Eight Democrats and four Republicans running for Maryland governor participated in a forum Wednesday hosted by Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Beat. (Top row, from left: Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Beat Executive Editor Anne Tallent; Jen Farkas, vice president of business development for Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Beat; Ralph Jaffe (D); Jon Baron (D). Second row, from left: Jerome Segal (D), Joe Werner (R), Dan Cox (R), Wes Moore (D). Third row, from left: Kelly Schulz (R), Tom Perez (D), John King (D), Ashwani Jain (D). Bottom row, from left: Doug Gansler (D), Robin Ficker (R).) Credit: Screenshot via Zoom

Several Democratic and Republican candidates for governor discussed their visions for the state during a forum Wednesday that covered issues ranging from education and gun violence to crime, abortion rights and the proposed widening of I-270.

Candidates said during the forum hosted by Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Beat that the November election offered Marylanders a fundamentally different choice for the state’s leadership, regardless of who won either the Democratic or Republican primary in July.

Here are the candidates who participated:

  • Dan Cox (R), a delegate representing Frederick and Carroll counties
  • Robin Ficker (R), a perennial candidate and one-time delegate representing part of Montgomery County
  • Kelly Schulz (R), a former delegate from Frederick County and recent secretary of commerce
  • Joe Werner (R), who ran unsuccessfully for the Maryland House of Delegates’ District 8 in 2018 as a Democrat
  • Jon Baron (D), a nonprofit founder and former official in President Bill Clinton’s administration
  • Doug Gansler (D), a former Montgomery County state’s attorney and Maryland attorney general
  • Ralph Jaffe (D), a teacher who previously ran for governor in 2014, and the Senate in 2016
  • Ashwani Jain (D), a former official in President Barack Obama’s administration
  • John King (D), a former U.S. secretary of education
  • Wes Moore (D), a former nonprofit executive and author 
  • Tom Perez (D), a former U.S. labor secretary and Democratic National Convention chairman 
  • Jerome Segal (D), founder of the socialist Bread and Roses Party, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 and president in 2020

Two other candidates, state Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D), did not participate. 

 

Crime and public safety

When asked a question about how he would address rising crime and public safety across the state, Moore said more efforts to get illegal guns off the streets and more investments in community violence intervention programs are needed. 

Schulz, who political observers see as a possible successor to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), was blunt in her assessment of why crime is rising.

“People are not afraid of the consequences whether you go into a certain specific dime store and … shoplift, or you go and murder [people] on the street,” Schulz said. “We need to get our prosecutorial system in our judicial system to be able to make sure that we’re working hard to keep repeat violent criminals in jail as opposed to looking for ways to get them out of jail.”

Other candidates were critical of past actions from state lawmakers. That included Cox, who said the Justice Reinvestment Act — a state bill focusing on criminal justice reform in 2016 — has led to the rise in crime, because it is too relaxed on repeat violent offenders. 

Later in a rebuttal, Moore responded to these claims, saying that Democrats want to keep violent offenders off the streets — but that more needs to be done to help people be productive citizens.

“What we’re seeing in so many of our communities that we live and work in is not just simply a lack of consequence,” Moore said. “It’s a lack of opportunity.”

Others offered different solutions. Jaffe suggested activating the Maryland National Guard to help in Baltimore because there aren’t enough police officers to patrol the streets. Perez said stronger partnerships between the federal, state and local levels to prosecute and prevent crime are needed.

Baron criticized his fellow Democrats for trying programs and ideas that don’t work, and suggested implementing “focused deterrence,” a program that targets repeat violent offenders by offering them incentives such as job opportunities and strict consequences for committing crimes. 

I-270/I-495 widening project, replacement of the American Legion Bridge

Democrats and Republicans were divided over Gov. Hogan’s plan to use toll lanes to pay for widening I-270, and to use a public-private partnership to replace the American Legion Bridge on the Beltway.

Many Democrats opposed the road widening plan, stating they have concerns about a public-private partnership and that there needed to be more focus on mass transit statewide. Republicans countered by saying gridlock along I-270 and the Beltway was hurting economic development in those corridors. Ficker was particularly blunt in his response.

“I-270 and the Beltway should have been widened 20 years ago,” he said. “I-270 is pretty much the same in its northern sections as it was when I was in high school … I wouldn’t be surprised if the Montgomery County Council’s next step is to start giving parking tickets to people driving on I-270.”

Baron supported the expansion of the southern end of I-270 and the Beltway, saying the tolls model has had success in Northern Virginia. Many of his fellow Democrats didn’t agree, including Gansler.

