Democratic candidates for governor take aim at Hogan, Trump

A Democratic gubernatorial forum hosted Saturday by the progressive United for Maryland political action committee provided a platform for any candidate willing to take aim at the state's popular Republican incumbent governor, Larry Hogan, and the nation's unpopular Republican president, Donald Trump. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

From the start, it was clear that a Democratic gubernatorial forum Saturday was going to provide a ready platform for any candidate willing to take aim at incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and President Donald Trump.

Betsy Halsey, president of the progressive United for Maryland political action committee, which sponsored the forum, opened the session by saying the group's members want a governor who will "fight to protect" Maryland's liberal priorities from the Trump administration, "and we know that that is not Larry Hogan." The group is a coalition of organizations that rose up to oppose Trump's agenda after his election last year.


For their part, the candidates on the Montgomery College auditorium stage in Germantown — six of nine Democrats who have announced they are running in the June 26 primary — were happy to oblige.

"Donald Trump is out of control, and Larry Hogan is letting him get away with it," Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said in his opening remarks.


Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III spoke of a "quiet anxiety" felt by many Marylanders in recent months on the direction the nation is headed and asked whether Hogan "punted on those issues or confronted them?"

Author, entrepreneur and former Hillary Clinton adviser Alec Ross said that under his leadership, the message to anyone entering the state would be that they are "entering the resistance" to Trump and his policies.

Hogan has high job approval, but a recent nonpartisan poll from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategies found him failing to get 50 percent of the vote in any hypothetical matchup against Democratic challengers. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland by a margin of more than 2-to-1, so Hogan needs a fair number of voters to cross party lines to be re-elected. Trump is far less popular in the state.

To some pollsters and analysts, that backdrop makes for an interesting and potentially competitive gubernatorial race.

Aiming their pitches Saturday to voters in the general election, the Democratic candidates generally agreed on two points: that Maryland is more progressive than Hogan is allowing it to be, and support for the state's progressive values is more important now than ever because Trump is challenging them at a very basic level.

They seemed less sure of how to distinguish themselves from one another. They often followed an opposing candidate's answer to a question by acknowledging that they largely agreed.

In addition to Kamenetz, 59, Baker, 58, and Ross, 45, there were also on stage former head of the NAACP Ben Jealous, 44, Montgomery County State Sen. Rich Madaleno, 52, and Krishanti Vignarajah, 37, who served as policy director to former first lady Michelle Obama. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, a consulting firm owner and wife of Rep. Elijah Cummings, and former Venable law firm managing partner Jim Shea did not attend.

They supported larger investment in public transit, criticizing Hogan for canceling the proposed Red Line light rail in Baltimore and proposing billions of dollars in spending on new or expanded highway projects that would rely on toll lanes. Several candidates referred to those plans as creating "Lexus lanes" for the rich.

The candidates supported public education investment over spending public money on vouchers for private schools. They supported LGBT rights and immigrants' rights and stronger environmental protections and alternative energy solutions.

Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement Saturday in response to questions about the forum that "the Hogan administration's record speaks for itself."

"Since taking office, Governor Hogan has helped transform Maryland's economy, adding over 127,000 jobs, made record investments in education, invested nearly $15 billion in transportation infrastructure to reduce congestion and expand transit, and taken extraordinary steps to restore the Chesapeake Bay and uphold some of the most stringent air quality standards in the country," Mayer said. "Convincing Marylanders that they should abandon this incredible progress won't be an easy task. Good luck."

The candidates at the forum had a different take.


Baker, a two-term county executive and former three-term state delegate who has strong name recognition in the Washington suburbs, suggested Hogan has a record of proposing and supporting little in the way of new legislation, and that "everything he does is based on politics."

Other candidates criticized Hogan for not challenging Trump administration attacks on Obamacare, for supplanting instead of supplementing existing education funding with casino and lottery revenues, for not backing renewable energy projects like wind turbines and for not backing paid sick leave for workers.

Vignarajah said Hogan has been unwilling to stand up to the Trump administration on multiple fronts, instead deciding to "fake left and move right." Jealous said Hogan was pushing the "war on drugs" instead of criminal justice reform.

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