NORTH BETHESDA – The eight Democratic candidates vying to replace Gov. Larry Hogan (R) got a chance on Thursday to “schmooze” with local politicians and in a limited rapid-fire format, make the case to voters that each of them should be the choice to replace a Republican governor in an election that pundits will surely see as a referendum on President Donald Trump.
The already-crowded Democratic field includes Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, former president and CEO of the NAACP Ben Jealous, State Senator Richard Madaleno, former State Department advisor and entrepreneur Alec Ross, former Michelle Obama policy director Krishanti Vignarajah, consultant Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and attorney James Shea, took to the stage in a gubernatorial forum hosted by Maryland Matters. The forum served as an opportunity for candidates to take turns teeing off on the current governor, as each tried to demonstrate why County resident should opt for someone else in 2018.
Moderator Josh Kurtz from Maryland Matters said Hogan was invited, but decline the invitation to join.
Kurtz attempted to get the candidates to distinguish themselves from one another, as each toed a line that Montgomery County deserved more attention and potentially more funding on the state level, and Hogan was to blame for the state’s current problems.
“Many people around the state view Montgomery County as being very wealthy, and therefore we would like your tax dollars,” Baker said.
Ross said the County’s perception throughout the state is not correct, saying people inaccurately characterize Montgomery County as wealthy and without the economic problems other parts of the state has.
“The reputation and reality of Montgomery County are two different things,” Ross said.
Ross mentioned 55,000 students in Montgomery County Public Schools are on free and reduced lunches, a statistic that conflicts with the wealthy image of the County throughout the state
Kamenetz said Montgomery County’s issues were similar to the one that residents are facing in Baltimore County, namely underfunded school construction and traffic congestion.
“Many of the problems that you face in Montgomery County are issues that we are dealing with statewide,” Kamenetz said.
Cummings called Montgomery County a “leader” for the state, citing a recently passed County law to raise the minimum wage.
“I think there is example right here in Montgomery County and the state actually follows that example,” Cummings said.
Traffic was a key issue for the candidates at the forum with each praising the state and federal funded Purple Line, a light rail that will connect Metro stops in Montgomery County to ones in Prince George’s County.
Jealous said the state needs to embrace alternative solutions to traffic congestion, besides expanding roads, such as bus rapid transit and funding for Metro.
“We need to be forward thinking and actually need to embrace transportation solutions,” Jealous said.
Madadelo took his 90-second turn on transportation to outline his opposition to Hogan’s proposed expansion of I-270, I-495 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which would add toll roads, but not cost taxpayer money according to Hogan.
“Are we really going to double-deck the beltway through Montgomery County?” Madaleno asked.
Shea was also critical of Hogan’s plan for the beltway, saying the state had enough money to fund large-scale transportation projects, not needing to resort to the P3 public-private partnership Hogan’s administration has proposed.
“We need a statewide plan for mass transit and public transportation,” Shea said.
Vignarajah called Hogan’s proposal to expand roads a short-term solution to the state’s traffic congestion problem, saying it the Maryland Department of Transportation estimated that road expansion wouldn't solve the state’s traffic congestion problem.
“Expanding roads is at best a two to four-year solution,” Vignarajah said.
Vignarajah, like the other candidates on the stage, backed funding for mass-transit and public transportation as the main solutions to the state’s traffic woes.