WBAL-TV: Candidates for Maryland governor lay out their plans in debate

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — All eyes were on a high-stakes debate in the Democratic primary race for Maryland governor, and there’s a new independent poll on who voters like.

The debate provides a great opportunity for candidates to separate themselves from the pack and win over Democratic voters. The independent poll finds that 31% of those surveyed are undecided.

The debate was recorded Monday afternoon at the studios of Maryland Public Television and is a joint production of WBAL-TV 11 and MPT.

The Democratic primary race for governor includes two former presidential cabinet secretaries, a former state attorney general, an author, the state’s tax collector, a former county executive and a policy wonk.

One by one, the candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor laid out their plans for Maryland.

“I’m running for governor to make sure that we have jobs, justice and opportunity across Maryland. I’m part of the ‘GSD’ wing of the Democratic Party, I want to get stuff done. And, that’s exactly what I’ve done throughout my career,” candidate Tom Perez said.

“I’m Ashwani Jain, and I use ‘he/him’ pronouns. I’m running for governor to make government inclusive and accessible,” candidate Ashwani Jain said.

“I’m a former nonprofit executive and Clinton administration official. The reason I’m running for governor is that Maryland isn’t making progress on major problems damaging millions of lives, and I’m offering a fundamentally different approach than the other candidates,” candidate Jon Baron said.

“The most important issue on people’s minds right now is crime and criminal justice and nobody here has a background in that whatsoever,” candidate Doug Gansler said.

Debate provides candidates opportunity to break out

An independent poll by The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore puts Peter Franchot as the frontrunner with 20% of the vote, followed by Wes Moore with 15% and Tom Perez carrying 12%.

The debate provides an opportunity for the top tier candidates to break out of the pack.

“What debates typically do is provide an opportunity for a candidate to break through or for a candidate to stumble and stumble hard,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. “We will see if that contrasting gets a little negative this time around or if it gets more combative than we’ve seen in this election cycle, and that’s something debates give that opportunity for is real conflict between the candidates.”

If the 2018 election cycle is any indication, candidates polling in single digits usually stay in single digits. This year, according to the latest poll, that list includes Rushern Baker at 7%, Gansler and John King at 4% each, and Jain at 2%.

“It does mean there is a real sense of urgency that you have to break through tonight and that you have to continue breaking through over the next couple of weeks because any faltering at this point, it will be very difficult to break through,” Kromer said.

Candidates vow holistic approach to fighting crime

Fighting crime was a major issue of the debate, and the candidates’ plans are remarkably similar. The top-tier candidate responses to the WBALTV.com Voter’s Guide do little to distinguish themselves in the crime fight. Monday’s debate was an opportunity to change that.

“If you are one of these top-tier candidates that folks are already starting to pay attention to, it gives you the opportunity to contrast yourself with your opponents,” Kromer said.

Franchot, Moore and Perez support a holistic approach to fighting crime, which includes attacking root causes and providing second chances.

Baker’s crime-fighting approach includes addressing economic inequities, expanding health programs and increasing recreation opportunities.

Gansler plans to address root causes of crime, pledges to increase the number of police officers and put prosecutors in communities to try cases.

King wants to restart the Red Line rail project and increase education funding.

Jain would treat drug abuse as a disease, remove school resource officers from schools and end cash bail.

In Monday’s debate, the candidates addressed crime in Baltimore and around the state.

“Over 2,000 mostly Black men were slaughtered in Baltimore, and let’s be honest, nobody says anything and nobody does anything and nobody gives a damn because they’re Black,” Baker said. “I will stake my administration’s claim on stopping the slaughter in Baltimore City.”

“If we don’t have any public safety or concept of public safety, we can’t have a flourishing economy. We’ve got to deal with not only the hot spots in Baltimore City but also the hot spots around the state,” Franchot said.

“As a teacher and principal, I’ve lost students to gun violence when they were just trying to get back and forth to school. The tired talking points of the last 30 years and racist dog whistles are not keeping us safe and they’re not keeping our kids safe. We need policymakers and judges who understand that to achieve public safety,” King said.

“We’re going to put 1,000 more police officers on the streets, train them in de-escalation techniques, we’re going to put an SRO in every school so that your children are safe when you take them to school,” Gansler said.

Candidates on they’ll approach improving public education

On education, especially amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of the candidates want to expand access to pre-K programs and help students recover deficits from the last two years.

“My top priority as governor is to provide tutoring to kids in first and second grade because that’s been proven to move them up in grade levels before their problems get serious,” Baron said.

“Education is, at its core … and focus from cradle to career we will again get back to No. 1,” Perez said.

Candidates challenge each other on question of integrity

The biggest differences between the candidates were seen when they were asked about integrity.

“The voters trust me gave me the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ as far as integrity,” Franchot said.

“The reality is, people understand, the people who will get Peter Franchot’s support are the people who pay for it,” Moore said.

Franchot responded without directly addressing the allegation, saying: “I come back to the fact the voters have trust and confidence in me.”

Perez took some of his time to criticize Moore, saying: “From 2007 to 2012, I was fighting predatory lenders, and during that time, Wes Moore was working for Citibank. That’s one of the banks that was a bad actor during the mortgage crisis.”

Moore detailed a no-confidence vote in 2018 by the Congressional Black Caucus against Perez during his tenure as chairman of the Democratic Party in 2018.

“You’re coming to the Black community asking for your support, we’re looking back at you, where was your support when we needed it?” Moore said.

The next big barometer in the race for governor comes June 14, when campaign finance reports come out.

“Showing that your campaign has the money to go the distance matters,” Kromer said.

The primary election is July 19.

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