Maryland Governor’s Debate, First Impressions

 

Promotional photos via Maryland Public Television

Promotional photos via Maryland Public Television

ONE. The debate was way too short. One hour is not enough. The candidates sometimes had to cut their answers short, and concluding statements were cut to less than 60 seconds. When a baseball game or football game is televised, we don’t set an arbitrary time limit. We cover the whole game, even if it goes into extra innings or overtime.

TWO. Was it a coincidence that both Anthony Brown and Douglas Gansler tried to associate themselves with Heather Mizeur’s response in at least one or two cases each? (Note: All three are Democrats. A separate debate was held for Republicans.)

THREE. Mizeur is the only candidate supporting immediate legalization and regulation of marijuana. She said Maryland could raise money by taxing marijuana to pay for early childhood education. The other two aren’t ready yet. They want to wait and see how legalization works in Washington State and Colorado.

FOUR. A clear separation on tax policy. Gansler repeatedly advocates reducing the corporate income tax to make Maryland more competitive with other states in attracting business. Mizeur wants to cut taxes for 90 percent of ordinary people, keep the corporate income tax and close the loopholes, reinstate the millionaire’s tax and retain the estate tax. Brown prefers to hold out for “comprehensive tax reform,” not try to do it piecemeal. He promised to appoint a commission to propose tax reform in time for the 2016 General Assembly. And he indicated that small businesses need tax relief more than major corporations. Mizeur promised no estate tax “giveaway,” Brown promised no corporate “giveaway.”

FIVE. Gansler attacked a culture of special interests and lobbyists in Annapolis. He called Mizeur a former lobbyist, and he charged that the Brown campaign is funded by special interests. Mizeur pointed out that her campaign is the only one that opted for public funding.

SIX. Mizeur is the strongest proponent of universal early childhood education. Brown said he was closer to Mizeur’s position than Gansler’s, and Gansler tried to associate himself with Mizeur’s position on early childhood education, as well.

I can’t pick a winner here. These are professional  politicians who have answered questions and repeated their positions many times before. They’re pretty good at it. And I doubt that any one debate is likely to change the outcome of an election. Unfortunately, I think TV advertising is more likely to turn the outcome of an election.

For what it’s worth, I thought Heather Mizeur had a calmer stage presence and smoother delivery than  the other two. Both Brown and Gansler looked tense and tried to talk too fast to squeeze words into the limited time. Gansler stumbled on his words several times, but no big deal.

Brown continues to appear to be the clear frontrunner.

— John Hayden

 

Maryland Governor’s Debate On TV Monday Night at 7

Promotional photos via Maryland Public Television

Promotional photos via Maryland Public Television

The three Democratic candidates for governor in Maryland will debate tonight on television. The debate will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. Monday on WBAL-TV Channel 11 in Baltimore, and on Maryland Public Television stations. The debate will be streaming live on the WBAL website, wbaltv.com, and the Maryland Public Television website, www.mpt.org

The Democratic candidates to replace Gov. Martin O’Malley are Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney Gen. Douglas Gansler, and Del. Heather Mizeur. The debate moderator will be MPT’s David Salkin. The debate is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Maryland Public Television, and WBAL-TV.  It will be held at the MPT studio in Owings Mills.

Tonight’s Democratic debate represents the last, best hope for Mizeur and Ganzler to catch up with and pass Brown before the June 24 primary. Political observers believe Brown is running well ahead of Mizeur and Gansler, but the contest may be tightening.

For voters just tuning in to Maryland’s 2014 elections — which is most voters — this one-hour debate may be the only chance to compare the candidates side-by-side. And it’s probably the last opportunity, other than television advertising, for the candidates to make a favorable impression on voters. In the precious few minutes each candidate will have tonight, expect Mizeur and Ganzler to make their strongest case to distinguish themselves from Brown.

O’Malley cannot run again after serving two terms because of Maryland’s term limit for Governor. The term limit is even stricter in Virginia, which allows only one four-year term for governor.

You’ll be seeing a lot of Brown and Gansler on TV between now and the June 24 primary election. Both Gansler and Brown have ample war chests to fund television advertising. Mizeur also plans to advertise on TV, although her budget is smaller.

