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Gansler, Mizeur And An Empty Podium At Second Democratic Debate

Christopher Connelly/WYPR

Doug Gansler an Heather Mizeur answered questions geared toward a Charm City audience on Monday at a second Democratic gubernatorial debate at Baltimore’s Fox 45 television studios.

An empty podium on stage between the attorney general and the delegate from Montgomery County was just the first sign that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown opted to skip the Baltimore debate. His campaign differed from the Gansler and Mizeur camps in counting how many television debates they all agreed to.

Brown’s absence was noted by the candidates, and by moderator Jennifer Gilbert when the debate moved to healthcare.

“We certainly wish the lieutenant governor were here for this first question: Who should be held accountable for the disastrous rollout of the state health exchange?” Gilbert asked the two candidates who showed up.

Gansler’s answer was a clear attempt to strike a balance between praising Obamacare and bashing Brown for the state’s balky online insurance marketplace. “He says we’re leading in health care enrollment but it’s been a national embarrassment,” Gansler said.

Mizeur talked up her record pushing for expanding healthcare access. “Our ideas and our vision matter in this election, but our track records on implementing our laws matter more,” she told the crowd. “And I have that track record on health care.”

Over the course of the debate, Gansler touted his track record as a prosecutor pushing smarter, fairer crime-fighting policies. As governor, he said he’d lower Maryland’s corporate tax rate to make the state more attractive to businesses.

Mizeur said she’d focus on Maryland’s struggling middle class by making the minimum wage a living wage, and that she’d push to legalize and tax marijuana to pay fund universal pre-school.

On education, the two tangled over how to improve classroom disparities. Gansler advocated more local control, including over decisions about teacher tenure.

“One of the problems we have right now is you come out of college at 22 years old and three years later you get tenure at 25,” he said. “And where does the incentive go for the teachers to continue to grow and expand and be rewarded?”

But Mizeur said tenure isn’t the problem -- Annapolis is. “Nobody goes into this profession to get rich,” she said. “They’re all in the classroom because they care deeply about our children and want to help them succeed. And we don’t always give policies to help them do that.”

Mizeur emphasized her environmental record and said that a liquefied natural gas import facility at Cove Point should not be allowed to expand so it can begin exporting the fuel.

“What this is is a plant that is good for oil and gas companies and it’s bad for Maryland,” she said. “We need to say no to cove point and yes to clean energy”

But Gansler said if we don’t do it here, another state will get those jobs.

“I think it’s important that we continue to bring jobs here to Maryland to employ people who are otherwise unemployed, and to help the economy,” he said, “so I think it’s great that we’re going to be able to go forward with this multi-billion dollar project.”

Goucher political science professor Mileah Kromer said  Brown’s empty podium gave the candidates a chance to distinguish themselves.

“They are clearly separated on the ideological spectrum,” Kromer said. “You have a much more conservative or moderate democrat in Doug Gansler. And you have certainly a more liberal candidate in Heather Mizeur.”

Kromer said it was probably a tactical error for Brown to sit out the debate. Towson University professor Richard Vatz agreed.

“When you allow people to just criticize you on your healthcare irresponsibility without the opportunity to say ‘you’re incorrect, I was responsible on that,’ I think it hurts you.”

But Vatz said Brown still looks like the most likely nominee. The lieutenant governor is ahead in polling, endorsements, and money. A campaign finance report filed Monday shows Brown raised more than $1.24 million in the last six weeks, leaving him with almost $1 million more in the bank than Gansler. Mizeur, who is taking public financing, has been trailing the two.

All three candidates will share a stage again in a week, when they meet for a final television debate.

Christopher Connelly is a political reporter for WYPR, covering the day-to-day movement and machinations in Annapolis. He comes to WYPR from NPR, where he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow, produced for weekend All Things Considered and worked as a rundown editor for All Things Considered. Chris has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He’s reported for KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and KJZZ (Phoenix), and worked at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s filed stories on a range of topics, from a shortage of dog blood in canine blood banks to heroin addicts in Tanzania. He got his start in public radio at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when he was a student at Antioch College.