A Candidate Forum for Policy Lovers Last Night in Silver Spring

Robert McCartney of The Washington Post moderated last night’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate forum. Photo courtesy David Asche Photography.

For anyone who loves policy, last night’s Democratic gubernatorial forum in Silver Spring was a complete wonkfest.

However, any undecided resident looking for significant differences between the seven candidates would have to search hard.

The seven who appeared at the forum are:

Nothing put the “wonk” in the evening better than a question about the Kirwan Commission report.

Formally known as the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, the commission was formed in June 2016 “to review and assess current education financing formulas and accountability measures, and how each local school system is spending its funds, including the increased State funds provided through the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act (Chapter 288, Acts of 2002).”

The 137-page report had five policy goals: improving early childhood education, increasing teacher quality, additional pathways for college and career readiness, more resources for at-rick students, and more effective standards of governance and accountability.

The candidates were asked if they supported all of the recommendations or not, as well as funding them. Short answer: They all did.

(Madaleno, whose district includes part of Silver Spring, was on the commission and supported the report saying, “if you want my plan for education, it is the Kirwan Commission.”)

Other examples of near-universal agreement among the candidates came in the “lightning round,” where the candidates were simply asked to raise their hands if they said “yes” to a question.

On favoring a $15-an-hour state minimum wage by 2025, all hands went up. Same with supporting paid family and medical leave, along the lines of what New York has passed (12 weeks for two-parent households by 2021).

There was less unanimity on whether to require contractors bidding on state work to hire a certain percentage of women. Four raised their hand, while Baker, Madaleno and Ross did not.

The largest differences between the candidates appeared when questioned about the recently passed $8.5 billion incentive package to lure Amazon’s HQ2 to the area:

  • Shea: “a really bad idea. . . you need assess what it’s going to cost and what the benefit is going to be. . .I haven’t seen any cost/benefit analysis. . .luring companies from other state provides 2 percent of the job growth. . . you want to invest in Maryland, in our start-ups, in our small businesses. . .”
  • Vignarajah: “For me, it’s a question of what are our priorities?. . .I realize why Gov. Hogan is trying to throw $8.5 billion, a few billion dollars more than the second most-competitive bid. . . this is the insanity of our government. . .what he is trying to do. . . is buy our vote.”
  • Baker: “We did go after the Amazon deal. . .we advocated for money. . .and we put up county incentive money. . .the idea. . .was to build around that [second headquarters] creating [new] jobs for the state and have additional revenue coming in. . . When you don’t actually invest in those [small] businesses. . .there was nothing the governor’s office was investing in and that’s why it seemed so outrageous.”
  • Jealous: “This is fundamentally bad negotiation. The two states that will benefit the most from the Amazon deal are the two that don’t have to foot the bill. . .All the economists will tell you there’s no way to make this money back.”
  • Kamenetz: “I actually chose not to submit a site for Amazon 2. . .because I believe that site should be in Baltimore City. That would have allowed the economic growth of the city to prosper and attract new investment here.”
  • Madaleno: “We need to make sure we bring in new companies, new technologies. Amazon is a game-changing adjustment for the entire region . . .it would be transformative for our region to move away from reliance [on the federal government]. . . we need to make sure we diversity our economy. Amazon is an unusual and great opportunity. . . they only get that subsidy if they spend $140 billion in our community over the next 35 years.”
  • Ross: “My priority would be a little different. . . we make it too hard to won a small business and grow the small business. . . 85 percent of the companies that come out of Johns Hopkins. . . leave the state. . . how do we make Maryland a place where they can grow and prosper?”

There also was some separation regarding the legalization and sale of recreational marijuana in Maryland.

Baker, recognizing the trends toward favoring legalization, said he did not agree.

Expressing some ambivalence, Kamenetz said, “This is an opportunity where we need to listen with an open mind. This again is an evolving issue.”

While recognizing the violence rooted in the illegal business and the opportunity for new revenues, he did not come out in favor, but rather urged the state to look at other states for lessons that could be learned and applied.

The other five candidates favored legalization.

On virtually every other issue, though, the candidates were by and large in agreement.

On transportation issues, for example, the candidates generally favored solutions such as Bus Rapid Transit and other mass transit options statewide and regional, improving current infrastructure, using smart technologies, with an emphasis on using the gas tax for what it was intended, while scrapping Hogan’s pricey proposals such as a maglev train between Washington and Baltimore, or widening I-270 and 495 (Kamenetz referring to Hogan as “the self-proclaimed king of highways”).

And so it went on questions of environmental issues, gender equality and juvenile justice—general agreement, with perhaps some differences on priorities or how best to tackle a specific problem.

The forum was sponsored by the Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County; the full video is available on their Facebook page.

About 350 people attended the forum in the Buffalo Soldiers Great Hall. Photo courtesy David Asche Photography.

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