Six gubernatorial hopefuls met on the same stage Monday to convince a packed house of Montgomery County movers and shakers to back their campaign aspirations.
Answering questions specific to Montgomery County, the candidates took turns laying out policy ideas, giving nearly 800 business and political leaders at the Committee for Montgomery’s legislative breakfast a taste of what each would bring to Annapolis.
Despite being the state’s largest jurisdiction and often called its economic engine, no Montgomery County resident has ever been elected governor, potentially making 2014 an historic year for the county.
Two of the three Democratic candidates — Del. Heather Mizeur and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler — call Montgomery home.
The three Democrats presented similar, but nuanced, ideas for higher wages, early childhood education, and economic development on Monday. The event was held at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.
Noting the race’s potential historic significance for the county, Gansler appealed to the audience as one of them and as a candidate of change. He advocated for lower corporate taxes, action on transportation projects and a more business-friendly Maryland.
“If you like the status quo, if you think it is what we need to have in the future, then you shouldn’t vote for me,” he said.
Mizeur, the self-appointed “adult” in the race, said she is deliberately starting difficult conversations through her campaign, taking on issues like decriminalizing and taxing marijuana to fund education and creating a living wage.
“We need a candidate willing to have bold conversations,” she said.
“Promises made need to be promises kept” she said, encouraging the audience to keep her accountable.
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, the third Democrat in the race, promised to build on the progress of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) administration.
Touting accomplishments in job growth and education, Brown said “more needs to be done.” He detailed plans to grow career and technology education programs and improve infrastructure, so businesses will want to locate in regions like Montgomery County.
In the last few weeks, Brown has come under fire for the problems implementing the new federal health care law in Maryland. He said he is taking responsibility and working to make sure Maryland gets it right.
Among the Republican field, candidates at the breakfast catered to Montgomery’s strong support of education while calling for fiscal reform in Annapolis.
Pledging to fight any bad policy as an enemy, former political action committee head Charles Lollar called for controlling state spending and a taxpayers’ bill of rights. Maryland, he said, needs to stop the exodus of jobs to other states.
He said Montgomery residents have the right to demand that more of what they send to Annapolis in taxes comes back to the county. Of every tax dollar collected from Montgomery County, Maryland returns about 20 cents, county officials have said.
Del. Ronald A. George said the county can get more of its tax dollars back if the state grows the tax base in Baltimore City, where most of the money goes. The additional tax money coming back would boost Montgomery’s economy, said George, a businessman from Arnold who represents District 30.
Harford County Executive David R. Craig advocated an open-door policy for the entire state to be heard on issues.
Montgomery should remain an economic engine of the state, Craig said. He noted that people often move to Maryland and areas like Montgomery for its schools. Investing in school construction and maintaining education funding also will help strengthen the county, he said.