It was a mellower, homier version of a candidate debate.
Twenty-four hours after the major party candidates for governor, Democrat Wes Moore and Republican Dan Cox, met in a sharp-elbowed debate that aired on three TV stations and on WBAL Radio, Cox and nominees from three third parties participated in an online forum Thursday evening sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Maryland and several other organizations, including Maryland Matters.
The absence of Moore, the undisputed frontrunner in the election, was clearly felt, taking some oxygen out of the proceedings. But Libertarian David Lashar, Nancy Wallace, the nominee of the Green Party, and David Harding, the Working Class Party nominee, appreciated the platform. And Cox, who seemed hurried and nervous at times during the televised debate the night before, was more relaxed and consistent.
“I think you’ve heard a wide range of opinions tonight and I hope it shows you that representative democracy can do better than the paralysis you see with the two [major] parties,” said Wallace, a former Sierra Club lobbyist on Capitol Hill who was the Green Party nominee in the 8th congressional district in 2016. She referred to the Democrats and Republicans as “the pre-Civil War parties.”
It seems unlikely that the forum, which will be available for viewing on the YouTube channel of the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy beginning Monday, will change the overall dynamic of the election. Cox is still the underdog; Wallace, Harding and Lashar are still major underdogs. But they each got to articulate some of their main campaign themes:
- Lashar, an IT consultant who held top positions at the Maryland Department of Health in the early years of the Hogan administration, and has also worked for the federal government, presented himself as a rational alternative to Democrats and Republicans, kind of a hybrid “just right” to the two major parties’ “too hot” and “too cold” personas.
- Harding, a former steelworker and shipyard worker who ran for mayor of Baltimore in 2020, cast himself as an anti-corporate crusader and avatar of the working class.
- Wallace was a faithful messenger of the Green Party platform of a cleaner, more sustainable future, with money eradicated from politics.
As for Cox, he hewed more closely to traditional Republican positions on education, crime, taxes and inflation, largely steering clear of some of the extreme MAGA positions he has become associated with. Cox agreed on occasion with the candidates he shared the virtual stage with, across the ideological spectrum, but made it clear that he still had his sights set on Moore.
“Inflation is outrageous and our economy is struggling, and my opponent, Mr. Moore, is standing with the Democrats in Washington,” he said at one point.
Here are some of the best lines from the 90-minute forum:
Cox, on why he opposed certain public health mandates during the height of the pandemic: “The constitution may never be suspended. It may never be set aside.”
Harding, on the state of the Maryland economy: “The problem is, the economy of the whole country is designed to push more money into the pockets of corporate America.”
Cox, on the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform plan: “I discovered in the legislative process that there are a lot of inequities in the bill…There are roadblocks for minority educators.”
Lashar, on the Blueprint: “We need to apply healthy skepticism that’s been missing from the dialogue.”
Lashar, on state taxes: “Maybe [Gov. Larry Hogan’s] top achievement was holding the line on taxes. If Wes Moore is elected, no one will hold the line on taxes.”
Wallace, on state taxes: “I think the taxes generally are all right now. The point is, we’re not getting what we need from those taxes.”
Lashar, on abortion rights: “I’m all choice, all the time.”
Cox, on abortion rights: “We are now, according to the Baltimore Sun, an abortion tourism state.”
Wallace, on public health policy: “The real point is to not get sick in the first place.”
Harding, on crime: “Crime will decrease when social conditions have improved.”
Cox, on climate change: “We’re smart enough to use oil and gas in an appropriate manner.”
Lashar, on climate change: “The greatest challenge is not to succumb to panic.”
Lashar, on the major party candidates: “Wes Moore is the epitome of the modern Democratic Party. Dan Cox is an epitome of the modern Republican Party.”
Harding, on the state of politics and policymaking: “If working people were in charge, you’d have much different priorities than you see today.”