Republicans running for Maryland governor repeatedly compared state government to a business during their fifth debate on Thursday, likening the role they are seeking to that of a corporate executive.
During a panel discussion at Johns Hopkins University organized by College Republicans, the candidates accused Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration of making Maryland unfriendly to investors. They disagreed about little, and proposed tax cuts as the solution to most issues.
Richard Sher, a veteran newscaster for WJZ-TV in Baltimore, moderated the event. He said O'Malley's predecessor, Bob Ehrlich, recently predicted he would be Maryland's last Republican governor.
Harford County Executive David Craig, one of the three gubernatorial candidates debating Thursday, said Ehrlich was dead wrong, and that he believes voters are tired of Democratic policies.
"They don't want a third term that's going to be a monopoly,'' he said, referring to Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running on the Democratic ticket.
Charles Lollar, who has been a general manager at the supply company Cintas Corporation, and Ron George, who represents Anne Arundel County in the House of Delegates and owns Ron George Jewelers, both touted their business experience as a credential for leading the state government.
Meanwhile, Craig compared his position as a county executive to managing an enormous business.
The fourth Republican candidate, Larry Hogan, a real estate executive from Anne Arundel County, did not participate.
Asked how to reduce the number of school dropouts, Lollar said a chief problem with Maryland's public schools is that too little of the funding goes directly to teachers.
The candidates agreed that they would address crime problems by bringing more jobs to poor areas. George said he believes in mandatory sentencing, but he would also promote education programs for prisoners to prepare them for the workforce after their release.
Craig said private insurers should have managed Maryland's public health exchange, as they already enroll clients directly through their own websites.
Steve Crim, a spokesman for Larry Hogan's campaign, said Hogan had already scheduled a private fundraiser for Thursday evening before he received the debate invitation.
Hogan only attended one of the five formal debates since January - the one held last month in Rockville. He had not yet filed as a candidate when the first debate occurred, and he agreed to join another debate that was later canceled, Crim said.
"We do them when we can,'' Crim said. "We have a lot of scheduling conflicts.''
Hogan has raised $422,000 from 1,800 donors in a little more than two months, according to information that the campaign gave The Associated Press on Thursday. That amount exceeds what other candidates raised in their earliest months.
Early in Thursday's debate, Lollar compared missing a debate to skipping a job interview - given that taxpayers effectively pay the governor's salary.
"I don't hire anybody if they don't show up for the interview,'' he said.
He called it an insult to the public.
Joe Cluster, the executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said none of the debates has had all the candidates present. He expects them all to attend a May 31 debate in Salisbury.