Maryland Democrats Faceoff

By John Celock

The three candidates for the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor faced off in their first debate Wednesday night, cementing existing campaign themes and trying to appeal to the party base.

The three – Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and state Del. Heather Mizeur – stuck largely to themes that they have been using define themselves during the hour-long debate. Gansler took several swings at Brown’s management of the state’s health care rollout, while Brown continued to tout his eight years as term-limited Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) deputy. Mizeur, who was has been trailing in third place in polls, used the debate to position herself as the progressive choice and not engaging in the attacks that have marked her opponents.

“Marylanders want a governor who can bring people together to get things done,” Mizeur said. “I reached across the aisle to work with the leader of the tea party caucus on family planning.”

Brown, the frontrunner, used much of the debate to highlight his eight years as lieutenant governor and previous time as a state legislator. Brown has been hit with criticism over his management of the health care exchange rollout, which has been marred by problems. He said that after the botched rollout, he implemented a new management team and took other steps to fix the problem.

“I’ve said on numerous occasions that everyone establishing the health benefit exchange is responsible and that includes me,” Brown said. “I sincerely regret that any Marylanders was inconvenienced.”

Gansler has long attacked Brown for not being a manager while serving as lieutenant governor, a job that’s only constitutional duty is to succeed the governor. Brown used the debate to highlight other projects that O’Malley has tasked him with in Annapolis, including protection of the state’s military bases and reforming the state’s foster care program.

Gansler stuck to highlighting his work as state attorney general and previously as the chief prosecutor in Montgomery County. He had to tackle issues involving his attendance at a teenage drinking party attended by his son at a beach house in Delaware. Gansler stuck to his previous explanation that he was only at the party briefly to tell his son what time they were leaving for Pennsylvania in the morning. Photographs and video of Gansler at the party, which was attended by recent alumni of the Landon School in Bethesda, surfaced late last year.

“We parent on the fly,” Gansler said of the beach incident. “That is the mistake we made that night.”

Gansler also used the debate to highlight his work in reducing teen access to alcohol in the state, along with his creation of a lacrosse program for children in urban communities. Gansler’s son was a lacrosse player at the Landon School, considered one of the top prep school lacrosse programs in the Washington, D.C. region. Gansler also played lacrosse at Yale University.

Mizeur, who would be the nation’s first openly LGBT elected governor, stuck towards progressive themes during the debate, including a call for ending income inequality and instituting a living wage in the state. She spent part of the debate highlighting her plan to legalize marijuana in the state, noting that she would use the resulting tax revenue to finance universal Pre-K in Maryland. She also focused on her work in the Legislature to decriminalize marijuana.

She said that marijuana legalization was also a racial issue, noting that more African-Americans are jailed for possession in the state.

Under questioning about keeping marijuana from children if it were legalized, Mizeur said she would implement a new youth drug prevention program and it would be easier to keep teens from drugs if it were regulated by state government.

“What drug dealer is checking i.d. now?” Mizeur said.

Both Brown and Gansler indicated that they are opposed to legalization.

In an issue that it dominating the minds of Washington-area sports fans, all three candidates indicated that they wanted the Washington Redskins to change their name. While Brown and Gansler focused their answers specifically on the football team, Mizeur quickly pivoted to talking about her focus on income inequality.

When asked for a big idea for their governorship, Brown stressed job retraining and infrastructure, while Gansler said he wanted to focus on economic development and prisoner reentry issues and Mizeur repeated her call for the state to address income inequality. O’Malley has been known for pushing through several pieces of groundbreaking legislation, including casino gaming, a minimum wage hike and marriage equality during his tenure.

The prisoner reentry issue has been gaining steam in various state and local governments in recent years. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (D), a likely 2017 gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey, has made it a top issue in his administration, including hiring former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) to create a program in his city. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has also highlighted the issue and has appeared alongside McGreevey and Fulop to promote it.

Gansler closed by stressing his family and how it connects him to Maryland residents.

“Like you my family motivates and defines me. We are proud of our children,” Gansler said. “We are motivated and involved parents.”