10 weeks out, 2 questions for Maryland Democrats

Voters size up Mizeur, Gansler, Brown as dash to primary begins

April 12, 2014|Dan Rodricks

Now, the real fun starts. It's a mad, mad dash to the June 24 gubernatorial primary as the many undecided, unimpressed Democrats try to answer a what's-worse question that goes like this:

What's worse, a lieutenant governor (Anthony Brown) who "squibbed the kickoff" of Obamacare or an attorney general (Doug Gansler) who did nothing about a beach-house party where teenagers appeared to be drinking alcoholic beverages?

There's another question: Is Heather Mizeur too liberal to have any chance of beating the Republican candidate in November?

Let me start with the Mizeur question.

Old-school, conventional wisdom says she's not electable statewide because the delegate from Montgomery County advocates for a $16.70 state minimum wage and wants to legalize and tax marijuana to pay for prekindergarten education for every Maryland child.

Mizeur is a progressive on other issues, including the reinstatement of a tax on the top 10 percent to give middle-class Marylanders a break. But minimum wage and pot are the things that mark her as too liberal.

I agree that her proposed minimum wage sounds crazy high, but Mizeur gives it an eight-year phase-in. By 2022, someone making the minimum wage in a full-time job would earn close to $35,000 a year. That means the minimum wage in Maryland, one of the wealthiest states in the country, would no longer be a poverty wage; it would be closer to a living wage.

Mizeur's economic plan calls for raising nearly $200 million a year by closing a tax loophole that large, multistate corporations enjoy and turning the new revenue into tax breaks for small businesses that have to pay their workers the rising minimum.

This suggests a thoughtful politician who realizes her radical-sounding ideas have to be balanced with practical considerations.

Same with her call for marijuana legalization — use revenue from a pot tax to pay for early childhood education.

You can dismiss her as too liberal. But there are thousands of Democrats and independents with libertarian leanings who will find what Mizeur says appealing. And there are plenty of people who think it's time Maryland made history and elected a woman governor.

Of course, there are lots of Democrats who think it's time Maryland made history and elected an African-American governor, which is one of the reasons why Anthony Brown is favored to win the party's primary.

Plus, he's locked up oodles of endorsements — including the one from Bill Clinton on Tuesday — and his campaign has plenty of cash and probably a lot more to come.

Brown is an appealing guy, and one of the increasingly rare elected officials who served in the military.

He's been the Maryland lieutenant governor for two terms. One of his big assignments was overseeing Maryland's preparation for the Affordable Care Act's rollout in October.

Of course, it was awful. In fact, the state's online health insurance exchange was a debacle on launch, and the recovery has been costly. The O'Malley administration, once so cocksure that it would lead the nation in health care expansion, looked ridiculous.

Brown, "point man" on Obamacare here, said he had been kept in the dark about problems with the exchange's development. He acknowledged that he shared responsibility for the mess, but he also distanced himself from it, saying his job had been to create the "legislative framework for the exchange," whatever that means.

These days, the O'Malley administration provides cover for Brown by blaming the private contractors who feuded as they developed the exchange.

But to the question: What's worse, Brown's connection to the costly Obamacare Fail in Maryland or Gansler's connection to a beach-house party where underage participants later said many were drinking? Or which matters more when it comes to being the next governor?

Certainly Brown's role in Obamacare speaks to executive competence.

And yet, little of this mess seems to be sticking to him so far. Remember: Only a relatively small percentage of Marylanders needed health insurance and had to have contact with the now-abandoned website. If you didn't personally experience the glitches, maybe you don't care.

Gansler needs to fix that, if he's ever going to gain ground. He needs to frequently remind voters about Brown's role in Obamacare and how much the problems will ultimately cost taxpayers. He needs to emphasize his independence from the O'Malley-Brown administration and appeal to Democrats annoyed with the incumbent leadership for its lousy handling of a hard-won health care reform.

To that end, Gansler launched his first broadcast commercials about it last week. They were negative but didn't mention Brown, which doesn't make much sense. The primary is 10 weeks away.

The problem for Gansler is that Marylanders still have a picture in their heads, and it's not the image of a competent attorney general that he deserves; it's the one that was posted on Instagram, the attorney general in the middle of what looked like a Boys Gone Wild video in South Bethany, Del. Meanwhile, there's no picture of Brown looking the other way while squabbling contractors take hammers to marylandhealthconnection.gov.

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