Three of the four Republican candidates for governor met in a cordial debate here Wednesday, agreeing on a need to cut taxes in Maryland, limit government growth and scrap major transit projects.
Harford County Executive David R. Craig, former Ehrlich administration official Larry Hogan and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar all criticized the fiscal policies of Gov. Martin O'Malley while avoiding attacks on each other.
Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County, the fourth Republican in the race, did not attend because the House of Delegates was in session debating the governor's budget. O'Malley, a Democrat, is term-limited and cannot seek re-election.
Of the three GOP candidates who appeared at the forum sponsored by the Chevy Chase Women's Republican Club, Craig took the most aggressively conservative stance, pledging to make the state's flagship university pay if it continued to tolerate what he called "political correctness."
"I'd tell the president, 'If you don't change the system, I'm taking your money,' " Craig said, in response to a question posed by a University of Maryland professor. "We need to tell them to 'stop being politically correct or you're fired.' " Craig did not offer specifics.
The Harford executive upped the ante after Hogan answered by saying that except for appointing members of the university system's Board of Regents, he didn't know what he could do to change university culture.
Hogan did, however, deplore what he called political correctness "run amok" and said the problems weren't limited to higher education. "They're indoctrinating kids at a very early age," he said.
Lollar took a different approach, emphasizing the need for Republicans to reach out to groups they haven't engaged in the past.
"Every time I hear Republicans say 'those people,' I cringe," he said. Lollar is the only African-American in the GOP primary race.
All three agreed on a need to cut taxes and fees, through Craig was the most specific. Going beyond his previously announced proposal to phase out the state income tax, he promised a variety of cuts, from the gas tax to fees for death and birth certificates.
Hogan maintained his strategy of refusing to be pinned down to specific promises, though he joined the others in promising to scrap the stormwater cleanup fee that critics call the "rain tax."
The three also agreed that the state should cancel plans to build the Purple Line light rail project in the Washington suburbs. Craig and Lollar added that they would also scrap the Red Line in Baltimore. Together, the two projects are expected to cost about $5 billion, about half of which could come from the federal government.
In a straw poll taken after the debate, Lollar emerged with the most votes — 34. He was trailed by Hogan at 21, Craig with 12 and George, 5.
Former state Sen. Jean Roesser, the last Republican to be elected to that position from Montgomery County, was pleased with the tone set by the candidates, who promised to avoid attacks on each other and support the winner of the June 24 primary.
Though Lollar has struggled to raise money, Roesser said his straw-vote victory is easily explained. "Charles Lollar has charisma. He knows how to connect with an audience," she said. "Of all things, Republicans have to stick together and support each other."
Shelley Aloi, George's running mate, represented him at the event but did not take part in the debate. Allowed to deliver remarks, she told the group that George was on the floor of the House, offering budget amendments to cut what she called O'Malley's "wasteful spending."
Aloi, a former Frederick city alderwoman, said George had led a successful effort to repeal a tax on technology companies that was adopted but quickly abandoned during O'Malley's first term. She also noted that he had sponsored the successful repeal of an excise tax on the maritime industry.
"He's shown that he can change the situation, that he can pass bills that affect us in a positive way without compromising conservative ideals," Aloi said.