Seven of Maryland’s Democratic hopefuls for lieutenant governor squared off, albeit virtually, on Wednesday in the first candidates’ forum, touting their gubernatorial partners’ platforms on topics such as transportation, education and housing.
When a question focused on gender equity, the only male lieutenant governor candidate, Justin Dispenza, a council member for the town of Galena in Kent County, chose to say less.
“On this issue, you don’t need to hear my opinion. The best thing I can do is shut up and listen to what I can learn from the women’s rights groups and the way you want to move forward,” said Dispenza, a running mate of Jerome Segal, a retired research scholar and professor at the University of Maryland in College Park.
The other six candidates – all minority women – who participated in the nearly two-hour discussion were Monique Anderson-Walker, Candace Hollingsworth, Aruna Miller, Nancy Navarro, Michelle Siri and Shannon Sneed.
The UpCounty Democrats and the Women’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County hosted the forum, which at one point had 124 people logged into Zoom, more than a month before the July 19 primary. Early voting begins July 7 and runs through July 14.
Some voters could receive mail-in ballots as soon as this week.
Term-limited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan leaves office in January.
In the meantime, any of the six Democratic women would make history if elected — Anderson-Walker, Hollingsworth or Sneed as the first Black woman, Navaro as the first Latina, Miller as the first American Indian or Siri as the first Iranian American.
Most of the candidates support fully funding the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a multibillion-dollar education plan to help support the most underserved schools, increase technology, college and career readiness and other programs. Some also call it the Kirwan Commission plan, after former University of Maryland chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan.
Miller, a former state delegate from Montgomery County and running mate of former nonprofit executive Wes Moore, noted their campaign received the highly coveted endorsement from the Maryland State Education Association.
“We’re the team that’s committed to fully fund and fully implement the blueprint,” said Miller, who added future revenues from sports betting, legalizing marijuana and capital financing for schools would help the education program beyond 2026.
Anderson-Walker, a former Prince George’s County Council member and running mate of state Comptroller Peter Franchot, said another way to help fund the program would be increasing the tax base through its 100,000 jobs in 100 weeks pledge. She also called for forgiving student loans for college graduates who live and work in the state for at least five years.
“We want to go beyond the Kirwan Commission by ensuring that we develop an education blueprint that does not only solve temporary challenges, but [also] creates a pathway for sustainable education development of our students,” she said.
Dispenza said Segal supports the social portion of the plan, but disagrees with its take on the school system structure.
In terms of combating gun violence and protecting the public from mass shootings, Sneed, a former Baltimore City Council member, summarized her response on who should own guns.
“Under any circumstances, none of us should have a gun unless we are in the military or a police officer,” said Sneed, the running mate of former Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez. “Having a 5-year-old, I just don’t want my daughter to be around guns.”
The candidates agreed on protecting the environment and battling climate change by transitioning vehicle fleets such as school buses from gas to electric.
Siri, executive director of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland and running mate with former U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr., said at least 60% of vehicles sold in the state would be zero emissions with 10,000 charging stations.
“It starts with making Maryland a net-zero greenhouse emissions state by 2035 and committing to a carbon-free electricity sector by 2030,” she said. “We can achieve these goals and make Maryland a national leader on climate action.”
Navarro mirrored her gubernatorial partner, former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, regarding ideas for improving affordable housing by boosting residential development around Metrorail stations.
She also the state can help local governments finance some housing projects. In addition, offer incentives for companies to build around any high-capacity transit areas.
“I do believe we have plenty of best practices that we can scale up if we want to stay competitive,” said Navarro, a Montgomery County Council member and the only woman currently on the nine-member board.
When a question came up about equity, specifically a Black agenda, candidates had only 30 seconds to answer.
Hollingsworth, former Hyattsville mayor, said “it is unfortunate the question on equity has been shortchanged.” She stepped aside as mayor in December 2020 to serve as national co-chair of Our Black Party, though she is now largely focused on the gubernatorial campaign.
“I appreciate that folks have rolled out Black agendas, but it’s not about a particular program or policy,” said Hollingsworth, running mate of former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler. “If we’re serious about doing the work of dismantling and undoing the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, you cannot take a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats approach. When you try to capture everyone, Black people are left out. When you center Black people, everyone wins.”
Three other Democratic lieutenant governor candidates didn’t appear Wednesday.
Two of them are women from Prince George’s County: LaTrese Hawkins Lytes, a running mate of former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain; and Natalie Williams, running mate of former nonprofit executive Jon Baron.
Perennial candidate Ralph Jaffe and his running mate, Mark Brebon, are both from Baltimore County.