000 in a contest where insiders anticipate it will cost $1 million to $3 million to mount a competitive bid.
In the early jockeying for the Democratic nomination, Matthews has been seen as banking on significant support from women voters, while Raskin has won the backing of many grassroots activists and advocates for progressive social issues with which he has been closely associated.
In his appearance Monday, Barve, chief financial officer of an environmental services firm, appeared to be making a strong pitch to business-oriented Democrats in a county often described by local public and private officials as the state’s economic engine.
Several times during an hour-long appearance, Barve pointed to his role in the 1998 start-up of the Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO), which he said in 2013 had created 2,000 jobs with an average salary of $70,000. TEDCO facilitates transfer of technology from Maryland’s research universities and federal labs for use in commercial ventures.
“The thing that is the most troubling to me is that people graduating from college in many instances, unless they have degrees in chemical engineering and accounting, don’t have a clear pathway to a decent job and a decent salary,” Barve told Monday’s gathering. “We have to relearn what we did in this nation to make ourselves into a great, middle-class republic. We have to relearn those lessons of training people.”
He added: “Very few candidates talk about these things. To my knowledge, in this race, no other candidate talks about these things.”
On an issue recently before Congress, Barve lined up with many congressional Democrats—and against President Obama—in saying he would have voted against the president’s request for expedited authority to negotiate a 12-nation Asian trade deal.
“Although I’m very supportive of international trade, in my view, we’ve gotten it backwards,” said Barve, who, if elected, would become only the fourth Indian-American to serve in Congress. “We always enter into these [agreements] and then say to the workers who are going to lose their jobs ‘We’re going to take care of you’. And then we don’t.” He advocated first moving to fill the 4 million skilled domestic jobs he said are vacant for lack of training, “because then we as a nation will be in a better position to sell into those [international] markets.”
Barve sidestepped another recent high-profile foreign policy issue that has split congressional Democrats: the deal reached by the Obama administration with Iran to limit that country’s nuclear capabilities. “I’m starting to read it,” Barve said of the agreement. “I intend to formulate a position soon. I approach this with a very open mind, but I’m not there yet.”
A central question surrounding Barve’s candidacy has been why the veteran legislator, first elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 1990, wants to give up the years of seniority and influence in Annapolis to serve as a freshman member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats are not expected to climb out of political minority status anytime soon.
On Monday, Barve, who has eyed a run for Congress for more than a decade, sought to address that question even before it was asked.
“It bears mention that I was the [House of Delegates] majority leader, I am chairman of a committee, I am in the central ring of legislative leadership,” said Barve, who currently chairs the House Environment and Transportation Committee. “Why on earth would I give that up to be a member of Congress, especially during these times?”
He eventually turned to a discussion of two insurgent presidential contenders, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and businessman Donald Trump, to answer his own question.
“Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are successful in my opinion because the American people hate their government and they hate elected officials. And they make no distinction between where the problem really resides—for the most part at the federal level—and any other level of government,” Barve observed. “So why would I want to go into that? I want to be part of changing the conversation.”
He added: “I think it’s important to note that America is seriously off-track, that as a nation we do not talk about things that we ought to talk about. We need to focus on problems that are important. Donald Trump’s hair is not important.”
Editor's note: Barve recently moved from Gaithersburg to Rockville Town Center, we've updated the post to reflect this new information.