Gubernatorial candidates make their cases to Young Democrats

Maryland's Democratic candidates for governor made their cases to the party's youths Saturday, but for some, like Baltimore high school student Eric Brown, the race is still a tossup.

Brown criticized all three candidates. Of Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the Reginald F. Lewis High School senior said he liked hearing straightforward albeit long answers to questions. Del. Heather Mizeur? "She's an idealist," Brown said. And Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, he said, "had a hard time telling us what he's done."

The three candidates appeared at the Young Democrats' annual convention in Annapolis, answering questions from the young audience that focused largely on issues including higher education, jobs growth and marijuana policy. In a straw poll, Brown edged out Mizeur, with Gansler a distant third.

Each made the pilgrimage as their campaigns prepare for the June 24 primary that will decide which of them will be the favorite in the general election, in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin among voters.

Given a large number of students in the audience, each of the candidates weighed in on college affordability.

Mizeur suggested that the state step in where the federal government has backed off in support of financial aid, and possibly consider a "pay it forward" model adopted in Oregon in which students agree to pay a portion of their future salaries rather than paying tuition up front.

Asked about a Baltimore Sun editorial board proposal to cap tuition increases at 5 percent, instead of the 3 percent that Brown's campaign has pledged, and use the extra money for scholarships for needy students, Brown said his campaign was open to the idea.

"We have pivoted more and more to the need-based scholarships than ever before, but we need to continue to pivot there," Brown said.

Alicia Joynes, a Baltimore candidate for the Democratic State Central Committee and a 2008 Morgan State University graduate, asked Brown and running mate Ken Ulman, the Howard County executive, what their stance was on unfair program duplication affecting historically black colleges. The parties in a lawsuit on that issue are currently in court-ordered mediation.

"I don't think that policy is best made through the courts, so I'd like to see that removed from under the supervision of the court," Brown said. "We need to incentivize within our university system collaborations so that Towson and Morgan can collaborate on delivering a business school or whatever the program may be. ... What we don't do is look to the courts to settle matters. If this thing is not mediated by the time Ken and I take office, we're going to do everything we can to take it outside of mediation."

Gansler backed a "need-blind" admission process used at universities like Harvard and Yale in which students are accepted on their merits, and then financial aid packages are used to make it possible for all to afford tuition.

When one attendee challenged him for being conservative on business issues, Gansler also defended a proposal from his campaign to lower the state's corporate tax rate while collecting more from large corporations by enacting a tax policy known as combined reporting, saying it would support job growth in the state.

Much of Mizeur's education focus was on a push for universal pre-kindergarten, while she received the loudest crowd support for her calls to legalize marijuana. Attendee Dominique Hazzard called Mizeur "a breath of fresh air."

Ian Bonanno, a senior at Northern High School in Calvert County, said he thought it was clear Mizeur and Brown brought out supporters in large numbers, whereas a smaller and quieter crowd was present for Gansler's portion — circumstances perhaps reflected in the straw poll results.

"I think Heather was able to make the biggest impact," said Bonanno, who plans to volunteer for her campaign but is undecided on how he will cast his vote in June.

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