Franchot Starts Campaign for Governor With Centrist Message to Business Leaders

Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) addressing business leaders last year. File photo by Glynis Kazanjian

In his first major speech as a candidate for governor, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot advocated a series of reforms he said would make the state more attractive to businesses, more fiscally responsible and more moderate politically.

The keynote speaker at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative event in Annapolis, Franchot (D) offered a range of policy proposals, casting himself as an independent, centrist-oriented alternative to traditional politicians.

With the education reforms offered by the Kirwan Commission looming as the biggest issue of this year’s legislative session, Franchot cautioned lawmakers not to boost education spending “just because we all favor the kids.”

“We need to be very careful not to commit the state to ongoing and increasing programmatic expansions,” the state’s four-term tax collector said of the Democrats’ top policy priority.

Boosting school construction spending “makes a lot more sense to me,” Franchot said. “Very predictable. We know what we’re committing future legislatures to. And that is something we can do some very big, exciting reforms for. But fiscally we have got to get away from this concept that — just because it’s good for education — we can afford it.”

Franchot served in the House of Delegates, representing District 20 (“the People’s Republic of Takoma Park,” he jokingly called it) for two decades before becoming comptroller — and he drew laughs when he called himself a “recovering legislator.”

“It’s wrong for us to be in elected office and go back to you and say, ‘Please vote for us because we spent a lot of your money.’ That’s wrong. And that’s kind of what our fiscal policy is these days. And political policy,” he said.

Legislators have struggled to come up with a way to pay for the reforms the Kirwan Commission has recommended, drawing scorn from Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who has created a Super PAC to lobby against the proposals.

Franchot accused lawmakers of taking a “let’s cross our fingers and hope that somebody can figure out how to pay for it approach” — a line reminiscent of the charges Hogan has leveled in recent months.

“We need to be going to the voters and saying, ‘Here are the results we get with your money.’ That’s not a Republican idea, that’s not a Democratic idea, that’s just common sense.”

Pivoting to politics, Franchot said open primaries would give centrist voters the opportunity to make their voices heard.

He claimed the state’s nearly 900,000 unaffiliated voters have rejected the two parties because they think Democrats are “fiscally irresponsible” and Republicans are “too harsh on cultural issues.”

The lack of moderates means “the most extreme candidates in both parties” win elections, he said.

Franchot offered other ideas for improving Maryland’s political climate and economy.

  • He scoffed at Hogan’s call for an “independent” redistricting commission. “They don’t exist,” he said. “We need to get an independent computer and we need to make compact districts. Otherwise we’ll continue to be a laughingstock around the country.”
  • He said Maryland should offer students with college debt $30,000 if they agreed to work in one of the state’s Opportunity Zones for five years.
  • “If I move up, which I think I might, we’re going to bring 5G to Maryland, as an economic development tool,” he said, and recruit younger workers. “I don’t even know what 5G is,” he said to laughter. “But we’re not going to make the mistakes that were done with leaving some folks without the basic broadband.”

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