Was it the first debate of the 2022 race for governor?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But a skirmish at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting between Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) went on way longer than it should have, considering the venue.
But the 10-minute mano-a-mano, conducted via teleconference, may serve as a preview of things to come.
Franchot, the state’s long-serving and popular tax collector, has already announced he intends to run for governor in 2022, when Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s second term ends.
Rutherford, the loyal second-in-command who serves with the popular governor, would likely enter the GOP primary as the frontrunner if he decides to run.
Wednesday’s fracas started when Franchot — “as the state’s chief fiscal officer” — urged “all financial institutions, small and large businesses, and consumers to work together” during the COVID-19 crisis.
The best way to help consumers preserve cash, he added, would be a “90-day voluntary payment holiday from monthly bills” — a prescription he has been touting in recent media interviews.
The comptroller predicted that 90% of requests for a three-month reprieve from bills would get a positive response, thanks to the “goodwill of the private sector.” And he said that a 90-day payment holiday on mortgages and auto loans alone would keep $6 billion in the checking accounts of small business-owners.
“You’ll be stunned at the public response that you’ll get from the private sector,” Franchot said.
Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) offered that she was “not quite as optimistic” as Franchot.
But it was Rutherford who pushed back most vigorously.
“The three of us here, we’re getting a paycheck today,” he said. “We can pay our bills.”
He warned of a “cascading effect” that would hurt people up the economic ladder. “The blanket idea, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” the lieutenant governor said.
“I respectfully disagree,” Franchot said, prolonging the debate. Soon the two men were talking over each other while Kopp looked on.
“I paid my mortgage today,” Rutherford said. “My daughters should be paying their rent because they are working. … We’ve got to keep some semblance of the economy going.”
“I strongly disagree with you,” Franchot persisted.
Rutherford said something that didn’t get picked up by the teleconference audio system.
“May I respond?” asked Franchot, clearly irked and leaning into the camera on his computer.
By then it was after 10:30 a.m., and the board, which convened shortly after 10 a.m., had yet to get to its first agenda item.
After Kopp, who appeared to be reading something off-screen, lost interest in the quarrel, the two men finally brought it to a close.
“Disagree,” Rutherford said in his closing argument.
“Onward and upward,” said the comptroller.
Why would the two men battle for so long on something so tangential to the BPW agenda as a 90-day “voluntary” payment holiday?
Perhaps to give political nerds stuck at home, with no sports on TV, something to watch between Zoom meetings.
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