By Abby Brownback and Shannon Hoffman
ANNAPOLIS – Turnout was low, but those casting ballots this week in two gubernatorial battleground counties were sure of what they want to see between now and November’s general election.
Education, the economy and clean campaigns topped most voters’ lists in Baltimore and Montgomery counties for an election season that pits Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley against his Republican predecessor, Bob Ehrlich, for a second go-around.
“I want a campaign that’s not badmouthing each other,” said Angela Durry, a Baltimore County resident. “I want to know exactly what their plans are about the state, the economy.”
Durry, a clinical assistant professor of pediatric nursing at Towson University, said she worries that if O’Malley is not re-elected, the furloughs imposed at state universities could turn into layoffs.
Joseph Veneziani, a Montgomery County Democrat and an O’Malley supporter, said he too wants to see a fair campaign with no name-calling, but he will specifically look at where the candidates stand on economic and jobs issues and on topics that affect senior citizens.
Elsewhere in Montgomery County, Republicans like Jason Collins, 30, also will base their votes for governor on the candidates’ plans for job growth. Collins said cutting spending wouldn’t have to be such a priority if Marylanders could find jobs, thereby stimulating the economy and generating revenue for the state.
In Baltimore County, Douglas Riley, 62, disagreed. He wants to hear plans to decrease spending and firm stances against earmarks and pork barrel projects from the gubernatorial candidates. After years as a Democrat, Riley became a Republican 10 years ago and said he probably will vote for Ehrlich.
The economy is important to all voters, said Tim Magrath, a political science professor at Frostburg State University. From now until November, O’Malley and Ehrlich will debate about taxes, fees and the business climate in the state.
At issue will be the difference between taxes and fees.
“Ehrlich’s signature semantics has been to never use the t-word,” Magrath said of several fees – for car registration, for corporate filings, on homeowners to pay for upgrades to sewer systems – that were levied or increased during Ehrlich’s term as governor.
“O’Malley’s been saying it wasn’t fees; they were taxes, and they were raised in numerous ways,” Magrath said.
O’Malley also raised taxes during his term, Magrath said. The sales tax, the corporate income tax and others saw increases under O’Malley’s administration.
Magrath said the two also will spar over education, an issue that often drives voter turnout in tight elections. It brought Tami Stall, a teacher at the Baltimore-area Bais Yaakov School for Girls, to vote in Baltimore County.
Stall, 36, said great things happened for Maryland’s schools under Ehrlich’s administration, including the acquisition of new textbooks, and “we saw a huge difference with him not being governor.”
Others are concerned about the focus of the education system.
“I would like to learn that (the candidates) are more interested in the education of our young people than athletic facilities for the sports fanatics,” said Dan Kahan, a Montgomery County voter.
Raymond Ruffin, in Baltimore County, echoed Kahan’s sentiment, saying schools should aim for more technology-driven programs and fewer athletics.
O’Malley has been quick to tout the No. 1 ranking Maryland’s schools received in Education Week’s 2009 Quality Counts annual report, while Ehrlich highlights the charter school act he signed into law in 2003.
To address voter concerns about the economy and education, Ehrlich said Wednesday at a Maryland GOP press conference that he and running mate Mary Kane will release a roadmap for the state on Thursday. However, detailed proposals will come later in the campaign or after the election.
There will be similarities to his positions four years ago, Ehrlich said, but “different cycles have different issues.”
O’Malley has announced a school construction plan to continue building and innovating in Maryland schools, spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said, and the governor is drafting the next fiscal year’s budget, which will be introduced in January.
“Gov. O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Brown will be traveling around the state talking about the tough decisions we’ve made over the past four years to get our state through this national recession and to protect our priorities,” Abbruzzese said.