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Incumbent Republican Larry Hogan and Sanders-backed Democrat Ben Jealous square off in the only debate in the race for Maryland Governor

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JAISAL NOOR: Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan and his Democratic challenger Ben Jealous, former head of the NAACP, squared off for their only scheduled debate on Monday, September 24. The race can be interpreted as a referendum on the status quo in Maryland on issues like school, health care, the economy, and jobs. Jealous needed a big performance at the debate after a poll last week showed him down by 22 points in the heavily Democratic state, where he’s faced a multimillion-dollar barrage of attack ads. The same polls did show voters do embrace elements of his platform like a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, and increased criminal justice reform. The first question at the debate touched on stagnant wages under Hogan’s tenure.

MODERATOR: Although the economy has rebounded, wage growth remains stagnant in Maryland. Many people across the state have not seen their paychecks grow. What specific policies would you enact to grow the private sector and to raise wages?

LARRY HOGAN: Well, first of all, wages are up in Maryland all across the board, up 9 percent. So you’re not right on the facts there. But look, I have- my entire focus of my governorship has been to grow the economy, to put more people to work, and to turn our economy around. Wages have grown at every level. More people are working. My first year as governor, more, more people- we got more people hired than any other time in the past 15 years.

BEN JEALOUS: Actually, I think that Ms. Wiggins is right on her facts, governor.

LARRY HOGAN: No, I don’t think so.

BEN JEALOUS: We have the lowest job growth, the lowest income growth in the region.

LARRY HOGAN: That’s not true.

BEN JEALOUS: If we had the job growth of Virginia, sir, if we had the job growth of Virginia, we’d have 40,000 more jobs right now. Here’s the punchline, sir. Virginia’s job growth is lower than the national average. Studies have shown there’s 49 states with a positive outlook on the economy for this, in this country in the next year. We’re not one of them.

JAISAL NOOR: A recent report found that one in three Maryland residents are struggling to make ends meet. One of the most contentious back and forths, which dealt with criminal justice reform, Hogan accused Jealous of wanting to release violent prisoners, and Jealous accused Hogan of race baiting.

LARRY HOGAN: He now wants to take another 30 percent of the violent criminals- these are murderers, and rapists, and repeat violent offenders- and put them back onto the streets. It just is. Absolutely. Some of your proposals are reckless, but this one is downright dangerous, and it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. And if we were to let, fire thousands of public safety officers and put thousands of violent criminals on the streets, that’s going to help you lower the crime situation? I just don’t think that makes sense.

BEN JEALOUS: Governor, from Willie Horton to Donald Trump, your party plays by the same playbook. We’ve seen all the hateful ads that you’ve been running now for months. You try to scare people, sir, because you don’t have a plan. And when you don’t have a plan-

LARRY HOGAN: Wait, wait, wait. I just said our plan was recognized as the best in America. We’ve already accomplished it.

BEN JEALOUS: That was the Democrats’ plan that was passed that you had to sign because there was a supermajority.

BEN JEALOUS: No, that’s not true. We actually introduced it and worked very hard to get everybody on board.

BEN JEALOUS: As has happened so many times.

JAISAL NOOR: Referencing ads used by George H.W. Bush against a challenger.

VIDEO: [Dukakis] not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison. One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times. Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend.

JAISAL NOOR: Hogan was also asked about woeful mass transit in Baltimore, and canceling the Red Line.

MODERATOR: Please describe what your vision is of the importance of mass transit. And Governor Hogan, specifically can you please explain your decision to cancel the Red Line project?

LARRY HOGAN: Sure. I have invested more in transit than any other governor in the history of the state. We just put up a proposal that we finally got Virginia and D.C. on board to save Metro. We’re moving forward on the $5.6 billion dollar Purple Line project. And my plan is balanced. We have $15 billion in transportation improvements. We put $3 billion into Baltimore City.

LARRY HOGAN: If you take Larry Hogan’s approach to transit, you turn it on its head, you get pretty close to mine. He wants us to have big, fancy, privatized lanes for rich people that you could pay $45 at peak times to try to get on there, like they do down in Virginia. What he doesn’t want to do is invest more in MARC, invest more in Metro, make it run more often, and longer, and extend the lines out. And for the Baltimore region, he killed the Red Line. We had $900 million, work for 10 years the people of this city, people in the region, to get that going, and you took it away.

