Governor Larry Hogan is up for reelection this year in Maryland and there’s a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls looking to replace him. There are nine challengers on the ballot and eight of them showed up for the first televised debate of the primary this weekend. They all took shots at Governor Hogan, but in typical fashion, they quickly broke down and began going after each other. The biggest subjects were taxes and Baltimore’s staggering crime rates. (Baltimore Sun)

The Democrats largely agree that Maryland needs to spend more on education and mass transit, and to put fewer people in jail. But the on-air forum also let them demonstrate the different personalities and experience they would bring to the job.

They attacked the governor for canceling Baltimore’s Red Line, for not investing more in education, for not engaging enough to help the city deal with its third consecutive year of more than 300 murders, and for the state’s business climate.

The Maryland Republican Party preemptively hit back in Hogan’s defense, releasing a video spoof calling the Democratic field “uninspiring” and warning the debates “should come with a viewer warning message; ‘Be advised prolonged exposure will result in extreme boredom and likely deep sleep.’ ”

The crime discussion quickly devolved into two camps, with some candidates calling for a return to former Governor Martin O’Malley’s tough-on-crime policies and the rest saying “we’re locking too many people up.” But the real entertainment came on the subject of taxes. Maryland is already one of the highest taxed states in the nation, but one candidate, former NAACP chief Ben Jealous, said that he would “tax the 1% more.” Another, Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea, said he didn’t want to raise taxes but was willing to promise not to lower them either.

The star of the evening from my vantage point was Krish Vignarajah, who just happens to be a former advisor to Michelle Obama. Unlike the rest of the people on the stage, Vignarajah was the only one admitting that Maryland was bleeding successful businesses and individuals because of the high tax rates. Reporter Erin Cox, covering the event for the Sun, captured the key quotes on Twitter.

“We are a high tax state, and people are leaving. We end up paying for our problems rather than investing .. in solutions.”

The problem with talking about high taxes being the reason that businesses and residents flee the state is that it’s the Democrats who have been raising those taxes for years. And their cheering section really doesn’t want to hear about how they are the cause of many of the problems that the candidates are promising to solve.

Here’s the video of the debate. Vignarajah first comes in around the 9:45 mark if you want to skip ahead.

Unfortunately for both Vignarajah and all the people of Maryland, talking about locking up more gang members who commit gun crimes and lowering taxes to try to bring more business back to the state is probably an immediate ticket out of the primary race for Democrats. They want to hear about fewer people in jail and raising taxes on the rich. Of course, the eventual winner of the primary (probably from the higher taxes and less jail time camp) is going to have one other significant problem facing them. Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s approval rating is currently at 69%, a number only dreamed of by most politicians. Good luck trying to boot him out.