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Democratic Candidates For Governor Slam Each Other In Final TV Debate

Courtesy of Maryland Public Television

  The governor’s race on the democratic side has gotten progressively more heated, and more negative. And the final TV debate before the June 24 primary featured a fair amount of mud slinging.  Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur faced off Monday night in front of an audience of undecided voters.

Gansler went after Brown for his role in the failed health exchange website, as he’s done before. Brown went after Gansler for his more limited approach to early childhood education – something he’s done before.

Del. Heather Mizeur even took some swipes at her opponents, making a more forceful showing than at the first debate, when she took a high-road approach that positioned her as the “adult in the room” but also led her to be overshadowed when she tried to keep herself above the Brown-Gansler back and forth.

On Maryland’s flawed health exchange website

Brown gave perhaps his clearest accounting for his role in setting up the state’s buggy online insurance marketplace, which is being scrapped and replaced. MPT’s Jeff Salkin asked Brown to rate his responsibility for the site, and Brown said his role was as the chairman of the committee charged with rolling out all facets of the Affordable Care Act. He says he was not directly overseeing the website, and said he did not know about the problems with the website until after October 1, when the site launched …and then crashed.

“As soon as we got the information, then we brought the exchange in and said OK we’ve got some things that you need to do – reorganize the leadership, refocus the vendors, get rid of the ones that aren’t working,” Brown said.

Gansler pointed to the exchange as evidence that Brown is not capable of leading, and he said that the solution to the problem – using Connecticut’s software to replace our own, at a cost of $40 to $50 million – is also problematic because decision was made in a closed door meeting. He said he thought the fix may be another costly band-aid that does not work.

Mizeur touted her record in the legislature pushing to expand access to care, even before the ACA. And she said that implementation is at least as important as getting the legislation passed.

On early childhood education plans

All three candidates call their plans pathways to universal pre-k. They all point to inequities of outcomes in the schools -- disparities tied to geography, socio-economic status and race -- but they differed on how to pay for expanding preschool.

Heather Mizeur has what she calls the most comprehensive plan to expand not just full-time pre-school to all of the state’s 4-year-olds, but also half-day programs for 3-year-olds and childcare for working moms with younger children.

Tax revenues from legalized marijuana would pay for the expansion under Montgomery County delegate’s plan. Legalizing recreational pot is also a way to tackle what she says is a failed war on drugs that leaves people of color disproportionately incarcerated, law enforcement distracted, and a shadow economy that supports organized crime intact. 

Brown has proposed using expanded gaming revenues to fund a build up to universal pre-K access. He pointed to moves already taken in this year’s budget, which includes an additional $4.3 million that will pay for about 1,600 disadvantaged 4-year-olds to enroll in programs.

Gansler’s plan also calls for using gaming revenue to expand access to pre-K programs, but takes a more gradual approach. He says it would target funding to low-income minority and rural communities where the achievement gap is greatest.

“And the fact of the matter is it would be irresponsible to say we’re going do it tomorrow; we can’t afford it,” Gansler said. “We need to start with the underserved communities and expand it to everybody.”

The lieutenant governor has attacked Gansler cried foul on allegations Brown has made in mailings, a TV ad, and at the last debate that his more gradual plan to expand pre-K amounts to selling kids short.

On taxes and the economy

But perhaps the most sparring took place when the candidates turned to the economy. The candidates sparred over taxes and the state of Maryland’s economy, as well. Brown portrayed the economy in Maryland as strong, but not perfect.

He framed Gansler’s plan to reduce the corporate income tax as a misguided giveaway to corporations, an allegation Gansler rejected by pointing to his plan to close a corporate tax loophole that he’d close to bring in to make big multinational corporations pay their fair share.

Gansler, in turn, said Brown is the one guilty of selling out to corporations. Brown received significant contributions, he said, from health care companies when he was supposed to be running the health exchange, which he said was indicative of a culture in Annapolis responsive to lobbyists and not citizens.

“We need to have Annapolis go back to the people of the state, to work for the people of the state, work for families, and no longer be ruled by the special interests.”

That gave Del. Heather Mizeur an opening to point out that she’s the only one in the race running campaign that is publicly financed.

“We’re not taking corporate cash, we’re not soliciting lobbyists and taking state contractor money,” Mizeur said. “Our campaign is funded by the voters.”

Mizeur talked up her plan to raise the state’s minimum wage to a living wage, and balancing that with a reduction in taxes on small businesses leveraged by closing the same corporate tax loophole Gansler has said he’d close. She said the state should not have let the so-called millionaires tax expire in 2010, and decried legislation passed this year limiting the number of people who will pay the estate tax as a giveaway to the state’s wealthiest residents.

In a rare break from the policies of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Brown also came out against the change to the estate tax. “I would have said to the General Assembly don’t send me tax relief for the 1,000 wealthiest Marylanders until we look at tax reform for all Marylanders.”

On the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the environment

Heather Mizeur has claimed the mantle as the environmentalist choice in the Democratic primary. She promised to “put oil and gas companies on notice” and reiterated her opposition to allowing hydraulic fracturing in Western Maryland and an expansion of the Cove Point natural gas facility on the Eastern Shore. And she laid out her plan to improve the Chesapeake that includes restoring oyster populations  and curtailing pesticide and fertilizer runoff.

“We all should be frustrated when pregnant women are being advised by their physicians not to swim in the Bay because of the impact it could have on their pregnancy,” she said.

But Gansler, in turn, sought to prove himself the right choice for environmentalists. He pointed to his own tenure as the state’s attorney general, which saw landmark rulings on cross-border pollution. He said the health of the bay has been his “top priority” over the last eight years he’s held the office, and says he’s spearheaded a “change the culture in terms of enforcement.

Brown pegged his environmental cred to the environmental policies pursued by the O’Malley administration over the last seven years, and touted an expansion of open space, more cover crops to soak up nutrient runoff before it reaches the watershed, and improvements to wastewater infrastructure.

“We’ve made a lot of progress but we’ve still got work to do,” Brown said.

The candidates will meet one more time before the June 24 primary for a radio debate later this week.

You can watch the full debate from our colleagues at Maryland Public Television below.

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.