Six hopefuls for Md. governor make their cases during forum in Mongtomery County

Six candidates for governor of Maryland made pitches Monday to business and civic leaders in Montgomery County, with each making the case that he or she understood the character of the state’s largest jurisdiction and the challenges its faces.

Of the three Democrats and three Republicans, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) made the most direct appeal to the nearly 800 people attending a breakfast hosted by the Committee for Montgomery.

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Gansler stressed that he had grown up in the county and was well aware of its traffic congestion and school construction needs — as well as the fact that Montgomery residents pay significantly more in state taxes than they receive in state services.

“We should not be considered the ATM of the state, because we have our own problems,” said Gansler, a former Montgomery state’s attorney.

Gansler said the upcoming election is “historic” because “we have never elected a governor from Montgomery County.”

“I will be working for Montgomery County as we go forward,” Gansler said during a forum in which he also touted his plan to cut the state’s corporate income tax rate, a proposal that sets him apart from his Democratic rivals.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who called himself a “neighbor” from Prince George’s County, said during the hourlong forum that he would work to improve the lives of all Montgomery residents, including those who are not wealthy. Brown said a key is attracting new businesses.

“That starts with investments in infrastructure,” Brown said. “Not just roads and rail, but affordable housing, data networks, water and sewer, schools, libraries and hospitals.”

Brown said he would support Montgomery leaders in the upcoming session of the legislature in securing additional dollars for public school construction in the county.

Brown also credited Montgomery legislators for providing blocks of votes to pass key initiatives in recent years, including same-sex marriage and an increase in gas taxes that will help pay for additional transportation projects, including the Purple Line rail project.

A third Democrat, Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), cast herself as “the adult in this race.”

“We need candidates running for governor who are willing to have bold conversations again,” said Mizeur, a former Takoma Park City Council member.

She cited her plan to legalize marijuana and use the tax proceeds to expand state-subsidized pre-kindergarten education to 3-year-olds. Mizeur also relayed her initiative to cut income taxes on 90 percent of Marylanders, which she would pay for by raising rates on higher earners.

The three Republicans — Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Del. Ronald A. George (Anne Arundel) and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar — also made pitches for support. Despite the dominance of Democrats in public office in Montgomery, the county is home to the third largest number of registered GOP voters in the state.

Craig touted his record attracting jobs in Harford and said he recognizes that Montgomery “has different issues than your neighbors.”

George relayed his plans for a 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut and said he would work to build the tax base in Baltimore — a move that would ease the burden Montgomery shoulders in supporting other jurisdictions, he said.

Lollar pledged that as governor he would hold down spending and brings his years of experience in business to state government. He also said he could reach across party lines.

“I know how to lead and motivate people,” Lollar said. “I’m interested in bringing people together.”

Brown also received some flak from rivals during the forum about the rocky rollout of Maryland’s online health insurance exchange.

Since its Oct. 1 launch, the Web site has been riddled with glitches. Over the weekend, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said nine of the major problems affecting the ability of people to enroll in insurance plans have been fixed.

Gansler said during the forum that he was pleased to see “the governor’s out taking it over.”

Brown co-chairs a council that oversees health-care reforms in Maryland and has taken a leadership role in implementing President Obama’s new law in Maryland.

“I’m taking responsibility to make sure we get it right,” Brown told the audience in Montgomery.

While all six candidates appeared on stage at the same time, the format was not conducive to interaction among them. Candidates were given 90 seconds to answer a series of four questions and had three minutes to make a closing statement.

Larry Hogan, a Cabinet secretary under former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), was invited but did not attend Monday’s forum. Hogan plans to formally announce his candidacy next month.

O’Malley, who is term-limited, grew up in Montgomery County. He had moved to Baltimore and was serving as the city’s mayor when he was first elected governor in 2006.

 
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