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Virtual Gubernatorial Debate offers stage for all Republican candidates

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Eight Democrats and four Republicans vying for their parties’ gubernatorial nomination gathered for an early morning virtual debate Wednesday.

With the Democrats fresh off their first televised debate on Maryland Public Television Monday night, Wednesday’s two-hour event hosted by Bethesda Magazine offered a rare chance to hear from all four Republican gubernatorial candidates.

Frederick County Del. Dan Cox, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, echoed many of his talking points, including criticism of COVID vaccines while saying the overall goal of his campaign is to return freedom to Marylanders.

“We are going to make sure that the jabs for jobs is never again done in our state; We're going to make sure there's no vaccine passport; we're going to ban the competition of those born as males who are competing against our girls in high school sports,” Cox promised.

Kelly Schulz, who served as the secretary of Labor and Commerce in Gov. Larry Hogan's administration said her campaign is about expanding opportunities for everyone.

We care about safe communities, we care about a steady educational system, and we care about prosperity,” Schulz said.

A self-described lifelong Montgomery County resident, perennial candidate Robin Ficker emphasized his commitment to ensuring the county is adequately represented in Annapolis.

“I will make sure that Montgomery County has someone standing up for it and not looking at Montgomery county as an ATM which these candidates from other jurisdictions inevitably do,” he said.

Ficker, who was disbarred by the Maryland Court of Appeals in March, repeatedly attacked Schulz’s record as commerce secretary.

“Furthermore, if we were able to have Miss Schulz’s agency was able to attract Intel to Maryland, which is building $20 billion projects in both Arizona and Ohio, we would have thousands of well-paying jobs in Baltimore or some other area,” he said.

Harford County attorney Joe Werner said tackling the state’s explosion in violent crime is, in part, what drove him to run. But, illegal guns, he said, are not the biggest problem: drugs are.

“I'm going to get illegal guns off the street,” he insisted. “What I'm going to do is get drugs off the street and fentanyl should be declared a toxic substance or hazardous material, and that should be a bigger crime.”

Despite his long-held loyalties to Baltimore City, Wes Moore was quick to point out he was born mere miles from Bethesda in Takoma Park.

“I’m a third-generation Marylander, and while I may be a Baltimorean, I was born in Montgomery County,” Moore said in his opening statement.

Nearly all of the Democrats, including former U.S. Education Secretary John King, who resides in Silver Spring, have ties to the county.

“[It] took my family three generations to travel 25 miles from enslaved in a cabin in Gaithersburg to serving in the cabinet of the first Black president,” King said.

The debate offered a chance to hear Republicans’ stances on some hot-button issues like gun control and abortion.

All four supported putting police in schools, rather than tightening gun regulations.

Schulz criticized Montgomery County’s decision to remove SROs from schools. “We as parents need to know that somebody is in those schools keeping our children safe,” she said.

Ficker did not address federal gun control legislation, opting instead to further criticize Schulz.

But Werner and Cox voiced staunch opposition to any federal restrictions.

“I do not support them because they do nothing to end the violence that's happening every day on our streets,” Cox said. “Guns do not kill people’ guns save lives.”

Schulz said recent mass shootings affirm the need to get repeat offenders off the street.

On abortion, responses were similarly split. Ficker described himself as pro-life and then resumed attacking Schulz’s record in Hogan’s cabinet.

Werner said he supports a so-called heartbeat bill — which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually after six weeks — and says he would designate funds for adoption services and health care for pregnant mothers.

Schulz says her personal views on abortion are irrelevant as it is settled law in the state.

“The abortion issue in Maryland was settled 30 years ago in 1992, and it was settled by Marylanders who voted it into our law. There's not anything that I will do when I'm governor in order to be able to change those laws,” she said.

Cox vowed the right to an abortion would never become part of Maryland’s Constitution if he is governor.

“I absolutely support making sure that our constitution is devoid of such egregious destruction of life,” he said.

Two Democratic candidates, Peter Franchot and Rushern Baker, did not appear at the debate.