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Democratic candidates for Maryland governor get brash in debate, including a call to impeach Trump

Several of the Democratic candidates for Maryland governor staked out brash positions during a televised debate Wednesday — supporting such actions as impeaching President Donald J. Trump, disbanding the Baltimore Police Department and ordering state troopers to confront federal immigration agents.

Those calls came during a nine-candidate debate on WMAR to be aired on Channel 2 at 8 p.m. next Wednesday, the evening before early voting begins on June 14. The winner of the June 26 Democratic primary will go on to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in November.

The Democrats largely agree on most major policy questions. In their fourth debate, they continued to stress their differences.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III called for the president’s impeachment to set himself apart by staking out a more aggressive opposition to Trump than his progressive rivals. Governors play no role in the impeachment of a president. No other major candidate backed Baker’s call.

“This president has to go,” Baker said.

Valerie Ervin said corruption in the Baltimore Police Department “is so deep and far-reaching” that city residents no longer trust police officers.”

“We should scrub the whole police department and have police officers be rehired based on certain criteria,” said the former Montgomery County councilwoman, who was the running mate of former Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz before his sudden death last month. Her proposal echoes legislation submitted by a Baltimore delegate this year that received virtually no support.

Author and entrepreneur Alec Ross revived a promise he made shortly after he launched his campaign last year to direct Maryland State Police troopers to intervene to “protect the rights of our citizens and guests” against agents from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

After the debate, Ross said he would expect troopers to stand up to ICE agents if they violated Maryland residents’ rights.

“If ICE officers break the law in Maryland, the ICE officers should be arrested,” he said. “That is how far I’m willing to go.”

Such an action would raise constitutional questions regarding federal-state relations. Some of Ross’ opponents suggested it would be reckless.

Krish Vignarajah, an attorney and former aide to first lady Michelle Obama, said Ross demonstrated a “lack of understanding of the law.”

The suggestions came near the end of a 90-minute debate in which the candidates were restrained by rules that allowed just 30 seconds to answer questions. State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. described the format as “political speed dating.”

Unlike many of the forums held this year, the WMAR debate included two candidates with little money or name recognition: James Hugh Jones and Ralph Jaffe.

Jaffe, a perennial candidate, played a pivotal role in the debate when the question of immigration arose.

“The real answer is we need to impeach the president,” Jaffe said.

Baker claimed he had beaten Jaffe to the punch by calling for Trump’s impeachment last year. His campaign later corrected the record, noting that he had called on Trump to resign, not be impeached, after last year’s white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Va.

After the debate, Baker stood by his call for impeachment.

It’s up to Congress to impeach a president. While opposition to Trump runs high among Democrats, the party’s congressional leaders have been wary of getting ahead of the electorate on the question of impeachment. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, for instance, has tried to tamp down talk of impeachment by more militant members of her caucus, fearful it would energize Republican voters as Democrats attempt to win control of Congress.

But Baker said he would be happy to take his impeachment call into a contest against Hogan.

“I think that issue would actually galvanize the [Democratic] party,” he said.

Two of Baker’s rivals, former NAACP President Ben Jealous and Ervin, said they had been arrested while demonstrating at the Trump White House in favor of immigrants’ rights.

Madaleno, a Montgomery County lawmaker, said his goal is to go into the White House as governor and tell Trump “this has to stop.”

Madaleno expressed doubt that impeachment would be an effective issue in a race against Hogan.

“To me that’s an issue for our representatives in Congress and those running for Congress,” he said.

The debate concluded with Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea criticizing Jealous’ plan for a single-payer health care system for Maryland. Shea said the costs would be too steep for one state to bear alone. He cited the failure to launch such a system in Vermont.

Time ran out before Jealous could respond, but afterward the civil rights leader insisted Maryland is large enough to go it alone. He noted that Canada’s national health insurance system began in one province, Saskatchewan, with a population roughly one-fifth of Maryland’s.

mdresser@baltsun.com

twitter.com/michaeltdresser

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