OWINGS MILLS – In their only scheduled televised debate before the November general election, Maryland candidates for governor – incumbent Larry Hogan and Democratic nominee Ben Jealous – traded personal shots and parsed each other’s strategies for the state.
By the end of the hour-long showdown, both candidates presented different perspectives on Maryland’s progress.
Jealous, the former president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, believes the state has fallen behind on its education and opioid strategies. Whereas for Gov. Hogan, Maryland has experienced record job growth and economic improvements in the outside counties.
In the 10-question debate, televised by Maryland Public Television (MPT), the candidates were respectful in allowing each other to rebut each answer.
However, in the opening five minutes, in a question about improving minimum wage growth, Jealous countered Hogan’s assertions of incorrect talking points and to check out his plan on his website to see the facts.
“I am not going to go to BenJealous.com,” Hogan said.
Following the shootings at the Capital Gazette newspaper offices on June 28 and at a Rite Aid distribution center on Sept. 20, both were asked how they would combat gun violence.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) gave both candidates low grades, a C for Hogan and an F for Jealous, and that the organization for gun owners would not be endorsing either candidate.
Hogan passed a comprehensive gun bill in April that would allow a court order to limit a person’s access to weapons if they are deemed a risk and longer jail sentences for repeat offenders.
Jealous countered, stating more could be done. Jealous, through his Medicare-for-all proposal, said more mental health services are needed for those affected by gun violence.
“We also need to make sure we treat this like a public health crisis that it is,” Jealous said. “We have to make sure that people get the mental health that they need… In our schools, we do not need more guns; we need more social workers and psychologists to work with young people who are experiencing a mental health crisis as well.”
“It’s tragic,” Hogan said. “There are no easy answers, but we have to toughest gun laws in America, and I move to make them tougher and that we make sure to cover some of these loopholes.”
The most extended topic of debate was on education that lasted seven minutes and 45 seconds.
Jealous explained how increasing teacher pay, providing universal pre-kindergarten and adding more vocational opportunities would improve the state’s goals. He also attacked Hogan for joining Secretary of Education Besty DeVos at Carderock Springs Elementary School last year.
“Over the past four years, our schools have fallen in the national rankings every year Gov. Hogan has been in office, from first to sixth,” Jealous said. “…And now we see the fruit of that, children in our state are not proficient in reading, writing or math.”
Hogan did not list any new plans to improve the state’s education but reminded viewers that his administration has already spent $25 billion in K-12 learning, more than any governor, he claimed. The governor added that, together with the legislature, they were able to secure casino revenues, up to $4.4 billion, to go straight into “a lockbox” for state education.
“Mr. Jealous wants to take that casino lockbox money, and he says he is going to give teachers a 29 percent raise and use up all the $4.4 billion up,” Hogan said. “I think we do need to pay our teachers better but he has nothing to do with teachers’ salaries. They do not work for the governor; they work for their local school systems and he has no ability to deliver on that promise.”
If a response included a personal jab, both barred back-and-forth before returning back to the original topic. Both candidates expressed dealing with family members affected by the opioid crisis and gun violence when attempts of an attack appeared during those topics.
Later on, after Hogan brought up his opponent’s lack of state residency, Jealous brought up his upbringings as a biracial child.
“If you are wondering why I did not grow up here, it is because my parents’ marriage was against the law in 1966,” Jealous said. “…I was sent back here every summer because this was home and I have come back here every chance I got because this is home.”
“I have tremendous respect for your life story and what your parents had to go through,” Hogan said. “It’s just the simple fact that you registered here to vote for the first time in 2012 and the first time you voted in a gubernatorial primary, you voted for yourself. You just don’t know the Maryland issues because you have not spent enough time here.”
After the debate, Hogan announced plans to tour the state in a similar fashion he completed during the 2014 general election against former Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.
While he did not explicitly announce traveling to Montgomery and Prince George’s, the state’s biggest and most populated counties, Hogan stated he would treat the tour as if he were “20 points down.”
“I think we were both stating our case and when he kept repeating the same things that were not the truth, I had to call him out, but I was not too contentious,” Hogan said on his debate demeanor. “I was smiling and thought I was pretty friendly (with Jealous).”
Meanwhile, Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews called Hogan “backed up on his heels” and unable to defend his record as governor when challenged by Jealous. Matthews said that she is hopeful that voters who saw the debate will see Jealous has as a bold vision and strategy to move the state forward.
“I think the people got a clear picture that the governor has no plan to move us forward and I do,” Jealous said. “And I think a lot of folks are asking themselves if we have record funding, why don’t we have record results and that is what he could not answer.”