COLLEGE PARK – A televised gubernatorial debate Wednesday evening gave Maryland voters their first chance to see firsthand where the candidates for the democratic nomination for governor stand on various state issues and how they would reply to questions of their character.
Moderator David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, wasted little time pressing the candidates on the issues. To begin the debate, Gregory asked the candidates who should receive the blame for problems with Maryland’s health care exchange website.
As Attorney General Doug Gansler has done throughout his campaign, he blamed Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. Gansler said Brown is probably the only person who believes Maryland’s rollout of the exchange has been a success.
“We're actually 45th in the country in terms of people enrolled, so that's relatively delusional,” Gansler. “…This is literally the one thing (Brown has) been in charge of, that's he's managed or he's led since he was lieutenant governor, and it's been an unmitigated disaster.”
Brown said he believes everyone involved with establishing the healthcare exchange, including himself, should be blamed. Brown said he regrets any Marylander became inconvenienced when trying to buy healthcare on a broken website. However, Brown said he took actions which allowed 330,000 to have access to healthcare.
“Nobody was more frustrated than me, and that's why I took the action that I did,” Brown said. “I reorganized the leadership at the exchange; the executive director left. We refocused the vendors, fired those who didn't perform as promised, including IBM, and after evaluating the resources and capabilities at the exchange we plussed up the call centers and the navigators.”
The other candidate, Del. Heather Mizeur (D-20), said she does not want to worry about who is to blame but instead concentrate on fixing the problem.
One issue Brown and Gansler agreed on is their belief marijuana should not be legalized. However, Mizeur said she has a plan to legalize the drug and use the revenue to fund universal pre-kindergarten.
“We would also be sending an importance message about the fact that this is a substance that is arguably less harmful to the body than alcohol and tobacco,” she said. “…When we legalize, tax and regulate it, the state's in charge of this. And the same way we do with alcohol, we improve our chances of keeping it out of the hands of our youth.”
The candidates were also asked about what they would do to make Maryland more business-friendly. If elected, Brown promised he would put together a commission in his first 100 days as governor to study tax reform.
Gansler supports cutting the corporate income tax by a quarter of a point each year, which Brown said is a bad idea.
“If we're going to invest in education, if we're going invest in transportation, we can't afford to give a small number of the largest corporations in Maryland a $1.6 billion tax giveaway,” Brown said.
Mizeur, who noted she used to own a small business, proposed bringing back the “millionaire’s tax” and closing corporate tax loopholes.
Each candidate also responded to questions about their character. Gansler was asked if he thought he made the right decision when he did not break up an underage drinking party at a beach house his son attended. Gansler, who did not break up the party, admitted he could have made a different decision.
“We are the role models to discourage underage drinking,” Brown said. “You did a public service announcement, but then found yourself in the middle of not one, two or three, but literally, hundreds of teenagers underage drinking. I would have stopped the party and made sure every child got home safely.”
Gansler responded by thanking Brown for lecturing him on his parenting skills.
When given an opportunity to share her thoughts, Mizeur said she does not believe voters want their candidates participating in personal bickering.
“Voters are wanting candidates to remain positive and focused on the issues,” Mizeur said.
During the debate Mizeur also mentioned several times her desire to create a living wage.
When asked if they would raise taxes, Gansler said there are already too many, and Brown said he does not see a need in the foreseeable need in the near future to raise any taxes.
If marijuana is legalized, the millionaire’s tax is reinstated and a corporate tax loophole is closed, Mizeur said, then the state could find the money to provide tax relief.
Several local politicians attended the debate, including City of College Park Councilwoman Denise Mitchell.
Brown did a good job, Mitchell said, and Gansler’s answers underwhelmed her.
“Gansler did not adequately answer questions about the drinking party,” Mitchell said. “He is an elected official and responsible at all times.”