IVN's Bianca Ciotti recently interviewed Maryland's sole independent candidate for Senate, Dr. Rob Sobhani. A longtime pundit and business executive, Sobhani decided to run for office when he grew tired of political gridlock. His campaign amassed the required signatures to appear on the Maryland ballot as an independent.
Dr. Sobhani is running against incumbent Ben Cardin (D) and Daniel Bongino (R) in the unique political atmosphere of Maryland. His straight forward solutions to Maryland's problems has captured the attention of partisan and independent voters alike. In the following interview with Sobhani, he explains his plans for Maryland, his recent pledge, and his issues with partisan government.
CIOTTI: Dr. Sobhani, [October 10th] you released your "Pledge to Maryland" in which you promise to "bring back hope, jobs, new homes" to low income neighborhoods in Baltimore. How do you plan to stimulate such change?
SOBHANI: What we're trying to do here is three-fold: first, I want to shore up home ownership-- specifically of affordable, middle-class homes-- in the city itself so there will be greater commitment to the city's future. Second, a consequence of this is that companies that employ many people may give Baltimore a second look as a place to come and invest if there is adequate, safe and affordable housing for employees, and third, push back against the row after row of vacant houses which constitute urban blight and depress the value of the few, remaining homes on those streets. The billion dollars to support this would come from private investors and the planned impact would be for 25,000 units.
CIOTTI: Do you feel running as an independent gives you an advantage or a disadvantage? How?
SOBHANI: Frankly, the answer to this is that it is both a disadvantage and an advantage to run as an independent. Political parties have infrastructure, regional offices, a network of office-holders who have powers of incumbency, and of course a fund-raising apparatus.
Sometimes when a party has become entrenched in power for a long time, it uses its monopolistic influence over other institutions to try and silence any opposition-- this is particularly bad for democracy when it happens, but we've seen it up close right here in Maryland. On the other hand, people are sick and tired of the parties because they have become more focused than ever on narrow, ideological extremes at the expense of real voters who are hurting and actively looking for viable alternatives.
More than 65% of people in Maryland are willing to vote for an independent this year, surveys say. And in my home county of Montgomery, there are more independents (technically 'unaffiliated' voters) than there are Republicans. So in this sense I believe we are on the right side of history and, if we work hard enough, the wind will soon be at our back.
CIOTTI: What bipartisan solutions would you propose for Maryland if you are elected in November?
SOBHANI: On day one in the Senate, I will reach out to the leadership of both parties and offer to be a part of constructive solutions for getting our nation back on track: creating jobs, passing a budget that involves intelligent cuts, and forging a foreign policy that advances both our national security and our commercial interests.
If both sides can come together to simplify our tax code and increase the accountability of government, I will be an active proponent of these efforts. If leadership of the two parties is not receptive, I will then focus on those in the center who are actually doing the job their voters sent them to Washington to do.
At the best of times, Americans come together when we face threats to our nation, but too often either side is too intent on scoring political points as opposed to solving problems. So long as the focus is on solving problems without concern for labels or credit, I plan to be in the midst of those endeavors and will roll up my sleeves and seek to create as many of these opportunities as possible for one man with the ability to persuade others on matters of common sense.
CIOTTI: What is your opinion on healthcare in Maryland? How would you improve it?
SOBHANI: When it comes to health care, my number one priority is waging war on cancer. I think we have much of the expertise already in Maryland and aim to make our state the center of the national effort, and plan to attract $500 million in private or non-profit funds towards this end.
In terms of the broader question about health care, and specifically the president's Affordable Care Act, I think it has pluses and minuses, so I would be hesitant to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Allowing people with pre-existing conditions to access coverage plans, and extending coverage for several years for those graduating college so they can stay on their parents plans a bit longer, these are two elements which I think are very positive.
But I am concerned about the mandate and the tendency of so-called 'Obamacare' to strengthen the role of government in providing care. We need to substitute market forces for this, and at the same time we need to reform not the health care system so much as the insurance system. Insurers had too big a hand in passing the last law, and I think we need greater scrutiny of their cost structures and efficiencies.
CIOTTI: One of your more controversial opinions surrounds immigration. What are the major changes you would institute to reform the US immigration system, and how would they apply to Maryland?
SOBHANI: I've written a book on the subject of immigration and would be happy to send you a copy if you give me your mailing address. The immigration system is broken and we need to fix it, or America will suffer ruinous economic consequences. We must do this in a way that neither slanders immigrants nor panders to them.
We also need to think about this in a big picture way, and re-focus more of our foreign aid on the Western hemisphere so the countries that are sending the most immigrants to America can develop systems with the rule of law, property protections, and economic opportunities themselves. This will make them stronger trading partners for us.
I'd rather see the manufacturing for the $8 billion of low-quality, Chinese-made toys, for instance, that Americans buy each year, shifted to South or Central American nations. I do not advocate throwing people out of America, but do believe we should have a moratorium on immigration-- with certain exceptions such as H1B, (etc.)-- until we can summon the political courage and will to fix our system with wisdom and compassion.