For the past decade, Rep. John Sarbanes has represented Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District. A Democrat and Baltimore native, he attends the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore and has also been active in Bolton Street Synagogue with his Jewish wife of 29 years, Dina, and their three children.
For more than 20 years, Sarbanes has served as a board member of the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies, which seeks to promote understanding and dialogue among people of different faiths. The eldest son of former Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), the 55-year-old John Sarbanes graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and he was a Fulbright Scholar.
Jmore recently caught up with Sarbanes, a Towson resident.
Jmore: What influenced you to become involved in public service?
Sarbanes: I come out of a family that puts public service in a very important place. My father’s example was important to me. My mother was a schoolteacher. In some ways, I view that as the most valuable public service. The notion that you should give back through community service is important to me.
When I was in private practice as an attorney, I did a lot of pro bono work in the community and on several boards. Also, for almost eight years, I was a liaison half-time for the Maryland State Board to the Baltimore Schools system, helping to improve Baltimore public schools by working with administrators, teachers, parents and community activists.
Where I am now is a natural extension of the commitment I made to public service at the very beginning of my career.
What are the most pressing national issues right now?
The economy, health care and education are pressing issues. The economy continues to be the number one concern of most Americans. There are some basic, sound economic indicators, but there are so many Americans living in difficult economic conditions. I’m pleased that we were able to protect much of the Affordable Care Act, and I’d put the opioid crisis on an emergency status.
We have to continue to invest in our education system, K-12, and also higher education. I’m proud to have been the author of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which provides graduates with forgiveness of their student loan debt after 10 years of work in public service or non-profit organizations.
For the 99 percent [of the American public], some private education is not affordable. We have to make sure that the public institutions can provide an affordable education. We need to create as many paths to opportunity as we can, including making investments in workforce training, apprenticeships and alternative paths to careers.
Another pressing issue is the deep cynicism around the country toward national government. This is especially true regarding money and special interests that have too much influence in Washington.
How can you fight big money in politics?
We must create more accountability for people who serve. I chair the Democracy Reform Task Force, which is putting together a whole set of reforms to make the institutions of Congress more responsive to the public. We’re pushing the reform message because the public wants our institutions to be repaired and restored. We’re calling it the “By the People Agenda.” We’ll put that before the public in a couple of months, and we think that will be consequential to the 2018 elections. I think people will respond when they go to the polls and reject the current politics and governing style. I think [Democrats will] do well this fall across the country.
Are you concerned about the Trump administration and its views on ethics, accountability and the Constitution?
One of the key aspects of reform that our Democracy Reform Task Force is focused upon is ethics and accountability. We’re looking at campaign finance reform, voter empowerment, protecting access to the ballot box and fixing accountability. Democrats are pushing forward with ethics and conflicts of interests policies for the president and people who serve his administration and various agencies.
The public deserves someone who understands that the office of the President is held in a public trust. You put your business interests aside, the interests of your family and friends aside, and you put the public’s interest first. Unfortunately, this president operates in a way that makes one question his allegiances. When it comes to ethics and conflicts of interest, Donald Trump has crossed many boundaries that no one even imagined someone would dare to cross. We have to call him on that at every opportunity. We are drawing attention to his ethical blindness
What should voters know about you?
I always put constituent service at the top of my list, and so does my staff. That is most important. For example, putting constituents first can take the form of determining what the community needs or, for an individual, what he or she needs, such as veterans’ benefits.
Casting votes on legislation in Washington is a constituent service. I sift through various arguments in a conscientious way by giving a lot of careful review to the issues, whether it’s in committee, in meetings I have with experts on particular issues or when I come to the floor to cast a vote.
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.