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The debate that wasn't

October 14, 1998

There's an old adage in the newspaper business: If you say "no comment" you can just about guarantee that 95 percent of the story will be filled with quotes from the guy who did comment. Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening found that out this week, after he skipped a Maryland Chamber of Commerce forum with his Republican opponent, Ellen Sauerbrey.

Speaking to a crowd of 400 in Ocean City, alongside an empty chair reserved for the absent incumbent, Sauerbrey told the group how Maryland is losing out to Virginia when it comes to job creation and relative tax burden. Afterward, the governor's campaign staff analyzed Sauerbrey's comments and pronounced her positions "wrong again."

But if her approach is wrong, why couldn't the incumbent say so? His excuse for not attending was that the debate wasn't going to be televised, but these were some of his toughest critics and he missed a valuable opportunity to explain his program to them.

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He might have said that on job creation, since Virginia is a right-to-work state, it will always have a built-in appeal to those firms that don't want to take a chance on being unionized, unless and until Maryland passes a similar law. The governor who gave state workers collective-bargaining rights by executive order could then have explained why he doesn't believe that's a good idea.

On the inter-county connector, a proposed road linking Interstates 270 and 95 that Glendening has opposed, the governor might have explained how he's proposed mass-transit improvements instead, and answered Sauerbrey's claim that more subway miles will mean a 50-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax for Maryland motorists.

On taxes, Glendening might have asked Sauerbrey to identify a revenue source for her proposed 24 percent tax cut. At this point, Sauerbrey's forces are talking about taking it out of the $117 million surplus and other state accounts. Those revenue sources that may or may not be there if there's an economic downturn, an event that seems more likely than it did a year ago. It's a point the governor might have made, if he hadn't ducked this debate.

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