Mizeur hopes to score a breakthrough in tonight’s debate by focusing on issues such as the widening income divide between rich and poor.

“Heather will make Annapolis work for middle class families,” said Joanna Belanger, Mizeur’s campaign manager. “It’s prioritized the wealthy and big corporations for far too long.”

Meanwhile, four Republicans vying for the Republican nomination for governor debated today. The Republican debate will be aired on WBAL-TV and Maryland Public Television at 7 p.m. Friday night.

Today’s gubernatorial debates are expected to be the final joint debates between the candidates before the  primary on June 24. Early voting begins June 12. The deadline for registering to vote in the primary is tomorrow, Tuesday, June 3, at 9 p.m.

— John Hayden

Marijuana Decriminalization Passes In Maryland, Awaits O’Malley’s Decision

Maryland State flag

John Hayden photo

I’m surprised but pleased that even in an election year, the Maryland General Assembly was able to take action on significant issues in the session that ends Monday.

An important but controversial marijuana decriminalization bill finally passed the House of Delegates on Saturday, 78-55. Now, gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur and others are pressing Gov. Martin O’Malley to sign the bill into law. O’Malley has not yet committed himself one way or the other.

“Today’s passage of marijuana decriminalization in the House is a huge first step towards slowing down and ultimately ending our state’s failed war on drugs,” Mizeur said Saturday.

“We snatched victory from the jaws of defeat because we understood the urgency behind the need to act this year. Our marijuana prohibition laws have been a failure and are ruining people’s lives. I urge Governor O’Malley to follow the will of the people and sign this legislation into law,” she said.

The other two Democratic candidates for governor, Lt. Gov. Andrew Brown and Attorney Gen. Doug Gansler, have also indicated support for decriminalization. But Del. Mizeur has been one of the leading proponents for marijuana reform in the House of Delegates. Over the past several days Mizeur’s campaign sent out requests by social media and email, urging supporters to call their delegates to urge passage of marijuana decriminalization.

Decriminalization is a sort of half-way step, following up on acceptance of medical marijuana by removing the criminal stigma for possession of small amounts of pot. A civil fine would be imposed, rather than a criminal conviction. Differences in the amounts of fines remain to be ironed out between the House and State Senate.

Maryland delegates and senators clearly are not yet ready to take the big step of legalizing recreational use of marijuana, as Colorado and Washington State have. However, the Maryland bill would result in a more uniform regional approach, since the D.C. government has already decriminalized possession of up to one ounce of pot.

I believe the General Assembly’s measured deliberation over the past few sessions demonstrates an appropriately serious approach to a major and controversial change in marijuana law. Maryland is not rushing headlong to be at the front of the line of states legalizing recreational use of marijuana, but neither are we stubbornly refusing to make step-by-step reforms in the law. Decriminalization in Maryland, if signed by O’Malley, would protect many young people from an unnecessary criminal record, which often limits opportunities for jobs, housing, even marriage. What exactly is the advantage to society of labeling people as criminals for minor offenses?

Some political sidelights on passage of the marijuana decriminalization bill:  Mizeur is a rising star in the Maryland Democratic Party, along with Del. Keiffer Mitchell, also a leading sponsor of the bill.

“We’re sending the message that we’re not going to allow small amounts of marijuana possession to ruin the lives of our young people,” said Mitchell, according to The Washington Post.

It’s a message that will likely resonate in Mitchell’s Baltimore district, where he faces opposition in the Democratic primary. Mitchell already has the advantage of a historic and respected last name in Baltimore politics, as well as experience on the City Council. A strong win in the 2014 election could propel him to a State Senate seat or even a congressional seat at some point in the future. Mayor, governor or U.S. senator? The Baltimore region has other ambitious and promising leaders, but I suspect Mitchell is a prospect who could run well statewide.

On the other hand, I think passage of the bill indicates Del. Joseph Vallario’s star is setting. Vallario has over-stayed his welcome as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (my opinion only). He opposed the marijuana bill and tried to block it. But a critical mass of delegates pried the measure lose, forcing Vallario to get out of the way.

— John Hayden