Top gubernatorial candidates make mark in debate

  • Written by  Neal Earley, photo by George Smith
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debateROCKVILLE – In the final month of the Democratic Primary campaign, four of the top Democratic candidates for governor, and two other candidates’ running mates, continued a “violent agreement” on discussions that the candidates had with one another in a debate on May 21.

Sentinel Newspapers Executive Editor Brian J. Karem and Montgomery County Sentinel columnist Paul K. Schwartz moderated the debate at the Montgomery County Executive Office Building in Rockville.

Former NAACP CEO Ben Jealous, State Senator Richard Madaleno (D-18), former U.S. State Department official Alec Ross and former Policy Director for First Lady Michelle Obama Krishanti Vignarajah all participated in the debate. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, III, and Baltimore businessman Jim Shea sent their running mates, prosecutor Elizabeth Embry and Baltimore City Council member Brandon Scott.

The debate, like most Democratic primary forums began and ended with attempts at knocking Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) record on jobs, schools and lack of opposition to President Donald J. Trump.

“This thing you read about that ‘Maryland is open for business,’ that is total and complete bullshit,” Ross said.

Ross, a former Baltimore City School teacher, chastised Hogan’s record on Maryland economic growth saying it is a misnomer that the businessman turned governor has a strong record on the economy.

Ross has tried to position himself as a problem-solving Democrat, not tied to the party’s orthodoxy. At the debate, Ross was critical of the state’s record on taxes and regulations saying Maryland is not a welcoming place to start-ups.

Jealous, who has the endorsement of former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sander (I-Vt.), has positioned himself as one of the more progressive candidates in the race, promising to bring a single-payer Medicare for all style healthcare system to the state if elected governor.

“We can stretch our health dollars further if we switch to single-payer,” Jealous said.

Jealous proposed paying for a state single-payer healthcare system by increasing taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent residents and by cutting funds from the state’s criminal justice budget by reducing the prison population through expanding the Justice Reinvestment Act.

Madaleno, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 2002, disagreed with Jealous on health care saying the current system, the Affordable Care Act - or more commonly referred to as “Obamacare” - which subsidized insurance plans through a state exchange is working for Maryland.

At the debate, Madaleno positioned himself as a long-time progressive who led the charge on major policy changes in Annapolis including the repeal of the death penalty and the passage of marriage equality. In response to a question about Hogan’s popularity, among the highest in the nation for governors, Madaleno said Hogan is popular in Maryland because the Democratic-controlled General Assembly pushed Hogan toward the center.

“Over and over we have forced Larry Hogan to run to govern like a Democrat. He’s popular because this is a Democratic state,” Madaleno said.

For most of the night, each of the candidates resisted the urge to refute one another, insisting to add onto the previous candidates’ statements. While each candidate promised to deliver on infrastructure spending with candidates like Scott and Ross specifically mentioning funding for Baltimore's proposed Red Line and funding for the MARC train, Vignarajah said if elected governor, she would focus on investing in green energy.

“Infrastructure to me also includes the fact that we need to invest in offshore wind as well as clean energy, solar energy,” Vignarajah said.

Vignarajah has labeled herself as “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare,” and has referenced that she is the only woman running for governor in the race. Vignarajah said Hogan has been silent on the issues facing Maryland most notably the Trump Administration’s policies on immigration, the environment and healthcare.

Filling in for Baker, Embry touted her running mate’s experience of growing Prince George’s County’s economy after years of stagnation and government corruption.

Embry, who lead the Attorney General’s Criminal Division, said she watched Baker transform Prince George’s County from afar, mentioning that she was impressed that Baker had made such progress into turning the county into one of the economic and environmental leaders of the state after his predecessor, Jack B. Johnson, pleaded guilty to extortion and evidence and witness tampering.

“He transformed Prince George’s County through his leadership,” Embry said of Baker.

In place of Shea, Scott said Democrats were responsible for Hogan’s election by becoming out of touch with voters. Scott said Maryland’s education has fallen behind under Hogan’s leadership and calling it a “civil rights violation” that the state has not fully funded its education system.

Scott also hit Hogan on transportation infrastructure saying Hogan “walked away” from building the Red Line subway transit rail in Baltimore, instead opting for funding for adding lanes on highways like I-270 and I-495.

“We know that they [the Hogan Administration] don’t invest in 21st Century technology as far as public transportation and we have to do that,” Scott said.


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