Gansler said there is considerable federal infrastructure money available that should help pay for the construction of a new American Legion Bridge, along with other transit projects across the state, including the proposed light-rail Red Line project in Baltimore that Hogan canceled in 2015.

“We’re going to revitalize the Red Line,” Gansler said. “When Governor Hogan canceled that, it was like taking a sledgehammer to the people of Baltimore. We’re going to get the Purple Line built … . We’re going to put in the Southern Maryland light-rail from the Branch Avenue [metro] to Charles County. We’re gonna put the Metro over the Wilson Bridge like it was built to do.”

Segal suggested a different approach: reducing traffic by allowing people to work from home more often during the week. 

“We’re about putting time back on the agenda, and opening up a simple living option,” Segal said. “So that people, in fact, can meet their basic needs in four days of work or even three days of work.”

Roe v. Wade, abortion access and rights

Candidates were asked if they would protect abortion and reproductive rights and access in light of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that shows the court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision.

Jain said he’s the first candidate in the field to provide a detailed policy platform on these issues. He called for “enshrining” abortion access, gender affirmation care, contraceptive care and other aspects into the state constitution. 

Gansler said he would be “a brick wall” on the issue, standing up for rights in the state. But Cox then asked Gansler whether he would be a brick wall on the issue of opposing sex traffickers who bring victims into the state and then seek abortions for them through services funded by taxpayers.

“I will do everything in my power to ensure that every person in Maryland is protected, including those who are trafficked into our state, including the taxpayer who doesn’t want to fund these abortions,” Cox said. That’s something that’s … broadly supported and uniting across party lines.”

Werner said he believed in getting fetal heartbeat legislation passed, which has been enacted in other states. The legislation prohibits abortions, except for circumstances involving rape or endangerment of the mother or child, after a fetal heartbeat is detected on an ultrasound.

Improved ultrasound technology has shown that fetuses are more developed than previously known after the first trimester, Werner said. He added that he would make sure the state provided resources for adoption and prenatal and postnatal care to help pregnant women.

“If a woman gets a birth injury, she would be taken care of,” Werner said. “We wouldn’t just leave a woman who got pregnant out there on her own. We as the state would be behind her back.”

Schulz said the decision of abortion access is settled law, dating back to the 1990s, and she wouldn’t do anything to change that. She added that the overturning of Roe v. Wade would not impact the access and services available in Maryland.

But Jain — after hearing the Republicans’ responses — agreed with his Democratic colleagues about the importance of the issue in the upcoming election. There’s a clear difference between the two parties, he said.

“Most abortions happen within the first two or three months,” Jain said. “No one is aborting babies, so don’t get it twisted. Second, it’s funny to hear some of these candidates talk about freedom and liberty and less government, but not when it comes to telling a woman what she can do with her body, or someone from the LGBTQ community who they can love or how they can identify.”

Education and the Blueprint for Maryland’s future 

Candidates also gave their views on the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

The blueprint, also known as the Kirwan bill, reimagines K-12 education in the state through funding for universal pre-K, better teacher salaries, more career and vocational opportunities for students, and several other initiatives. Passed by the General Assembly, the legislature then overrode Hogan’s veto of the bill in 2021.

Gansler was blunt, saying the legislation would “go into the garbage” if a Republican is elected governor. Cox seemed to validate this response, saying there are no concrete plans for fully funding the legislation and that there should be more efforts to provide school choice for parents.

Jaffe was also critical, instead saying that a “tutor mentor program” would be more effective than the Blueprint in keeping children in school and from dropping out. 

But other Democrats said the Blueprint was essential to Maryland’s future. Perez took aim at Franchot, who wasn’t present during Wednesday’s forum. He noted that Franchot has said the state can’t afford to implement the Blueprint, and responded that Maryland officials can’t afford not to.

“We were number one in public education 10 years ago and we’ve fallen down,” Perez said. “I want to get back up there. And you know what, the way to get back up there is to implement the Blueprint.”

King agreed with Perez. He noted how he lost both his parents at a young age, and that public education was what saved him and led him to a life in public service.

The Blueprint should be fully funded in the long term, and the way to do that is through more taxes on millionaires and corporations in order for them “to pay their fair share,” King said.

“We also have to see [that] the Blueprint is the floor, not the ceiling of our investment,” King said. “We need more investment in mental health services and school counselors, more investment in universal affordable child care, [and] birth through 5 [education]. I’ll be the education governor.”

When is the election?

The primary is July 19. Early voting is from July 7 to 14. Mail-in ballots will be accepted as long as they are postmarked or placed in a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. July 19.

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com