Dozens of Prince George's County residents watch the Sept. 24 gubernatorial debate at the Prince George's County Education Association headquarters in Forestville. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Dozens of Prince George's County residents watch the Sept. 24 gubernatorial debate at the Prince George's County Education Association headquarters in Forestville. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous squared off Monday over the economy, education and President Donald Trump during a feisty debate at Maryland Public Television in Baltimore County — the first and only scheduled debate before the November election.

The roughly hourlong debate experienced moments of testiness, including when the Republican governor accused Jealous of proposing to fire workers with the state’s Department of Corrections and release thousands of criminals just to decrease the state’s prison population.

“From Willie Horton to Donald Trump, your party plays by the same playbook. You lie and you scare people,” Jealous said to Hogan.

“Willie Horton and Donald Trump don’t have much to do with this,” Hogan shot back.

Other sidebar comments included when Hogan said the former NAACP president doesn’t know much about state policies, how government runs and the latest information.

“Mr. Jealous may not be aware of what’s happening in Maryland,” he said.

Jealous countered when a question came up about mass transit and Hogan’s decision to kill the Red Line project in Baltimore City.

“I don’t know the last time you were there,” Jealous said.

Both candidates seek to make history in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2 to 1.

If re-elected, Hogan would become the first Republican governor in Maryland to win a second term in 64 years. If voters choose Jealous, he would be the first Black governor in state history.

A Goucher College poll released last week found that 54 percent of those surveyed said the state is “heading in the right direction” and 64 percent approve of Hogan’s job as governor.

However, poll participants also back two recommendations Jealous has already proposed, with 71 percent supporting the increase of the statewide minimum hourly wage to $15 and 62 percent supporting the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

The debate took an emotional turn when Pamela Wood of The Baltimore Sun asked about the prevention of gun violence in the wake of the June massacre at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, which operates under the Baltimore Sun Media Group umbrella.

“My heart goes out to you. You and your colleagues are heroes,” Jealous said to Wood while vowing to push for more mental health services.

Hogan, who added he would toughen laws to ensure the “mentally ill” and people with a “criminal background” don’t own guns.

“My heart was broken that day. This is our hometown newspaper in Annapolis,” Hogan said.

During parts of the debate, Jealous attempted to link Hogan to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, especially during her visit to Maryland at an elementary school with Hogan to read to students.

“We weren’t going to just tell her she can’t come into our state to read with kids,” Hogan said. “That’s about as far as the connection goes.”

Meanwhile, the governor constantly labeled Jealous as an outsider from California, as Jealous countered that his parents moved west due to their interracial marriage.

“If you’re wondering why I didn’t grow up here, sir, it’s because my parents’ marriage was against the law in 1966,” Jealous said. “I was sent back here every summer because this is home.”

James Freeny of Springdale, who watched the debate with dozens of other Jealous supporters at the Prince George’s County Education Association headquarters in Forestville, said Hogan’s comment about Jealous’ background in California “was a cheap shot.”

“Ben has a long history in Maryland. It’s public knowledge about his family in Baltimore,” Freeny said.

Those who watched the debate had plenty to say on social media and wished the candidates would meet again.

“I think the Hogan/Jealous debate was one of the most lively and engaging debates I’ve seen in state politics,” tweeted Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s, Maryland. “We need more Hogan/Jealous debates!”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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