By Barry Rascovar
Oct. 20, 2014–It was the best of the three gubernatorial debates, but who’s at home on a Saturday night?
And who’s going to turn to an hour-long program where two politicians sling angry, unfounded charges at one another?
The format and the questions this time were effective. Kudos to Jason Newton and WBAL-TV. Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican Larry Hogan Jr. were asked hard questions.
But when they wanted to, they played dodge-ball.
Brown and Hogan have their campaign scripts committed to memory.
Hogan: time for a change, cut taxes, cut spending. Brown: I’m fighting for working families, let’s keep the momentum going.
Hogan never went beyond the superficial economic themes he harps on. That’s unfortunate.
It raises the question: Is there any meat on the bone?
He won’t tell us.
Brown displayed a bit of his policy wonk side and it was welcome. Yet he couldn’t resist reverting to a string of flagrantly false allegations against Hogan. Shame on him.
Thank goodness there were a few moments of insight into their political mindset.
On transportation, Hogan all but said he’d kill the Red Line and the Purple Line and dump transportation cash into roads, not mass transit. This plays to his base — rural voters, who were watching Saturday’s debate.
Brown repeated his emphasis on career education for kids not going on the college.
Hogan championed charter schools over more public school funding; Brown made a strong pitch for voluntary pre-kindergarten.
Brown gave an in-depth response on how he’d close the achievement gap; Hogan mentioned the gap was growing, then failed to give a plan of action.
Both favored a balanced approach on environmental and agricultural issues. Hogan tried to win Eastern Shore votes by attacking sweeping phosphorus management regulations.
Differing from O’Malley
Brown parted ways with his boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley, on the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) issue, calling it a “tremendous economic opportunity” he’d allow if it can be done without “disturbing the rural legacy” of Western Maryland.
Hogan called fracking an “economic gold mine,” which dramatically overstates the case. (Only two small counties would benefit and the returns for land owners could be modest.) He rightly condemned O’Malley’s intentional foot-dragging to appease environmental zealots who want a ban on fracking in Maryland.
Brown, for the first time, said his “No. 1 strategic goal” would be improving Maryland’s business climate – another significant break with O’Malley. But then he hammered Hogan again for daring to seek a corporate income tax cut that would level the playing field with Virginia in the competitive quest for jobs.
Hogan called the Brown-led health exchange rollout every name in the book – “unmitigated disaster,” “the worst in the United States” and “the biggest boondoggle in state history.” All true, but we still aren’t sure how he’d approach health care for the under-insured and uninsured while at the same time making $2 billion in budget cuts.
Brown gave specifics for dealing with the state’s heroin epidemic; Hogan merely said he’d call a summit to draw up a plan. Brown responded there already was a statewide confab on the crisis in June.
Both candidates did a good job laying out their campaign positions. But they failed to address Maryland’s economic and fiscal situation honestly and forthrightly.
The next governor isn’t going to have it easy.
The lingering effects of the recession and the federal budget slowdown will make it tough just to balance future state budgets without taking painful, unpopular steps.
Hogan makes spending cuts and tax reductions sound easy; Brown says things are rosier than they are.
They’re both wrong.
Yet one of them is going to wind up running the state of Maryland. The third debate didn’t give us enough clarity as to how they’d do it.
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