The two men running to be Maryland's next lieutenant governor traded barbs and accusations Thursday in their first and only formal debate of the campaign.
Ken Ulman, who is running with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony G. Brown, said Republican Larry Hogan and running mate Boyd Rutherford had a sloppy plan for Maryland that overestimated waste in state government. He also said they were misleading voters on whether they would enforce Maryland's tough new gun laws.
"We've heard so many different things," Ulman said, that it was hard to figure out where the Republicans stood on issues.
Rutherford shot back that the Democrats' reign in the State House has led to 40 taxes, many of them harmful to the poor, that have stymied economic growth. Rutherford said other topics raised by the Democrats were a diversion.
"These are all scare tactics, because they want to get away from the real issues," Rutherford said.
During the hourlong debate on Washington radio station WAMU, the pair also disagreed sharply on how to resolve income disparities in Maryland.
Ulman, the Howard County executive, argued that investing in education was crucial to helping the state in the future and pushed his campaign's plan to eventually offer half-day prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds.
"They say we can't afford it. We say we can't afford not to," Ulman said.
Rutherford, a Cabinet member in the administration of Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the next governor needs to focus on revamping the state's economic climate so businesses can grow.
"We don't have to be the lowest-tax state in the country or on the East Coast, but we have to be competitive," Rutherford said. "Once these companies reach a certain size, they move."
Both men agreed that the government should pursue putting cameras on police officers after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police in Ferguson, Mo.
Ulman told radio host Kojo Nnamdi that building the $2.4 billion Purple Line in the Washington suburbs is critical to attracting big employers to Maryland.
"The new economy is demanding mass transit," Ulman said.
Pressed by Nnamdi, Rutherford said he did not support the Purple Line. He said he would prioritize other road and transportation projects.
"No Purple Line, not at this particular time," he said. "I would not lose sleep if it was canceled completely, put it that way."
In a lighter moment, Rutherford invoked a phrase coined by Nationals baseball star Bryce Harper. Asked whether a Hogan-Rutherford administration would seek to undo the Affordable Care Act in Maryland, Rutherford brought up the Nationals' brash left-fielder and then quoted him, saying, "That's a clown question, bro."
Rutherford also stated plainly that any state incentives to keep the Washington Redskins' stadium in Maryland would not hinge on a promise to change the team's name.
Ulman sidestepped the question, saying only that he and his running mate think it is time for the team to change the controversial name.
A listener emailed the show to ask whether the Hogan-Rutherford campaign would release the questionnaire it filled out for the National Rifle Association. The organization awarded Hogan an A-, and some gun-control groups delivered a letter to Hogan campaign headquarters Tuesday asking for the questionnaire to be made public.
Rutherford said that he didn't know anything about the request, a response that after the debate Ulman said he was surprised to hear.
"To me, that's the easiest way to prove whether you've promised secret backroom deals" to gun-rights activists, Ulman said. A recent Washington Post article reported that several activists said Hogan promised to mitigate the impact of Maryland's new gun law by loosening the interpretation of some of its provisions. Hogan has said he has made not such promises and would enforce the law.
After the debate, Rutherford said he took issue with the Democrats "trying to dance around the backroom deals that were going on with the health exchange." Rutherford pledged that a Hogan administration would release all of the documents the current administration has withheld or heavily redacted about the business of the exchange.
The third and final televised debate between Hogan and Brown is to be taped Saturday afternoon and aired later that day on WBAL-TV and Maryland Public Television.