Gov. Larry Hogan received an endorsement from the mayor of Ocean City, Richard W. Meehan. (Luke Broadwater / Baltimore Sun video)
OCEAN CITY — It was billed as a back-to-back candidates forum, but in the end, Gov. Larry Hogan had the stage to himself.
With Democratic candidate for governor Ben Jealous unable to attend the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference in Ocean City, Hogan closed out the four-day event Saturday with an unanswered speech on pocketbook issues.
“Every decision that I have made as governor has been with a primary goal in mind and that is to make our state more affordable for all Marylanders,” Hogan told the crowd, some of whom attended a large campaign party the Republican governor held the night before.
The governor said he had pushed to “cut taxes, tolls and fees four years in a row by $1.2 billion” — a figure that includes tax cuts to military pensions, reductions to tolls on state highways and expanding tax refunds for the working poor, among other actions.
He pledged to continue working on lowering costs for residents, citing the state’s involvement in federal tax-break Opportunity Zones for businesses, the signing of the “Maryland Model” health care agreement intended to keep down expenses, and a plan to target college affordability by making student loan debt 100 percent tax deductible and offering free community and four-year college tuition for qualifying students.
“Together we are making Maryland more affordable,” Hogan said. “We put all that money back into the pockets of hard-working Marylanders, retirees and small businesses and back into our growing economy.”
Jealous’ absence at the conference — an annual gathering for elected officials and government workers — was the buzz of political insiders, but the Democrat’s campaign emphasized that he had other commitments elsewhere meeting with Marylanders around the state.
On Thursday in Baltimore, Jealous offered a plan to fight lead poisoning, arguing that Hogan hasn’t done enough to alleviate a problem that has afflicted Baltimore and other parts of Maryland for generations.
On Saturday, Jealous toured Baltimore’s Lexington Market businesses, discussing his platform to raise wages in Maryland through a $15-an-hour minimum wage, boosting capital for minority- and women-owned businesses, expanding rural broadband and enacting a "Ban the Box" statewide policy to help the formerly incarcerated become employed.
The former NAACP president also spoke at a rally Saturday in Frederick with Democrats from Western Maryland attended by several hundred people, before returning to Baltimore for an event with the BEST Democratic Club.
Asked about his decision to skip MACo, Jealous told reporters this week that his campaign plans required “some tough choices.” He said he will be going all over the state while the governor is in Ocean City.
“We’re meeting with the city and counties and will continue to stay focused on our strategy to beat Hogan,” he said.
Saying Gov. Larry Hogan hasn’t done enough to alleviate the problem, Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee for governor, offered a plan Thursday to deal with lead poisoning in Maryland, including spending $5 million or more inspectors and offering a tax credit for abatement.
On Thursday, Hogan called Jealous’ decision not to attend the back-to-back candidates forum a “really strange thing.”
“I don’t think any nominee of either party has ever skipped this convention. I’ve been coming here for 40 years,” Hogan said as he shook hands at the Ocean City Convention Center, just after pledging $20 million in state funds for an expansion of the facility. “He doesn’t know much about Maryland. He needs to meet these folks. If he has any interest in running the state, he needs to learn more about it, about the counties.”
The MACo convention brings together elected officials from Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City, as well as many high-ranking appointees such as department heads. While officially nonpartisan, the event typically draws candidates from around the state, and many use the event as an opportunity to raise money at locations away from the convention center.
While in Ocean City, Hogan picked up endorsements from three Eastern Shore firefighter unions and from Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. On Friday night, the governor’s re-election campaign held a large party that attracted more than 500 people at Seacrets, a bar and nightclub.
With drinks flowing and shrimp appetizers, some in the crowd chanted: “Four more years! Four more years!”
“I don’t want to say anything about this fella who’s running on the other side, but he’s so far left he makes [former Gov.] Martin O’Malley look like a conservative Republican,” Hogan said. “He doesn’t just want to raise 43 taxes. He wants to double the size of the state budget and raise taxes by 100 percent. Anybody like that?”
The Republican Governors Association is pounding Ben Jealous with attack ads — and has no plans to stop. if Jealous is hoping the Democratic Governors Association will return fire, he might be waiting a while.
State Sens. Will Smith of Montgomery County and Paul Pinsky of Prince George’s County joined Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, in criticizing Hogan for not funding public education at higher levels. They said they want him to commit to funding yet-to-be released recommendations of the Kirwan Commission that are expected to call for billions more for public schools.
“We deal with reality, not soundbites as the governor has given us,” Bost said. “He prioritizes vouchers just like [Trump administration Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos. We are looking for a governor who really takes public education seriously. Ben Jealous has committed to funding the Kirwan recommendations.”
Kevin Harris, a senior advisor to Jealous, said Hogan is misrepresenting his challenger’s plans to cover up for his own shortcomings.
“Larry Hogan promised to significantly cut taxes and he’s failed, while healthcare costs have surged and worker wages are flat,” Harris said. “I guess it’s easier to lie about your opponent than explain to voters why after four years in office he’s suddenly interested in making Maryland more affordable for working families.”