Eight of the Democratic candidates for governor recently faced off at a televised debate on Maryland Public Television. Shown here (from top left to right), Ashwani Jain, Doug Gansler, John B. King, Jon Baron, (from bottom left to right) Peter Franchot, Rushern Baker, III, Tom Perez and Wes Moore. (Courtesy Photos)

By Tinashe Chingarande,
Special to the AFRO

In a televised debate on June 6, eight of 10 democratic candidates for Maryland’s gubernatorial race met to debate ahead of the primary election on July 19. 

The hour-long debate for the upcoming gubernatorial election was recorded by Maryland Public Television. No audience was present besides the MPT News Anchor Jeff Salkin, who hosted the debate, a handful of journalists, crew, and three panelists who asked the candidates questions.

The legendary Clarence “C4” Mitchell IV, former state senator of Maryland’s 44th legislative district and current host of “Mornings with C4 and Bryan Nehman,” asked what the men will do about gas prices and crime. WBAL’s veteran reporter Deborah Weiner asked the men about their integrity- which sparked a war of words.

Candidates were given a minute to answer each question- or not answer the questions posed.

The third question of the debate, asked by AFRO News Editor Alexis Taylor, was shied away from by most of the men looking to be the next governor of Maryland. Taylor spoke of school conditions prior to the arrival of COVID-19 and how the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated every issue already faced by students, teachers and administrators. 

“How will you navigate our schools through the pandemic as it continues and the numbers rise?” Taylor asked.

“I’ll be the education governor not just because I was a teacher and principal, or just because I was President Obama’s secretary of education,” said candidate John King. “…but because I wouldn’t be standing here but for the grace of public education.”

The former Obama official said that Maryland’s Blueprint for the Future —a 2021 legislation that increases state funding for education by $3.8 billion each year over the next 10 years— was “great,” but that “it should be the floor, not the ceiling.”

He further argued that there should be a focus on granting parents access to affordable childcare and further swelling funding for public schools by mandating that multimillionaires and large corporations “pay their fair share.” 

Candidate Wes Moore responded that there are two things that saved him –“one was a mother who wouldn’t quit and the other was an education that helped me understand that the world was bigger than what was directly in front of me.”

Moore, like King,  is also pro-Blueprint for the Future. He asserted that his administration would ensure the program would be “fully funded” and that he would invest in apprenticeships and trade programs and mental health resources for educators.

“Our obligation is to ensure that we provide the same pathways for all of our children,” he said. 

Candidate Rushern Baker, III, whose three children attended public school in Prince George’s County, was not in favor of the Blueprint program and highlighted that a governor’s main responsibilities are the budget and public education. 

“COVID has changed everything,” he said. 

Candidates Jon Baron and Tom Perez suggested that budget money be funneled into improving the quality of public school education.

Baron said that his top priority would be to provide high-quality tutoring to every 1st and 2nd grader and “recruit an army of people from the community including recent retirees and college graduates to provide that tutoring.”

Perez, on the other hand, answered philosophically.

“Budgets are moral documents,” he said. “They reflect the views of an individual and the values of a community.” 

Candidate Ashwani Jain followed an approach similar to Moore’s and highlighted a commitment to equity if he becomes governor.

He narrated his experience attending an overcrowded Title 1 elementary school in Wheaton, Maryland that had mold on the ceilings and great educators with few resources. And also when he was battling cancer in middle school, his ecosystem supported him. 

He vowed to diversify staff in schools, and focus on providing affordable housing and free and available public transit, among many items— which he said could be found in a comprehensive education platform listed on his campaign website. 

Candidate Peter Franchot, who also serves as the state’s 33rd comptroller, introduced his argument with, “It’s outrageous that 12,000 kids had to go home last week because of overheating.” 

It’s no secret that schools with no air conditioning in Baltimore City have struggled to keep the doors open at the beginning and end of each school year. On June 2 Baltimore City Public Schools announced that 18 schools without air conditioning would close or have an early dismissal. In addition, another 13 schools had to close because the air conditioning in their building was under repair.

Franchot acknowledged that poor air conditioning in schools is a problem. He and current Republican Gov. Larry Hogan have been working to combat this for years.

He emphasized that funding should expand from just developing infrastructure to “liberating teachers from standardized testing and huge classrooms” and “[liberating] students by motivating them with experiential learning curriculums.” 

In response to his answer, a YouTube user commented, “The candidates were asked about Baltimore schools having to shut down for lack of air conditioning.  None of the candidates answered that question except for Franchot who said he is sticking with Hogan’s plan. But that hasn’t gotten it done in 12 years. It does not take over a decade to repair or install air conditioners.”

Candidate Douglas Gansler spoke on safety in schools and suggested that his administration would “identify gangs” and install school resource officers. Jain, conversely, proposed that school resource officers be replaced with mental health professionals.

Gansler, 12 years ago started the Charm City Youth Lacrosse league to help Baltimore City students “achieve success outside of the classroom.” He also echoed propositions to provide universal childcare and added that he would provide broadband access in Baltimore City and in rural areas. 

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Ralph W. Jaffe and Jerome M. Segal were not in attendance.

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here!