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Two angling for Democratic nomination meet in debate

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather R. Mizeur called for tightening of Maryland's laws on long guns Thursday night in the wake of the shotgun attack that took three lives at The Mall in Columbia Saturday.

Her proposal came as the Montgomery County delegate met Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler at a forum that drew two-thirds of the Democratic field in the 2014 race for governor to the giant Leisure World senior complex in Montgomery County. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, whose father died earlier in the day, did not attend.

Mizeur called for regulating shotguns and rifles with the same, tougher rules applied to handguns. In the wake of themall shooting by a 19-year-old who legally purchased a shotgun, she also urged that Maryland set a minimum age of 21 to buy long guns -- the current standard for handguns.

Gansler stressed his long experience in prosecuting gun crimes, defending Maryland’s concealed-carry laws in court and running gun buyback programs.

“We need someone who’s actually done the work,” he said.

In an interview afterward, Gansler said he could support raising the age to purchase shotguns and rifles but would have to study the proposal for mandatory universal background checks for long guns.

Shortly before the debate began, Brown’s office announced that 89-year-old Dr. Roy Brown had died of cancer in Huntington, N.Y., as the lieutenant governor visited with his family.  He was not represented by a surrogate.

The absence of the front-runner in the poll did little to hold down attendance at one of the largest Democratic strongholds in the state. Hundreds of Leisure World residents and visitors packed a ballroom at the complex.

Mizeur gave a fiery version of her standard stump speech, stressing her determination to improve early childhood education, protect the environment and to end what she called the failed war on drugs.

Gansler stressed longtime ties to Leisure World, both his own and those of running mate Del. Jolene Ivey, whose parents lived there. He also stressed the need to bring manufacturing jobs back to Maryland and criticized the O’Malley administration’s record of raising taxes.

Residents asked well-focused questions about such issues as fracking, required paid sick leave for workers and the botched rollout of Maryland’s web site for its health insurance exchange.

Most questions revealed few ideological rifts between the two candidates, but the health care question gave Mizeur an opportunity to criticize Gansler’s call earlier Thursday to allow Marylanders to choose whether to use the state or federal exchanges to buy private health insurance plans. Mizeur said she had explored that as an option and had been told by federal officials that the proposal was “irresponsible” and “impossible.”

Mizeur said her reaction to the botched rollout was not to place blame but to seek practical solutions.

“The ideas that were presented today by the attorney general are just the opposite of that,” she said. Gansler did not push back on that charge until after the forum, when a spokesman protested that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had issued no clear guidelines on what could be done to fix a failing state exchange. 

Gansler and Mizeur did not take on the absent Brown in personal terms, but they pulled few punches in expressing their dissatisfaction with the administration in which he is the No. 2 official. 

Mizeur criticized the administration’s purge of a waiting list for childcare services as the election approached. Gansler faulted its performance in assuring the quality of Baltimore’s schools.

After the debate, a sampling of local Democrats' reactions found a positive reaction to both candidates -- with a majority saying the lesser-known Mizeur had more than held her own against the more experienced Gansler.

Paul Penn, a Leisure World resident with a background in engineering and physics, said he disagrees completely with Mizeur on fracking -- which he believes to be a safe and well-proven way of extracting natural gas.

But otherwise, he was impressed.

“On the other issues, she was very bright and articulate," Penn said.

Former state Sen. Len Teitelbaum, a Leisure World resident, said both candidates did well.

"Gansler has experience and long service and that's going to help him," Teitelbaum said. "I think Heather picked up significant support here."

The retired senator expressed sympathy for Brown but said he should have sent a representative. 

In his statement Brown said he would visit Leisure World soon.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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