WJZ broadcast the first of three televised debates between gubbernatorial candidates Lt. Governor Anthony Brown (D), and Larry Hogan (R), on Tuesday. Moderator Vic Carter did an excellent job of keeping the candidates to time limits. The questions that he and The Baltimore Sun editorial writer Ed Page alternatively put to the two candidates were also quite good.
I thought the second to last question was one of the better ones of the event. It challenged each candidate to share something they disagreed with the governor of the administration in which he served and to say something positive about the opposite parties' administration.
Hogan served as Appointments Secretary under Gov. Robert Ehrlich, the last GOP governor for Maryland. Hogan said he opposed the college tuition hikes that occurred under the Ehrlich administration.
As for as something the O'Malley-Brown administration had done well, Hogan quipped that he thought the only thing they had been good at is spinning the numbers so as to confuse people.
Brown indicated that he did not approve of a specific Gov. Martin O'Malley tax deduction modification, and he was glad the General Assembly did not accept this particular policy. In terms of what he approved of from Ehrlich's time in office, he responded that he liked the Bay Restoration Act. Most people with whom I interact commonly call this the Flush Tax.
I'm not sure if Brown realized his response plays precisely into the campaign theme that Hogan has developed that portrays Brown as seemingly eager to raise every tax and fee in sight.
The last question of the debate was for the candidates to address women's issues. Brown said things in Maryland were great for women and the O'Malley-Brown administration had worked to strengthen domestic violence laws.
Hogan countered that the number one issue for women in Maryland was to get the economy moving again so women can get good jobs and support their families.
Each candidate consistently came back to the core message that we have been seeing played out in television ads.
For Hogan, this amounted to a prosecution of the O'Malley-Brown administration's stewardship of the Maryland economy for the last eight years. He accused Brown of failing to lead in this area.
Hogan stated the current administration had added crushing new tax burdens on Marylanders by increasing 40 different taxes. He accused the current administration of losing 8,000 businesses over its two terms and described our business environment as 49th out of 50 states in terms of economic growth.
Brown's repeated refrains suggested that Hogan would not enforce gun laws and make Marylanders more vulnerable to gun crimes. Brown accused Hogan of desiring to undermine women's choices in the area of abortion and contraceptives.
Hogan rebutted the Brown charges as being absolutely false. Brown, on the other hand, did not dispute the statistics cited by Hogan regarding taxes and lost businesses.
Brown's responses to Hogan's indictment on the economic record of the last eight years seemed rather weak to me.
In the very first question of the debate, Carter asked Brown whether we were over-taxed in Maryland. Brown pledged not to raise taxes if elected. He accused the GOP candidate of wanting to enact a tax give away to large corporations that didn't even need such tax reductions.
It seemed that Hogan's debate preparation had anticipated such a line. His comeback was that the only corporate give away we've seen lately is the way O'Malley-Brown policies have given away business and jobs to neighboring states like Virginia.
I would imagine partisan supporters of each candidate thought their man did well on Tuesday. We'll know in a month how voters are thinking about whether we need to stay the course or go for a change in direction.
Michael Zimmer writes from Eldersburg. His column appears on Fridays. Email him at email@example.com.