Photo above: Courtney Watson and Allan Kittleman debate.
By Len Lazarick
Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman was on the defensive for much of an hour-long debate with Democrat Courtney Watson in the race for Howard County executive Tuesday night, defending his record on school funding and public safety against aggressive criticism from Watson.
Kittleman also took his shots at the Howard County Council member for her support of the “rain tax” and other local tax hikes.
But it was Watson who clubbed Kittleman over his votes against the governor’s budget and the education funding it contained, as well his opposition to last year’s stricter gun control measures.
Kittleman said it was “ludicrous” to have anybody say he doesn’t support education, which is his top priority despite a vote against the state budget. In his six years on the County Council, he said, he voted for the school budget every time.
His wife and daughter are teachers, Kittleman said, adding that he’s probably spent more time in county schools than any other elected official.
He also said that in Watson’s time on the school board, the school system failed to close the achievement gap for minority students.
Gun control and public safety
Watson’s campaign and a Democratic slate of candidates she is part of have done a series of mailers attacking Kittleman on gun control. Kittleman said he seldom hears about the issue in town meetings — except when it’s brought up by one of Watson’s supporters.
“You don’t have to be worried about me,” Kittleman said. He hasn’t been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and “I don’t own a gun.”
“It’s not just about guns,” Watson said. She cited Kittleman’s votes against bills to take away guns from men involved in domestic violence and his vote against building a county police training facility.
“He does not have a strong record on public safety,” she said.
Kittleman said he has supported pension increases for police and opposed the police training facility because he “didn’t want to increase the piggyback [income] tax to the maximum.”
The exchanges took place at a debate attended by several hundred people at the Miller public library in Ellicott City, sponsored by the Baltimore Sun Media Group.
As the two hurled charges against each other, the debate format provided no chance for rebuttal in order to cover more topics, debate organizers said.
Kittleman sharply criticized Watson’s two votes in support of the stormwater remediation fee dubbed the “rain tax” that the County Council passed in response to state and federal mandates.
“The rain tax and caring about the bay are two different things,” Kittleman said. “We can find the money in our budget” to improve stormwater management without a new tax, probably in the capital budget.
“You need to stand strong against the state,” he said.
Watson said, “We were disappointed at the state pushing down” the requirement for a new tax, but without a new revenue source, “what is he going to cut?”
The two disputed whether Howard County had the highest tax burden in the state, and Kittleman criticized Watson’s vote to raise the fire tax, which is part of annual property taxes.
“You get the best rate of return” on taxes because of the high level of county services, Watson said. “We live in the best place to live in the country.”
Both candidates agreed in their support of new plans for downtown Columbia, revitalization of Route 1 and plans to support an aging population.
Best and worst about Ulman
Asked to name what was the best and worst about current Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, the audience laughed as Watson tried to come up with something negative to say about a man who is strongly backing her candidacy.
She said his best quality was also his worst — “he becomes impatient” to get things done.
In response to the same question, Kittleman said that while Ulman “does care about Howard County,” Kittleman doesn’t like the way Ulman applies pressure to get his way.
Both candidates emphasized their ability to work with the other party. Watson noted that she has represented a swing district for eight years, working with both Republicans and Democrats. She has been endorsed Cecil County’s Republican executive, Tari Moore.
Kittleman mentioned his support by two Democratic state senators, Bobby Zirkin and Lisa Gladden, as well as many other Democrats who are showing up in his TV ads.
In closing statements, Kittleman emphasized his “support of freedom for everyone” and said he would not use “fear and intimidation” to manage county government, implying that that was what occurs now.
Watson implicitly dealt with the “likability” factor in the race, saying, “It’s important not just to be liked by the people but to get things done.”
“This is not the time to go in a different direction,” she said.