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Excerpts: Post reporter John Wagner on governor's race, debate

Christopher Dean Hopkins

Washington Post reporter John Wagner was online to take reader questions today following the Post-sponsored debate between incumbent Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and his challenger, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich. Excerpts follow.

Q.: Clearly, Bob Ehrlich learned from the last debate, he was more on topic and had a clearer message for most of the time. How do you think O'Malley handled this debate in comparison?

John Wagner: Ehrlich clearly came out more aggressively in this debate than he did Monday on WJZ. He repeated several times that small businesses were being "hammered" by O'Malley and accused O'Malley of talking in cliches.

O'Malley's performance was more consistent with his performance on Monday. He sought at several points to undermine Ehrlich's credibility. A good example was the question about how Ehrlich would pay for a repeal in the sales tax. After Ehrlich offered some thoughts, O'Malley said it as clear he had "no idea."

Q: Did I mishear O'Malley or did he offer no response to how he would fund the Purple Line except for saying he thinks it's cheaper in the long run than buses? (Really?) And did he just say he appointed a commission to study pension reform? It seemed like a lot of evasion, and -- I don't like to say it -- I think Ehrlich was right when he called him out for cliches.

John Wagner: O'Malley's plan for the Purple Line relies heavily on federal funding, which the state is competing to receive. He mentioned a number of possibilities for the state share, which Ehrlich said would be inadequate. Ehrlich suggested the rail line could not be built without a major increase in the gas tax.

The legislature has created a commission to study pension reform. That was the group O'Malley mentioned. He suggested policymakers should see what they have to say.

Q: Ehrlich seemed to raise his voice a lot in this debate. Since it was known that certain high-profile national Tea Party leaders supported Brian Murphy in the Republican primary, could he be trying to turn himself into the "mad as hell" Tea Party candidate?

John Wagner: It is true that several national leaders associated with the Tea Party backed Brian Murphy in the GOP primary and that Ehrlich is counting on Murphy voters to turn out on Nov. 2.

My guess is he raised his voice more out of frustration than trying to appeal to those voters, however.

Q: What do Jack Johnson and Doug Duncan think of Ehrlich? Will the Post call them up to ask their opinions on Ehrlich's challenge?

John Wagner: O'Malley and Duncan had a very bitter primary for governor in 2006, and Duncan has been friendlier with Ehrlich since then. During the 2006 campaign, however, Duncan was fairly critical of several of Ehrlich's policies.

By most accounts, Johnson and Ehrlich had a good working relationship during Ehrlich's tenure -- but Johnson has endorsed O'Malley.

Q: Didn't Ehrlich also say he supported benefits outside of marriage and that he passed legislation to that extent?

John Wagner: Ehrlich did say that he supports conferring some rights on same-sex partners -- such as medical visitations -- that married people enjoy. During his term, Ehrlich vetoed a bill that would have extended some of those rights, saying he was opposed to a registry of couples required by the bill. He later supported granting many of those rights by a slightly different means.

Q: Sounds like they covered more ground than they did during the debate on Monday. Any obvious issues left out/still not addressed after the two debates?

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October 14, 2010 1:41 PM
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John Wagner: A couple come to mind: the death penalty -- which O'Malley opposes and Ehrlich supports -- and slots. There were some references to casino owners in both debates, but no discussion of what the candidates would do to change Maryland's program going forward.

Q: Governor Ehrlich says the sales tax cut would spur spending to a level that would offset the revenue loss. If the one percent increase brought in 600 million, how much would spending have to increase to regenerate that lost revenue? is 12 billion right? Do experts believe that is possible?

John Wagner: To offset the revenue the state would lose from a cut in the sales tax from 6 percent to 5 percent, consumption would have to increase by 20 percent. Many economists are skeptical about that. Some suggest it would take a more dramatic reduction to spur that kind of additional consumption.

Read the full transcript of the discussion.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  | October 14, 2010; 2:42 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections, Governor  
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Next: Full video: Washington Post Maryland gubernatorial debate


I am disgusted with the television ads from both parties and think that it is important for voters to follow the money. (Yes, I know it is a cliche, but still usually true.) Money is collected primarily from rich people and corporations who definitely expect, and get, something in return. Most of the money is then handed to the media, especially television stations, who charge their highest rates and make their biggest profits as elections approach. In the old days, at the end of a campaign, politicians could legally pocket any leftover money, but they are no longer allowed to do that, so they generally hand every penny to the broadcasters. This explains why there isn't, and never will be, any real discussion of campaign finance reform in the corporate media. The solution? Require every licensed station to give huge amounts of free time to each and every candidate. Yes, they will scream, but if they refuse, simply lift their licenses to use the public airways.

Jonathan Inskeep
Crofton, MD USA

Posted by: jonathaninskeep | October 14, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

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