Democratic hopefuls for the 2022 Maryland gubernatorial race had their first opportunity to square off on issues related to jobs and the economy at a candidate forum Monday evening.
Seven Democrats participated in the “Burgers and Brews” forum at Red Tails Ocean Grille in Waldorf, moderated by Tracee Wilkins, Prince George’s County bureau chief for NBC News 4.
“I would like to thank Yvette Lewis and the Democratic Party for choosing Charles County to kick off these series of forums as we move toward electing the next governor of the state of Maryland,” Charles County Commissioner President Reuben B. Collins II (D) said in his opening remarks.
Candidates were limited to one minute to answer each question that was either prepared beforehand or presented by the public.
One of the top economic issues was how to spend the state’s $2.5 billion budget surplus.
“I would treat it as one-time money because it’s not a revenue stream,” Rushern Baker, former Prince George’s County Executive, said.
Baker said he would increase the incentive fund to $200 million to increase job making opportunities in the county.
Candidates were also asked how they would deal with climbing inflation caused by the pandemic.
Jon Baron, former congressional staffer and nonprofit executive from Montgomery County, said he would provide for more job training focusing on fast growing industries.
“These programs would allow wages to rise well above inflation,” Baron said.
John King, who was secretary of education under former President Barack Obama, said he would invest in public transit and do more with the housing trust fund to increase the supply of affordable housing.
“We have to take an approach that deals with the day-to-day struggles that people have in their lives,” King said.
Candidates were also asked about how they would deal with vaccine and mask mandates as the number of Marylanders with a shot has leveled off.
“We follow the science. We want to keep people healthy” Doug Gansler, former Maryland attorney general, said.
Ashwani Jain, former Montgomery County council candidate, agreed, saying that he believed the state reopened schools and businesses too early.
Wes Moore, an Army veteran and former CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, said the state must show greater leadership in combatting the pandemic.
“Where we had local leaders going at it at their own, we need to have state leadership that will work with our community leaders to show people that we have a vaccine that is safe,” Moore said.
Baron was more forceful, calling vaccines our “one-way ticket” out of the pandemic.
Candidates were also asked if governors could be pro-business and pro-workers rights at the same time.
“Income inequality in the 20th century was at its lowest when union density was at its highest,” Tom Perez, former secretary of labor under Obama, said.
Perez said that shared prosperity could be achievable if businesses and workers came together.
Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and business owner Mike Rosenbaum, both potential candidates on the Democratic ticket, did not attend Monday’s event.
Currently, no Democrats have formally filed for the June 2022 primary, according to the Maryland Sate Board of Elections website.
Two Republicans, Del. Dan Cox (R-Carroll, Frederick) and Joe Werner, an attorney from Baltimore County, filed in September for the race. Kyle Sefcik, a gym owner from Montgomery County, registered as an independent candidate on Aug. 27.
The next Democratic gubernatorial forum will be Jan. 5 in Frederick. A specific location has yet to be determined.