While it has never been far from the surface in recent months, the acrimonious side of the contest for the open District 6 congressional seat has erupted as Election Day approaches—with Democrat David Trone of Potomac running a 30-second spot in the Washington TV broadcast market slamming his Republican opponent on multiple fronts.
“Meet Amie Hoeber, the self-proclaimed mother of the chemical weapons corps—where she referred to nerve gas as just insecticides developed for people,” the Trone ad opens by saying. As less than flattering images of the Republican fill the screen, the ad continues by declaring of Hoeber: “Someone who has made a career cashing in on her government contacts. Was sued for using her position as a board member to defraud shareholders. And is now pursuing Trump’s agenda of defunding Planned Parenthood and denying medical coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.”
Hoeber, a deputy undersecretary of the Army during the Reagan administration, on Sunday described herself as “truly furious” at Trone’s depiction of her professional background and “angry that he denigrates my service to this country. He talks about that I’ve been pulling at the federal government teat for my livelihood all my life. I think that’s denigrating to the federal employees that live in Montgomery County.”
In a telephone interview, Hoeber, a Potomac-based national security consultant, declared, “Dammit, 30 years ago, I was protecting our soldiers. I mean, what is Trone’s problem with this? At the same time frame, he was protecting himself against three arrests and 23 indictments. Which one do you think is a more honorable pursuit?”
The latest Trone TV spot comes in the wake of a radio ad late last month by a pro-Hoeber “Super PAC” that highlighted the three arrests and variety of criminal charges filed against Trone early in his business career by Pennsylvania regulatory authorities. In all three instances, the charges against Trone were dropped, although Trone agreed to make a $40,000 payment to state authorities to settle the third case.
The radio ad, sponsored by the Value In Electing Women Political Action Committee (VIEW PAC), is an independent expenditure Super PAC barred by law from coordinating its activities with Hoeber’s personal campaign committee. However, VIEW PAC—which promotes the election of Republican women—has received $900,000 in donations this year from Hoeber’s husband, telecommunications executive Mark Epstein.
Asked whether she feels the VIEW PAC ad—which does not mention that the charges against Trone were dropped—was fair, Hoeber replied: “I had nothing to do with the wording on the VIEW PAC ad; that’s a Super PAC, and I do not talk to them. On the other hand, I believe that they have a good attorney who researched the accuracy of everything they said.”
Trone’s arrests came prior to the creation of Total Wine & More, the nationwide retail chain of which he is co-owner. He has put more than $17 million of his personal assets into his bid to represent the 6th District, and is self-financing a saturation TV ad campaign—of which the spot criticizing Hoeber is the latest entry.
The opening of that ad blends two comments from Hoeber made 14 years apart: The first during testimony that Hoeber gave to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1994, the second from an ABC News interview in 1980.
In full, Hoeber’s quote from the testimony to the Foreign Relations panel reads: “As a former Army official, and as the sometimes-called ‘mother of the Chemical Corps,’ I have very serious concerns about a reduction in the attention paid to maintaining chemical defense preparedness.”
Hoeber explained Sunday that, in the mid-1970s, there was a move to disband the Chemical Corps, a branch of the U.S. Army. “I was one of the people who argued that chemical weapons still existed in … our enemies’ inventories and that we had to maintain the Chemical Corps in order to provide the defense that our people needed,” she said. “I managed to save the Chemical Corps from being disbanded, so they called me the mother of the Chemical Corps. I have my picture on a wall at Fort Leonard Wood [in Missouri]—the home of the Chemical Corps—as a result of that.”
Hoeber on Sunday depicted her 1980 comments to ABC News—during which she said, “Nerve gas works basically like an insecticide, it’s an insecticide that’s developed for people rather than for bugs”—as a technical explanation of how nerve gas works. “Chemically, that’s the way it acts—it’s an organophosphate, just like insecticides,” she said.