JAISAL NOOR: Disparity in educational outcomes was a key theme throughout the debate, although neither candidate addressed the greater predictor of test scores: parental income and poverty.

BEN JEALOUS: And thank you for that question. Over the last four years our schools have fallen in the national rankings. Every year Governor Hogan’s been in office. They’ve fallen from first to sixth. And what has he done? He’s toured the state with Betsy DeVos, sent millions of dollars to private schools in the form of vouchers, while cutting funds for our schools. Almost $100 million. And now we’re seeing the fruit of that. The majority of children in our state are not proficient in reading or writing or math. The best way to close that achievement gap is to make sure that there’s a high quality teacher in every classroom. And that’s why I’ve proposed for us to increase teacher pay 29 percent over seven years, so we can recruit and retain the best teachers in the country.

LARRY HOGAN: Well, I believe very strongly that every single child in our state deserves access to a world-class education, regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in. And that’s what we’ve been focused on for four years; why we put $25 billion into K through 12 education. No governor in the history of the state has ever invested more. We went over and above the legislatively mandated formulas and put more money in spite of declining school populations, because we think we need to reinvest in our kids. I’ve also proposed the lockbox to make sure that all the casino revenues go directly, $4.4 billion more, goes into the schools.

BEN JEALOUS: If we have record funding, why don’t we have record results? If we have record funding, school construction, why were the kids freezing last winter? Why were they broiling this this fall?

JAISAL NOOR: Jealous made an inaccurate claim that Maryland schools have dropped from first to sixth over Hogan’s tenure. As the Baltimore Sun reports, it would be more accurate to say schools have dropped from third to sixth. Hogan correctly said he’s provided record funding to schools, but state studies have found schools are underfunded by $3 billion dollars a year. Hogan yet again tried taking credit for a proposal put forth by Democrats to ensure casino revenues goes to schools. Jealous also tried to link Hogan to controversial education secretary Betsy DeVos and her policies, which have devastated Michigan schools.

BEN JEALOUS: Sir, let us be really, really clear, here. Our kids suffer when our leaders don’t lead. You keep sending money to private schools in the form of vouchers, and touring around with Betsy DeVos. And you don’t put a plan on the table. She asked you for a specific plan. Please tell us what your plan is.

LARRY HOGAN: Okay, great. Well, thanks. There’s a number of things I’d like to address in that. Let’s talk about Betsy DeVos first. Betsy DeVos is the secretary of education. She came out to a school in Montgomery County to read books to kids. I sat there in a first grade class and read books to kids. I’ve been with the last three education secretaries, two of them under President Obama, one under President Trump. We weren’t going to just tell her she can’t come into our state to read with kids.

JAISAL NOOR: In 2015, Hogan did attempt to bring DeVos-style reforms to Maryland. Another question dealt with stagnant economic growth in the Eastern Shore. Jealous argued his platform, like passing a $15 minimum wage, will bring the necessary change.

MODERATOR: Are preparing ourselves for another downturn in these areas? And how are we working to lift these counties, specifically Somerset County, out of poverty? Mr. Hogan first.

LARRY HOGAN: Thank you, Ryan. As I said earlier, we’ve turned our economy around. And unemployment is down statewide, down to 4.2 percent. But I’ve said we’re not going to rest until every single county has gotten to that point. We are down in Somerset County, it’s down from 10 to 7, 10.9 down to 7. Every single one of our 24 jurisdictions has more jobs, less unemployment. And our labor participation rate is the best in the region, and one of the best in the country.

BEN JEALOUS: On the Eastern Shore, we need to make sure that every kid who wants to go to a community college can go for free, and every worker who wants to retrain can retrain. The Governor’s worked with Democrats for some. We need to do it for everybody. We have to make sure that workers are also paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work. We’ve got to raise the minimum wage.

JAISAL NOOR: It remains to be seen if Jealous will be able to overcome Hogan’s double-digit lead in the polls and his massive fundraising advantage, along with the reported lack of support from some elements within the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, Jealous has challenged Hogan to further debates. Third party Green and Libertarian candidates who were polling at 1 percent in the latest polls were excluded from this debate.

Stay tuned to for ongoing coverage of the 2018 race for Maryland governor. For The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor.

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Jaisal Noor

Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.