Franchot Talks to Business Leaders, Liberal Democrats. Message Is Substantially the Same

State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) addressing the business group Maryland Free earlier this month. Photo by Glynis Kazanjian

In what can only be seen as a dry run for the 2022 gubernatorial election, state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) addressed vastly different constituencies this week largely using the same script — much to the chagrin of some Democrats.

On Wednesday, Franchot echoed a message he gave business leaders a day before in Howard County. He told Montgomery County Democrats the private sector is the only entity big enough to provide the jobs and wages the state needs — adding that government often gets in its way.

“The economic pieces have to be proper,” Franchot said. “You have to have the private sector out front and the government as a constructive, junior partner — regulating and overseeing, but not getting in the way.”

Unapologetically, Franchot told the crowd fiscal accountability is his top priority.

“I happen to be, I will confess, someone who supports the capitalist free enterprise system we have in this country,” Franchot said in response to a tax question. “I know it’s a quirky system with flaws and challenges, but quirky as it is, it’s the only vehicle that can produce the jobs and wages our people need.”

He said the revenue generated from the private sector is what pays for the programs Democrats want, and he asked members of the District 18 Democratic Club to stop trying to define their success by how much they spend.

“We have to be able to pay for what we vote for,” Franchot said.

Franchot separately told Democrats and business leaders attending a breakfast Tuesday hosted by the group Maryland Free, that members of both political parties should also be able to get along.

“This idea that you can’t have a positive working relationship with someone from the other party is complete bunk,” Franchot said defiantly to the Montgomery County Democratic crowd. “The Democratic base wants people to work together.”

Bruce Lee, a Silver Spring-based real estate developer who attended Wednesday’s event, said he likes that Franchot has gained financial experience in his role as a comptroller since serving as a state delegate from Takoma Park.

“You have a better understanding of revenue, lack of revenue and taxes,” Lee, a 55-year-old registered Democrat said. “You have to be able to balance the books, and you have to work both sides of the aisle.”

Susan Heltemes, a long-time Democratic activist who served as a Montgomery County liaison for former Prince George’s County executive Rushern L. Baker III’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign, said there were a lot of new faces at the monthly District 18 breakfast she moderates at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring — presumably to see Franchot.

Serving his fourth term, Franchot said he supports allowing Maryland’s roughly one million “unaffiliated” voters to participate in primary elections for major political parties.

“They should be allowed to vote in whatever primary they choose,” Franchot said Tuesday in Columbia. “We need them to come and get involved. They’ll bring us a new vision and new moderation as far as policies.”

Franchot said independents don’t want to be in either major party because Democrats are fiscally irresponsible and because of Republicans’ conservative stances on social issues.

One of Franchot’s policy platforms is offering work-related incentives to millennials to draw them to Maryland. He warned the tax base is drying up due to the state’s aging population.

“Why shouldn’t we explore incentivizing millennials to come from around the country to our state by saying if you work in one of our economic opportunity zones for five years and pay taxes and live in Maryland we’ll forgive [some] amount of your student debt?” Franchot asked. “Why not?”

While Franchot sailed through his spiel with the business community in Howard County, several Democrats challenged the would-be gubernatorial candidate about climate change, education and transportation.

In one exchange, a Democratic woman condemned Franchot for referring to educational policy as a spending issue rather than an investment. She also shared views with others attending who complained about Franchot’s support for starting the school year after Labor Day.

“I just want to remind Democrats if you don’t have a successful small business economy in Maryland there’s no tax revenue for education,” Franchot said. “And I didn’t mean to have school after Labor Day become such a big issue, but BRING IT ON because it’s supported by 75 percent of Democrats and Republicans. It’s supported by rank and file teachers and small businesses.”

Franchot said he dislikes the number of tests required of students in the state. He called the testing a “fetish” and said they are an anchor that weighs down K-12 education.

Franchot made news in August when he said he was strongly considering a run for governor at the conclusion of Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s second and final term.

“I’m just a politician that is determined not only rhetorically but also actually to put my state in front of my party,” Franchot said Tuesday. “Gov. Hogan and I have a very positive relationship and that drives the Democratic leaders crazy, unfortunately, because the public wants bipartisanship.”

Others names floating as possible Democratic candidates in the 2022 gubernatorial election include the 2018 nominee, former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous, Baker, U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr., Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks, Baltimore City Del. Brooke E. Lierman, and former U.S. Rep. John K. Delaney, who is currently running for president.

Baker has a birthday fundraiser scheduled at Denizens Brewing in Riverdale on Thursday evening. Ticket prices range from $125 to $1,000.

Heltemes said the group of potential Democratic primary candidates is likely to grow to as many as 13. She also noted that in blue Maryland, Republicans have been elected governor in three of the five last elections.

Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].