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To err is political: fact-checking the debates of Democratic candidates for Maryland governor

The Democratic candidates for governor who took part in a debate at the University of Baltimore Tuesday managed to steer clear of the urban myths peddled at previous forums, but some made statements that stretched the truth.

The debate sponsored by The Baltimore Sun, WJZ and the university featured seven candidates in the hunt for the Democratic Party nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Early voting begins June 14 and the primary election is June 26.

Here are some of the most eyebrow-raising claims from the debate:

Valerie Ervin, former Montgomery County councilwoman: We have one of the most powerful congressional delegations in the country, and they should be doing more about opioids.

Facts: Leaving aside the question of whether Maryland’s U.S. senators and representatives should be doing more, the assertion that the state’s delegation is unusually powerful is years out of date. Both of Maryland’s senators and seven of its eight House members are Democrats at a time when Republicans control both chambers of Congress and a White House that rarely consults the minority party. Gone are the days when now-retired Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski chaired the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Steny Hoyer was No. 2 in the House and other Marylanders held influential positions.

Ervin: Hogan is ready to pay $8 billion to Jeff Bezos, the richest man on the planet, to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to Montgomery County.

Facts: This could be seen as typical political hyperbole but it also grossly mischaracterizes the facts about the state’s incentive package for Amazon. Ervin makes it sound as if $8 billion would go directly into Bezos’ pockets. In fact, the state is offering a mixture of $6.5 billion in tax incentives for the publicly traded company Bezos heads and $2 billion in transportation and other infrastructure improvements that would not benefit Amazon alone. The incentives are stretched over 35 years and are conditional on Amazon meeting ambitious employment goals. The package passed with strong support from General Assembly Democrats.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III: Hogan has waited three years before acknowledging that the opioid crisis is a problem.

Facts: Opioid-related deaths have continued to increase on Hogan’s watch, even after he made it a signature issue in the 2014 campaign. One can debate whether Hogan’s strategies have been ineffective or that he has not provided enough resources to slow the increase, but there is ample evidence that Hogan acknowledged the gravity of the problem from the earliest days of his administration and has proposed various countermeasures and supported others developed by lawmakers.

Baker: Maryland’s education ranking has dropped from No. 1 to No. 11 on Hogan’s watch.

Facts: Baker bases his contention on an 11th place ranking by U.S. News and World Report from earlier this year. But the Baker campaign could not produce evidence that U.S. News ever ranked Maryland No. 1. A campaign spokeswoman pointed to Maryland’s onetime first-place ranking by Education Week, a more closely watched indicator. This is clearly misleading. Maryland held first place in the Education Week rankings from 2009-2013. In 2014, Ed Week didn’t rank states. In 2015, when Ed Week changed its ranking system, Maryland placed third. Under Hogan it has slipped one place a year and is now ranked No. 6.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr.: We need a governor who will get the attorney general to pursue drug companies that have fueled the opioid crisis.

Facts: Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who has endorsed Baker, is already investigating some pharmaceutical companies in concert with other states considering legal action for their opioid marketing practices, spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said. Frosh, a Democrat, has not needed a push from Hogan to do so and would not need one from the next governor, she added. Last month, Frosh asked for bids from private attorneys to assist in the investigation.

Madaleno: On his third day in office, Hogan tried to cut education by $1 billion.

Facts: Taking office with a $750 million shortfall when he took office in 2015, Hogan proposed a series of long-term and short-term cuts on his third day as governor. One of his most sweeping proposals was to hold formula-driven increases in basic education funding to 1 percent a year for five years. That proposal, had it came about, likely would have meant per-pupil aid wouldn’t have kept up with inflation. The Department of Legislative Services put the reduction to education aid at about $925 million over five years. Combined with Hogan’s proposed cuts to other categories of education — community colleges, private colleges — the $1 billion figure would be valid with the understanding it wasn’t a one-year number. The General Assembly rejected almost all of Hogan’s long-term spending cut proposals.

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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