Democrats clash over education funding and ethics in first televised debate

Eight Democratic gubernatorial candidates – former Prince George County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, former Clinton administration official Jon Baron, Comptroller Peter VR Franchot, former Attorney General Douglas Gansler, l former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain, former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore, and former Maryland Secretary of Labor and of the United States, Tom Perez, shared the stage during a debate organized by Maryland Public Television on Monday. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Several of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates have used the campaign’s first televised debate to introduce fresh attacks on various rivals, clashing over support for Maryland’s ambitious new education funding plan and the personal ethics.

The attacks created several tense moments during the hour-long debate on Maryland’s public television. Although soft by Capitol Hill or cable news standards, the accusations marked the sharpest exchanges of the months-long campaign. Beards flew as voters prepare to receive mail-in ballots ahead of the July 19 primary, with early voting due to begin July 7.

Author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore has launched a campaign against VR controller Peter Franchot (D), accusing the state’s chief tax collector of ‘paying to play’ – of use his position to mobilize donations. Moments later, Moore’s campaign emailed reporters a list of cases in which companies that received contracts from the Public Works Board, of which Franchot is a part, donated to his campaign shortly before. or after key votes.

“The people who will often get support from Peter Franchot are the people who pay him,” Moore charged. “Twelve times it happened, that he offered a contract to someone who donated to his campaign. So when we talk about integrity, payment for play is not part of that integrity commitment. »

Documents distributed by Camp Moore list more than $60,000 in donations from companies that have received more than $2 billion in government contracts.

The Maryland Comptroller sits alongside the Governor and State Treasurer on the Contract Approval Board. The contracts come from state agencies, universities, hospitals and other institutions and Moore did not claim that Franchot directed state business to cronies.

Given the chance to respond, Franchot ignored Moore’s attack. Instead, he presented himself as a socially compassionate fiscal moderate. “But I tell people, I’m not a robot,” he said, a bit incongruously. “I’m not going to do exactly what the powerful in Annapolis want me to do.”

Pressed by reporters after the debate, Franchot said he was “proud” of the contributions his campaign received.

Moore also found himself under attack when former U.S. Secretary of Labor and DNC Chairman Tom Perez suggested that Moore’s work as an investment banker undermined his claim to be a “public servant.” ” ethics.

“From 2007 to 2012, I was fighting predatory lenders,” Perez said. “During that same period, Wes was working at Citibank. Citibank was one of many banks that were very bad actors in the foreclosure crisis. I’ve hired big banks and personally I don’t know what working at Citibank is a public utility.

Moore responded by complaining that “zero” Wall Street executives went to jail for their role in the collapse of the economy. “It’s not getting things done,” Moore chided. Perez noted that he worked in the civil rights division, not the fraud unit.

Moore also accuses Perez of actively seeking support from black voters despite facing a vote of no confidence from the Congressional Black Caucus. “So the truth is, Tom, when you’re talking about what it means to hold people accountable and what it means to fight for the little guy, the little guy is the one who was actually oppressed by you,” Moore said.

Perez hit back, saying one of his “strongest supporters” is “my good friend Keith Ellison,” a former member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “When I became chairman of the DNC, we didn’t have the White House. We didn’t have the Senate and we didn’t have the House,” Perez offered. “Now we have the White House, the Senate and the House.”

Former US Education Secretary John King accused Moore of serving on the board of a “predatory, for-profit college that took advantage of students”.

Moore said that as a member of the board of trustees of American Public Education, which included American Military University, he was unaware of an investigation by the state of Massachusetts for practices predatory loans. The investigation began in 2017 and he left the board at the end of that year.

“The reason and the goal I had there was to make sure our veterans had access to education,” Moore said.

The school then reached a settlement to pay a $270,000 fine to the state in August 2018.

King said the system he helped the Obama administration put in place to write off debt for students who attended colleges with predatory lending practices is working again under the Biden administration.

Franchot has been accused of rewriting history regarding the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a landmark education funding initiative approved by the General Assembly in 2021. During legislative debates, Franchot spoke out against the proposal, particularly its multi-billion dollar prize, which flowed from recommendations made by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, chaired by former Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, William “Brit” Kirwan.

