While campaigns to topple incumbent officeholders typically feature the challenger leveling much of the criticism, a debate televised Thursday between District 18 Sen. Rich Madaleno and challenger Dana Beyer didn’t follow that script – with Madaleno repeatedly attacking Beyer in sharp, sometimes personal terms.
Clearly irritated by Beyer’s suggestions that he has been insufficiently progressive in his eight years in the state Senate, Madaleno likened his opponent’s tactics to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a tea party maverick who has often stalled legislative proceedings to promote his agenda.
Earlier in the program – taped earlier in the week and aired Thursday evening on Montgomery Municipal Cable’s “Political Pulse” program — Madaleno suggested Beyer was “jealous” of his legislative accomplishments. He also questioned her rationale for challenging him in this year’s June 24 Democratic primary, in which most local political observers give him a clear edge.
“I have to tell you, people around the state are fascinated by this race because they cannot believe you are trying to suggest that I am not one of the progressive leaders in the state of Maryland,” Madaleno told Beyer.
The contest has also attracted media attention from inside and outside Maryland because it pits the only openly gay member of the state Senate against a transgender woman. In one of the session’s few non-confrontational moments, Beyer told Madaleno, “I honor the fact that you ran in 2002, as the first openly gay candidate,” referring to Madaleno’s initial election in 2002.
“You made me possible, and you encouraged me to run for your seat in 2006,” added Beyer, referring to her unsuccessful run for delegate that year when Madaleno left the House of Delegates to move to the state Senate. District 18 extends from east Bethesda through Chevy Chase to Silver Spring, and includes Garrett Park, Kensington, and Wheaton.
But it was clear Thursday that any past political friendship has since given way to intense acrimony, as the two sniped constantly at each other during the 30-minute program – which will be aired again at 6 p.m. tonight as well as Saturday and Sunday on Channel 16. It is the only scheduled debate of the District 18 Senate primary.
“Are you saying you’re more progressive or liberal than Sen. Madaleno?” moderator Charles Duffy, who was relegated to the role of onlooker during much of the program, asked Beyer, a retired eye surgeon, early in the show.
“Yes, I am,” she replied. “On social issues, I agree there’s very little light between us. On economic issues, I believe my opponent is a little bit too close to the conservative leadership in Annapolis, and we need true progressive leadership.” She cited the minimum wage bill enacted by the General Assembly this year – from which indexing was dropped prior to passage as “an example of Senate leadership and House leadership watering it down every step of the way.”
When Duffy asked Madaleno if his and Beyer’s views on social issues were indeed similar, Madaleno snapped: “Except that one of the big differences is that I have been in office and actually made progress and helped to change the state.”
Madaleno – regarded as a potential candidate for the next state Senate majority leader if he is re-elected — cited his role in passing legislation to legalize same-sex marriage and to bar discrimination based on gender identity, among others. “Over and over and over, my name is not only on those bills, but at the front of the line,” he declared. “I’ve been a leader on those things. All we have is her promise. We don’t know what that’s going to be.”
Interjected Beyer: “That’s not true. I’ve been a leader.”
Responded Madaleno: “How is that not true? You would never go to a doctor based on ‘I’m promising this’ as opposed to ‘Here’s the doctor with the record’.”
“Well, I have changed Maryland. You want a progressive era in Maryland? I have helped to bring that about,” he told Beyer. “We have gone down that path because of my leadership, and you’re jealous that it’s been me in that position.”
Beyer shot back: “Excuse me, I’m jealous that it’s been you?… The fact that you’ve been there for the past eight years in the Senate does not equate with leadership. The fact that your colleagues support you is par for the course; it’s the incumbents’ protection act.”
Even a discussion on an issue on which they agreed – the estate tax bill enacted by the General Assembly this year – yielded sharp words.
After Madaleno explained his reasons for being one of a handful of senators to oppose expanding the size of estates exempted from the tax, Duffy asked Beyer if she would have voted likewise.
“Yes, but I wouldn’t have apologized,” she replied.
Insisted Madaleno, “I never apologized.”
Replied Beyer: “You did on the floor of the Senate. It’s out in the media.”
Declared Madaleno: “I was trying to be nice to my colleagues. I believe that part of the legislative process is that you build coalitions.”
He then told Beyer: “Dana, your desire is to be the Ted Cruz of the state Senate. You just want to stand up, let it go, and shout from the rooftops about ideas, as opposed to someone like me, who is concerned about actually governing. The difference is in Maryland, we are the governing party responsible for putting out a budget every year. Those are hard decisions you have to make.”
Retorted Beyer: “That’s right, you keep raiding the pension funds in order to fix the budget holes even though you’re the budget expert,” referring to the General Assembly action this year to divert some pension funds to help meet annual budget needs.
“That is so false – you see, this is the Ted Cruz in her coming out,” declared Madaleno, pointing to $43 billion currently in state pension trust funds, and noting that $1.7 billion had been added this year despite the diversion.
That led Madaleno to criticize Beyer for “leading the charge to cut public education in the state of Maryland,” as he defended his support of the state’s controversial maintenance of effort law – which has often been criticized by Montgomery County elected officials.
“You have championed the idea that I have made a mistake for the county by pressing forward with the maintenance of effort law,” he told Beyer, contending that she “wants to give the County Council unfettered access to cut as much as they want from public education.”
Responded Beyer: “Montgomery County has been one of the most supportive jurisdictions for public education. When we had the crash in 2008, we had to pull back. We did it responsibly – it wasn’t good enough for the state so we got into trouble…There needs to be flexibility.”
On a key transportation issue, Beyer reiterated her support for the Purple Line, saying, “We need to stop trying to sue it into the ground. It is key to building mass transit that will make smart growth possible.”
“My opponent has been opposed to the Purple Line for a very long time, and was very pro-[Intercounty Connector] back in the day,” she added in a parting shot.
It was one of the rare instances during the session in which there was no comeback from Madaleno.