For the first time this year, most of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates met in one room Saturday, Oct. 14 to answer questions on health care, education and other topics that would affect Marylanders.
United for Maryland, a political action committee made up of 30 groups and activists throughout the state, organized the forum at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus. Its message that appeared on a big-screen inside an auditorium: replace Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and put a Democrat in charge.
Besides various questions on education, health care and the environment, the six candidates in attendance got to respond to this one: “what has [Republican] Gov. [Larry] Hogan done that you most disagree with?”
“The problem I have with Gov. Hogan … is based on politics. Every decision he makes is based on a poll,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III. “He’s destroying our government by doing nothing.”
Baker joined the two-hour session alongside former NAACP President Ben Jealous, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Richard Madaleno, technology entrepreneur Alec Ross and Krishanti Vignarajah.
Attorney James Shea couldn’t attend because of a previous engagement, organizers said. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the wife of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), declared her candidacy through a video on social media two days before the forum.
The candidates agreed that Hogan hasn’t invested enough in public education, his decision to cut the Red Line project hurt Baltimore and that he showed a lack of compassion for workers when he vetoed paid sick leave legislation.
However, other issues that weren’t broached include police relations with the Black community, as well as African-American ownership in the medical cannabis industry. Those and other topics have been placed on agenda for the upcoming session by the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.
After the forum, Jealous said Hogan’s plan to handle criminal justice reform such as “truth and sentencing laws” align with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, harming not only Blacks, but also Latinos and poor white people.
“It is the tip of the spear to reviving failed ‘War on Drugs’ strategies,” Jealous said. “Hogan is doing nothing but drudging up failed strategies that make him look like he is tough and pounding his chest. It’s a frontal attack against all of our communities.”
Although a 2016 Gallup Poll ranked Maryland as the third-highest “solid-leaning” Democratic state in the country, Hogan’s approval rating still hovers above 60 percent, based on a poll by the nonpartisan Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategies of Northwest.
The poll released this month showed Baker as the top Democrat to challenge Hogan in the general election. Hogan had a seven-point advantage at 46 percent to 39 percent, but “below the 50 percent threshold that is generally considered safe for an incumbent seeking re-election.”
Meanwhile, United for Maryland PAC seeks to organize another forum before the Christmas holidays. The group will not formally endorse a candidate during the primary election.
“I think all the candidates did a great job,” said Christina Ginsberg of Rockville, one of the organizers with United for Maryland. “We hope all of them can participate in the next one and people come out and learn about each person.”