“I support the Kirwan plan. I will implement it, ”he said, without mentioning his previous opposition to it. “We’re going to do things like put the money where the kids and the teachers can actually benefit from it.” He told reporters after the debate that his initial comments reflected concerns about the cost of the Master Plan, concerns he still has.

Perez berated Franchot for his apparent turnaround. “Budgets are moral documents,” he said. “They reflect the opinions of an individual and the values ​​of a community.”

Candidates make their case to voters

With the primary just seven weeks away and polls showing large numbers of likely voters in both parties remaining undecided, candidates have also used the debate to appeal directly to the electorate.

Although they debated many times across Maryland, the MPT forum provided an unusual opportunity for voters to see the candidates without leaving their homes.

Former state attorney and attorney general Doug Gansler has sought to distinguish himself as “the only pro-business, pro-law enforcement candidate” in the field.

“This election is about crime and criminal justice,” he said. He claimed to be the only candidate with relevant experience, and he reiterated his promise to hire 1,000 new police officers and restore security personnel to every school in Maryland.

Perez highlighted his experience in local government, as labor secretary and in the Obama cabinet, and he touted his endorsement of the Washington Post.

Franchot said he would have “zero tolerance for repeat violent offenders” and would work to keep them “off the streets”. He called for a re-institution of “community policing”. He also pledged to open community health clinics a short walk or drive away for every Marylander.

Moore, a bestselling author whose parents died when he was young, highlighted his military background, his work in the private sector and his efforts to fight poverty through a national nonprofit organization .

King, who focused on progressive political positions throughout the debate, said he would be the state of Maryland’s “education governor” and had a proven track record of expansion of educational opportunities.

He was answering a question about how to deal with learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the show ended abruptly due to lack of time. On air, King said he would mobilize a statewide tutoring corps to help children catch up. After the cameras stopped rolling, he also said he would dramatically expand access to mental health counseling for young people. That, King said, would require a bigger injection of state funding, which he would get through corporate tax reform.

“We need a governor who is willing to invest more resources in our most needy schools,” King said. “…Other candidates have been afraid to talk about revenue…I think we can get there by asking big corporations and multi-millionaires to pay their fair share.”

Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said his administration would be marked by a commitment to “speak truth to power.” He lamented that more than 2,000 “mostly young black men from the city of Baltimore” have been “slaughtered” in the past eight years. “Let’s be honest. Nobody’s saying anything. Nobody gives a fuck ’cause they’re black. He played his experience at Prince George’s where crime dropped during his tenure.

Entrepreneur Jon Baron said Maryland needs to reevaluate the practice of funding programs without worrying about whether they work. He said the state needs to be more systematic about investing taxpayers’ money in programs that have been proven to work.

Former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain took aim at “extreme sentencing” for children and the use of prisons for profit. He advocated for improved rehabilitation services, free public transit, and improved workforce development.

In the crowded Democratic field, perennial candidate Ralph Jaffe and former college professor and socialist Bread and Roses party founder Jerome Segal were left out of the limelight.

Segal said in a press release that the exclusion was due to him failing to meet a 3% voting threshold, which he protested.

According to a Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll — the first independent poll of the campaign season — released Sunday, Jain garnered support from 2% of those polled and Baron, Jaffe and Segal garnered support from 1%.

Segal has announced plans to take legal action against Maryland Public Television, starting with an injunction against any further bans from his campaign, and likely challenging their broadcast license renewal.

The debate was moderated by Maryland public television anchor Jeff Salkin. Three reporters posed questions to the candidates, WBAL-TV news anchor Deborah Weiner, AFRO-American Newspapers editor Alexis Taylor and radio host Clarence Mitchell IV.

The debate will air today from 7-8 p.m. on MPT-HD, WBAL-TV and WBAL-AM. It will also be available to watch at and on MPT’s YouTube channel.

Danielle E. Gaines and Nene Narh-Mensah contributed to this report.

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