By Aaron Kraut
There was little (if any) actual debating Sunday in what was billed as a debate for the eight candidates vying for three seats in June’s District 16 House of Delegates Democratic primary.
There were some illuminating responses to questions about school construction funding and Maryland’s failed health care exchange.
But perhaps most interesting were the responses on transportation issues from incumbents Ariana Kelly and Bill Frick. Frick jumped out of the attorney general race on filing deadline day to run for reelection in the House.
“I’m just going to tell you right now. If transportation is the thing you want to improve, you should look to Marc Korman,” Kelly said when asked about solving the area’s traffic congestion. “I’m really impressed with Marc’s plan. I will be a great teammate.”
Korman is expected to be in serious contention for one of the three seats. Korman, Hrant Jamgochian, Frick and Kelly have picked up the lion’s share of the endorsements made in the race. Korman has made the pursuit of a regional dedicated funding source to improve Metro a key part of his platform.
Kelly’s nod to Korman didn’t go over too well with Frick, who in the past has been the lead sponsor for the politically unpopular gas tax increase. The General Assembly passed the gas tax increase in 2013 to help fund a number of transportation and transit projects, including the Purple Line. Frick said he took a lot of criticism for backing the gas tax — before there was enough momentum to put it through last year.
“If you really prioritize transportation, you also need to vote for me as well,” Frick said, after offering up a “clarification” to Kelly’s remarks. “If it’s a priority for you, reward me for that work.”
Kelly and Frick expressed support for each other throughout other parts of the debate, but the exchange was a rare instance of a candidate addressing another candidate’s remarks head-on. It wasn’t the only one.
In opening statements, Frick talked about working his way up in the House from backbencher without much say to parliamentarian, part of House Speaker Michael Busch’s leadership team.
“With all due respect to Bill Frick, I don’t think I came in as a backbencher,” Kelly said in her opening remarks, before talking about bills on women’s and family issues she pushed in her first term.
Later, moderator and Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney asked each candidate to run through who they were supporting in the other major primary races.
Kelly was effusive in her praise for Brian Frosh, the District 16 state senator running for attorney general who most in the debate readily supported.
“If I could be the next Brian Frosh, I would love that,” said Peter Dennis, another candidate.
Frick, who until a few months ago was taking on Frosh in the attorney general race, said he wouldn’t publicize his choices for other state and local offices. It’s been reported that Frick and Frosh now have a frosty relationship.
That didn’t come up explicity. Instead, Frick talked about learning from Frosh. He said he used to pick up Frosh for car rides to Annapolis and wait for Frosh at the end of the day, sometimes for hours, “just to get stories.”
Whatever differences between Kelly and Frick might have popped up, the two were put in the same spotlight by McCartney over school construction funding. McCartney asked what the candidates would do differently to get the county more school construction funding from the state, “given that our current delegation has failed to do so.”
Frick pushed back, saying the county actually got back more state construction funding than any other county in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
“I think we have met the challenge. We’ve never gone below $200 million a year,” Frick said. “I agree we need to do better. That’s why we need folks with experience and seniority.”
Jamgochian said Montgomery County is still not getting back its fair share of school construction money and that the county is “looked at often as an ATM for the rest of the state,” a popular comparison of late.
Dennis said he supports legalizing and taxing marijuana to create more revenue that could be directed toward schools. Korman said factors such as the rate of a school system’s growth should be included in how the state divides up school construction funding.
Kelly said the problem also lies with perceptions other lawmakers have about the county based on its mostly white delegation.
“We need to elect people who look like Montgomery County, more diverse people who will build better relationships,” Kelly said. “The reason Baltimore gets things and we don’t is because of relationships and power. We need to change the way our delegation relates to the rest of the state.”
A question about fixing the state’s failed health care exchange also produced some interesting answers.
Jordan Cooper, who works in health care technology for Kaiser Permanente, said it would serve the House of Delegates well to have some people who know how health care works. Gareth Murray, who served previously in the House in District 20, said “folks fell asleep at the switch” when the state government — under a Democratic governor — began implementing the state’s exchange.
“When Bob Ehrlich was in office, we monitored every single thing that he was doing,” Murray said.
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