Questions about raising salaries of people who work with mentally disabled residents, early childhood education and gun control were among the topics during a gubernatorial forum Thursday night at Leisure World in Silver Spring.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur — both Democrats — attended the event.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown could not be there because his father, Roy H. Brown, died at age 89.
Gansler, Mizeur and Brown are competing for the gubernatorial nomination in the June 24 Demoratic primary.
During the forum, Mizeur said she was a “doer” and believed in “coming together regardless of [political] party.”
Gansler, a former Montgomery County state’s attorney, said his experience as a prosecutor makes him “different than his opponents.” He said being governor comes down to one thing: “protect the people.”
About 200 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the Democratic Club of Leisure World.
Candidates criticized the state’s online health insurance exchange, which opened Oct. 1 but has been widely criticized due to glitches in the system.
Brown, who played a large role in setting up Maryland’s health exchange, has been criticized for the failings of a website that residents use to sign up.
“If I were governor, we would never have had this problem to begin with,” Mizeur said.
Gansler called it a “disaster,” suggesting that residents get the option to buy health insurance through either the federal exchange or state exchange.
Gansler called that “an easy solution to what was a preventable problem.”
Residents asked both candidates if they would consider funding higher salaries for people who take direct care of disabled citizens.
“People who are working with the disabled should be honored, they should be prepared, they should be helped. So, they certainly should be making at least minimum wage,” Gansler said.
Mizeur said she has raised questions about the need to raise the wages of direct-care workers during this legislative session.
“Our direct-care workers get paid a little over $9 an hour, which is well above the $7.75 minimum wage, but below what they deserve,” Mizeur said.
Others in the audience asked about early childhood education and mandatory pre-kindergarten for young children.
Gansler said Maryland has good schools, but by the time children enter kindergarten, they are behind. His proposal is to provide early education for people under the poverty line.
“It should not matter where you are born, what do you look like — you have to get access to free education,” Gansler said.
Mizeur’s plan, which is optional for families, is to have a full day of school for every 4 year old. By the fourth year of implementation, it includes a half-day of school for 3 year olds in families who make $75,000 or less.
When residents asked about gun control, both candidates said they want to implement statewide “gun buyback” programs.
Gansler talked about what he has done as a prosecutor to reduce guns access in the state.
“I actually have done this. I put murderers, rapists [behind bars] — people who used guns to kill people. I’ve been with mothers who lost their own child, and I’ve seen the ravage of gun crime every day,” Gansler said.
Mizeur wants to raise the legal age for gun purchase to 21 instead of having different standards for handguns and rifles.
“We are going to address the fact that we don’t have universal background control checks in Maryland,” said Mizeur.
Paul Schwartz came from Brookeville to listen to what the candidates had to say and to ask what legislation the candidates have worked on that distinguishes them from their opponents.
“She [Mizeur] made it clear how she distinguished herself from other candidates. ... As far as Doug Gansler, he answered the best he could,” Schwartz said.
Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Dist. 19) of Aspen Hill, who was at the forum, said the audience asked “absolutely very thoughtful questions,” giving candidates a chance to show what they know.
“I thought the event was terrific, and the attendance was outstanding,” Cullison said.
Through a statement, Brown said his father was the reason he got into public service. Roy Brown was born into poverty in Jamaica and became the first in his family to graduate from college, he said.