In the first primary debate between three Democratic candidates for governor of Maryland, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown took responsibility for the botched health care exchange rollout and Attorney General Doug Gansler took responsibility for not looking in to whether teenagers were drinking at a Beach Week party he dropped by to speak to his son. State Del. Heather Mizeur stayed out of the fray, standing in the middle of the two men and focusing on her own plans.
The debate on NBC4 began with the state's online health exchange, which crashed as soon as it launched last year. Gansler said Brown is responsible for "an unmitigated disaster," and he said there has been a "cover-up" in getting all the facts about what went wrong. He said $200 million was flushed "down the toilet."
Brown said everyone involved with the state's health exchange bears some responsibility for its problems, including himself. He said he took action to reorganize exchange leadership and many have enrolled despite the problems. He apologized to those inconvenienced by issues with the exchange.
Del. Heather Mizeur said she wasn't pointing fingers. She focused on efforts she has made to improve health care as a member of the House of Delegates.
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On the legalization of marijuana, Mizeur called the state's marijuana prohibition laws a failure enforced with racial bias and said she supports legalization and has a plan to make sure young people don't have access as is done with alcohol. While Brown doesn't support legalization, he is in favor of decriminalization. Gansler also opposes legalization.
On their fitness for office, Mizeur pointed to her legislative accomplishments, including decriminalization of marijuana. Brown cited his military and public service. And Gansler touted his record as a prosecutor and said his character stands for itself.
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"We parent on the fly," Gansler said when asked about the Beach Week party at which the attorney general was photographed among teenagers with red cups. He admitted he could have handled the situation differently. Brown said he would have stopped the party.
The three candidates agreed the name of the region's professional football team is offensive, Brown said he finds "Redskins" offensive. Gansler, while a lifelong Redskins fan, called it a slur. Mizeur opposed the name, then changed the subject to making the minimum wage a living wage.
The candidates were asked if they would do something to increase school funding in Montgomery County, which educates more than 17 percent of the state's students but received only 11 percent of the school construction funds.
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Mizeur acknowledged that Baltimore needed funding more desperately and got it first, but she said that could be a model for bringing funding and improvements to schools in Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.
Brown would increase school construction funding from an average of $340 million over the past eight years to an average of $500 million over the next four.
Gansler shifted the focus to the state's minority achievement gap -- second-worst in the country.
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On the issue of taxes, Brown said he sees no reason to raise them. Gansler noted the tax burden and economic hardship in the state but again focused on bringing more jobs to the state. Mizeur supports bringing back the "millionaire's tax" and closing a corporate tax loophole available to companies that also operate in other states, and she highlighted the money the state could save in its budget and revenue it could generate from taxes by legalizing marijuana.
As for the legacy they would like to leave as governor, a living wage was Mizeur's big idea for the state, while both Brown and Gansler prioritized more jobs in the state.
"Meet the Press" anchor David Gregory moderated the debate, which featured panel members Chris Gordon and Chris Lawrence from News4, and Jenna Johnson from the Washington Post.
We're looking for your reactions to the debate; Tweet us with #MdDemDebate.
GET TO KNOW THE CANDIDATES
Brown, 52, was elected lieutenant governor in 2006, previously having represented Prince George's County for 8 years. He has served in the Army, and was most recently deployed to Iraq in 2004 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Brown would be the first African American to be elected Maryland governor.
He has the support of current Governor Martin O'Malley and former President Bill Clinton. Last summer he named Ken Ulman, county executive of Howard County, his running mate.
Gansler, who has served as attorney general since 2007, has largely focused on toughening up domestic violence laws throughout the state, as well as environmental laws protecting the Chesapeake Bay. Gansler served as State's Attorney for Montgomery County and prosecuted the Beltway snipers.
Last fall, he selected Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George's) as his running mate.
Brown and Gansler have sparred on multiple occasions -- last year, Gansler was heard on a recording telling volunteers Brown is relying on his race during the election. His campaign didn't dispute the comments, but rather accused Brown's campaign of illegally recording them.
Last month, Gansler, 51, was heavily criticized for his comments about Brown's military history, noting the lieutenant governor has "never managed anybody, never run anything ... [being governor] is a real job."
Mizeur, an Illinois native, was first elected to public office in 2003 to the Takoma Park City Council. A staunch supporter of LGBT rights, 41-year-old Mizeur married her partner Deborah in 2005 and has represented Montgomery County since 2007. Mizeur was a lead sponsor of a bill that made pot possession in Maryland a civil offense, punishable by a $100 fine instead of arrest.
If she is elected, she will become the first openly gay candidate elected governor in the country, and the first female governor of Maryland. If she's not elected, Mizeur told the Washington Post last summer she will not run for elected office again.
Her running mate, the Rev. Delman Coates, is a pastor at a Prince George's County mega church. Mizeur's biggest challenge in the primary will be name recognition -- polls last year indicated more than 75 percent of Maryland voters do not recognize her name.
The Democratic primary will be held June 24.