Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Douglas F. Gansler on Thursday aggressively sought to distance himself from the current Democratic administration, blasting Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown’s performance on health-care reform and a variety of other issues during their final debate.
Gansler, the state’s attorney general, said that his fellow Democrat had botched the most important assignment given to him by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — the rollout of the state’s online health insurance exchange — and accused Brown of speaking “gibberish” about the subject during a 90-minute debate broadcast live on a Baltimore radio station.
Gansler also argued that Brown had “ignored” the needs of Baltimore during his tenure and done nothing to address a scandal at a state-run jail or to help the state’s “woefully underfunded” historically black colleges and universities. And he said the lieutenant governor was beholden to entrenched interest groups in Annapolis.
“I’m not bought by the special interests or the machine,” Gansler said during the debate on WOLB (1010 AM), a station with a primarily African American audience. “I’m not the coronated candidate.”
Brown, the front-runner in the June 24 Democratic primary, appeared largely unfazed by the attacks, ignoring many of them. He touted progress made during the O’Malley administration on education and other issues and said he planned to build upon those accomplishments.
And while Brown acknowledged there were technological problems that made it more difficult for people to sign up for health plans, he said the exchange had been a “success,” based on enrollment figures that exceeded original projections.
A third candidate in the primary, Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery), largely stayed out of the fray, using the debate to promote plans that include cutting income taxes for middle-class Marylanders while re-
imposing a “millionaires tax” on the state’s most wealthy citizens. Mizeur also pressed the case that she has offered bolder ideas than her rivals.
“On a range of topics, I think we need to go further,” she said, citing plans for additional increases in the minimum wage, a more ambitious expansion of pre-
kindergarten programs than Brown and Gansler have proposed and her support for legalizing marijuana.
Thursday’s event was the fourth and final debate among the Democratic candidates and represented the last chance for voters to size up the candidates against one another.
The previous debates, including one that Brown skipped, have been televised in prime time, reaching a broader audience.
The remaining 21 / 2 weeks of the race are likely to be dominated by television ads, which have taken a turn to the negative. In recent days, Gansler has hammered Brown on the health exchange, and Brown has questioned Gansler’s support for a corporate income tax cut.
Though he was not as aggressive during Thursday’s debate as Gansler was, Brown took several jabs, characterizing his rival’s support for the tax cut as a “corporate giveaway” that would make it harder to fund pre-K education and other priorities.
Gansler complained about a mailer than Brown’s campaign has sent out on the subject, saying it had reached his mother’s mailbox. “She didn’t know I hated kids . . . and I love big business,” Gansler said.
Brown also sought to turn the tables on Gansler on the health exchange, saying that the attorney general sat on a health-care reform coordinating council but “didn’t attend a single meeting.” And Brown said that Gansler’s office was involved in finding the North Dakota-based contractor that built the Maryland health-care Web site, which is so flawed that the state is rebuilding it.
“The only one that was cheering on failure for Obamacare were the Republicans, joined by Attorney General Gansler,” Brown said. “When asked publicly, ‘Did you have any responsibility?,’ he said, ‘None.’ . . . Look, we all had a responsibility.”
Gansler, meanwhile, mocked Brown’s contention that he had moved aggressively to fix problems with the exchange once he became aware of them.
“He was nowhere to be seen,” Gansler said. “He put on his running shoes and ran away.”
All three Democratic candidates found at least one area of agreement Thursday.
The debate’s moderator, Larry Young, a former state senator, asked whether they would support accelerating the timetable for raising the state’s minimum wage. A bill passed this year by the legislature will gradually increase the wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by mid-2018 — two years later than originally proposed by O’Malley.
All three Democrats said they would push for a quicker timetable after the General Assembly returns next year.
There was less accord on a question by Young about whether the candidates had seen anything they liked in policy proposals offered by their rivals.
“So far, not really,” Gansler said.
Brown said his answer was “a resounding yes.”
He cited ideas Gansler had put forward on reducing the number of ex-offenders who return to prison and said he likes Mizeur’s affordable-housing plan.
“The next governor has got to find common ground,” Brown said.
Mizeur praised the work of her rivals on “career technology education” before pivoting to say that her ideas “go further” in many areas.
Given the audience, several of the questions Thursday focused on the candidates’ commitment to Baltimore.
Gansler, a former Montgomery County state’s attorney who lives in Bethesda, argued that “I am the Baltimore candidate.” He noted that the attorney general’s office is in Baltimore and that he has started a youth lacrosse league there.
“While my opponents were growing up in Illinois and Long Island, I was growing up here in Maryland,” Gansler said.
Brown shot back: “I’m sorry that I was born in New York and that the lieutenant governor’s office is in Annapolis, but actions speak louder than words.”
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.