O'Malley-Ehrlich radio debate focuses on health care, education

Former Md. Gov. Robert Ehrlich squared-off against current Governor Martin O'Malley in a spirited debate Thursday at The Washington Post.
By John Wagner and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 1:31 PM

Maryland's two leading candidates for governor sparred over health care, education funding and their commitment to issues affecting African Americans during a spirited radio debate Thursday morning.

With less than two weeks to Election Day, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) sought to more aggressively highlight his opposition to the federal health-care law, which Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) supports, during the debate on Baltimore's WOLB-AM.

The law, Ehrlich said, is "anti-market, it hurts working people, it raises taxes and does not get the bottom line with regard to what it is supposed to do, which is increase access and affordable cost. . . . It's more in the direction of a Canadian-, European-style health-care delivery system."

O'Malley countered that President had been "courageous" to tackle the issue and recounted steps the state has taken to extend subsidized health insurance to more than 200,000 Marylanders in recent years, despite the economic downturn.

Ehrlich "did absolutely nothing to advance the cause," O'Malley told host Larry Young, a former state senator from Baltimore. The debate was also broadcast on a sister station in Prince George's County, Maryland's other majority African American jurisdiction.

During the hour-long encounter, the candidates also argued over the importance of an education initiative that provides additional money to jurisdictions - including Baltimore and Prince George's counties - where the cost of providing education is higher. O'Malley has committed to funding the $127 million program, which also benefits Montgomery County; Ehrlich has not.

O'Malley said Ehrlich's unwillingness to fund the program was one of few specific plans Ehrlich has shared this election year. Ehrlich countered that the initiative has become a "political football" and that O'Malley did not fund it during his first year in office, either.

At various points in the debate, which was broadcast live in front of a small audience, both candidates touted their records on minority business outreach and appointing African Americans to government posts and judgeships.

Ehrlich sought to play up his familiarity with the station's predominantly black listeners. Recent polls have shown O'Malley with an overwhelming lead among black voters.

The former governor, who until recently co-hosted a radio talk show, noted that he had been a frequent guest on Young's program over the years.

"I've engaged with this audience," Ehrlich said. "This is not new or unique place for me. . . . I've been to the barbershops. I've talked to the people."

As in two previous debates, Ehrlich was highly critical of O'Malley's "zero tolerance" policing policy while mayor of Baltimore, charging it had resulted in "mass arrests" of innocent black men.

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