During her 1981-1986 tenure as deputy undersecretary of the Army, Hoeber noted she was “in charge of the program that destroyed all of the U.S. chemical weapons”—including supplies of mustard gas stored at the Aberdeen Proving Ground north of Baltimore. “The U.S. has had no chemical weapons for a long time,” she added.
However, Hoeber’s 1994 testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee was primarily focused on her opposition to an international treaty called the Chemical Weapons Convention, which proponents argued would get rid of chemical weapons worldwide. It was ultimately ratified by the Senate in 1997.
Prior to her race against Trone, Hoeber’s stance on that treaty was also a flashpoint in her unsuccessful 2016 bid to oust U.S. Rep. John Delaney. Delaney is vacating the seat to make a longshot bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination after serving three terms representing District 6, which extends about 200 miles from Potomac and Gaithersburg to the edge of Maryland’s western panhandle.
Hoeber said she opposed the chemical weapons treaty “because it had no verification measures of any significance,” contending that recent events had borne out her view. “I was proven right, based on the fact that Syria kept its chemical weapons and used them against its own people,” she said.
The treaty was negotiated by President George H.W. Bush, under whom Hoeber served as an ambassador to a commission overseeing the Panama Canal. “I was working for President Bush at the time; I stood up to President Bush,” she said. “I consider that evidence that I will stand up to a president when I think he’s wrong. And I will likewise stand up to [President Donald] Trump when I think he’s wrong.”
More recently, the lawsuit to which the latest Trone ad refers was a class action suit filed last year by several shareholders against Versar, then a Virginia-based government contractor. Hoeber was a defendant as one of several members of the company’s board, on which she served for about a dozen years.
She is no longer on the board because Versar—after running into financial problems—ceased to exist a year ago, after being sold to a private equity firm. ”All of the board members were sued by [several of] the stockholders because it was sold for 15 cents a share, and they thought it was worth more,” Hoeber said, adding that she, too, was adversely affected by the low sale price. “I lost my shirt in terms of the stock,” she said. “Board members largely got paid in stock.”
The final criticisms contained in the Trone ad—that Hoeber wants to defund Planned Parenthood and do away with insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions now required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—have been leveled by Trone throughout the campaign.
Hoeber has repeatedly complained that Trone is incorrectly characterizing her stances on these issues. While she has said she wants to repeal the ACA—so-called “Obamacare”—she added that she favors passing alternative legislation to replace it, and that protections for pre-existing conditions should be a part of any such bill.
With regard to Planned Parenthood, “I would oppose cutting off the funding for the non-abortion services that they provide. I would want to cut off funding for abortion services,” Hoeber said Sunday. While repeating past comments that abortion should be available to women seeking that option, she also reiterated that she is personally opposed to abortion “and I certainly don’t think the federal government should have a role in funding it.”
Declared Hoeber: “What I would ask in legislation on Planned Parenthood is that they come to the table with transparency about their income and expenditures. None of these things is a simple question. Trone seems to think all of these are simply yes-no answers, which they aren’t.”
While most national political handicappers put strong odds on Trone coming out on top after the polls close Tuesday, his move to go on the attack against Hoeber late in the campaign appears to suggest that he is taking little for granted.
During the last mid-term election, in 2014, Delaney held on to win by just 50-48 percent in a district that had been drawn three years earlier to give the advantage to Democrats. However, Delaney was the victim of low turnout and tepid enthusiasm by Democrats in 2014, in contrast to the political environment in 2018.
About half of the district’s voters reside in its Montgomery County portion. Hoeber two years ago easily won the three counties—Allegany, Garrett and Washington—in the Republican-dominated western section of the district in her overall 56-40 percent loss to Delaney.
She is expected to dominate the vote in those three counties again, with her district-wide prospects for turning on how well she can do in Frederick and Montgomery counties—where she has sought to tie herself to popular GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, even as she has kept her distance from the far less popular Trump.