Eight Democratic gubernatorial candidates aiming to unseat Gov. Larry Hogan in November discussed a broad range of topics including climate change, education, transportation, gun control and their dislike for the Republican governor at a forum in Glenn Dale on Wednesday night.
The candidates fielded questions for about two hours before a crowd of more than 200 attendees at the Reid Temple AME Church.
The forum was cosponsored by the University of Maryland College Democrats and the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee.
Most of the questions were answered by two or three candidates, but all were allowed to weigh in on Hogan's claim of successfully enacting a bipartisan agenda in his first term as governor. Their responses were universally critical of the Republican incumbent.
"I am the person who has been fighting Larry Hogan since the day he was sworn in," said state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery). "We have been so effective that we have forced him to govern like a Democrat."
Madaleno said Hogan passed gun control measures like a bump stock ban, "because we forced him to."
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz criticized the governor for only enacting policies like lowering tolls and banning fracking when they "poll well." Tech entrepreneur Alec Ross called Hogan a "wet finger in the wind politician" for changing his policies when it benefits him.
On climate change, Madaleno described it as "the biggest threat we face as a state, as a country, as a species" and criticized Hogan for remaining silent after the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord last year. Krish Vignarajah, a former policy director for Michelle Obama, said voters have a duty to future generations to address climate change.
"We have to invest in clean energy," Vignarajah said, and promised that Maryland will get to 100 percent clean energy by 2035.
When it came to funding Maryland's schools, Kamenetz, Ross and former NAACP president Ben Jealous agreed that public schools must be fully funded, but had different ways of going about it. Kamenetz argued for funding universal pre-k, while Ross said he will ensure computer science education for all children. Jealous added that funding is not equal across the state.
"We will need an equity formula," Jealous said to ensure that funding across the state is distributed fairly.
"There are two Marylands," Ross said of this uneven distribution. "PG County wobbles between the two."
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker said the next governor must "have the courage" to fully fund public schools. Jealous promised that money the state earns from casino revenues will go to funding school construction.
On the Maryland Maglev project — a high-speed rail project touted by Hogan — Madaleno and Baker said the project was too expensive. It's slated to break ground in 2019.
"It's a nice-sounding idea," Madaleno said. "But these are things we cannot afford and distract from things we could be doing."
Baker said funding the Metro including the proposed Purple Line and restarting plans to build the Red Line in Baltimore — a project Hogan ended in 2015 — are his priorities on transportation.
"We have to be supportive of the Red Line by connecting job opportunities with the ability to get to them," Baker said.
If you can afford to ride the Maglev to work, "buy a helicopter" instead, Jealous joked.
When questioned about gun control policies, Ross and Baltimore native James Hugh Jones said they prioritized mental health services in schools to reduce violence. Vignarajah said guns sold in Maryland should be licensed and insured.
"If you do it with cars, you should do it with guns," Vignarajah said.
Former chair of the University System of Maryland board of regents James Shea criticized Hogan for his A-rating from the National Rifle Association.
"While he's been governor, a thousand people have been murdered in Baltimore, most of them with a gun," Shea said. "That's the real Larry Hogan."