WDC hosted a forum on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, at 7:00 PM at the Silver Spring Civic Center. The forum was sold-out, and was attended by more than 400 people. All of the Democratic candidates running for Governor were present: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, former NAACP President Ben Jealous; Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz,* Maryland State Senator Rich Madaleno; tech entrepreneur and author Alec Ross, Baltimore attorney and civic leader Jim Shea, and former Michelle Obama advisor Krish Vignarajah.
The forum was shown live on Facebook and can be viewed on WDC's YouTube page.
WDC President Fran Rothstein introduced the moderator, Robert McCartney, who is the Washington Post’s senior regional correspondent, covering government and politics in the greater Washington area. He complimented the team from WDC on their research and the thought that went into the forum questions. He noted that when people reserved to attend the forum they had an opportunity to state the most important issue that they wanted the candidates to address. “Environment” was mentioned most frequently in the registrant survey, so the first question of the evening was, “What is the top environmental issue facing Maryland and what is your plan to address it?” Answers covered clean air and clean water, saving the Bay, reaching 100% renewables, and developing the infrastructure for clean energy. “How will you expand diversity and gender equality during your administration,” elicited commitments from all the candidates to equitably hire women in high-profile positions if elected.
“What cutting edge innovations from other states and countries could Maryland try?” In answer to this question, Baker and Vignarajah endorsed paid family leave. Jealous called for single payer health care. Kamenetz pointed to technology, Shea and Madeleno to overseas models for education, and Ross said he wants to make biometric thumbprint locks mandatory on every gun in Maryland.
All of the candidates supported the Kirwan Commission that worked for 18 months to devise new funding formulas for Maryland’s public schools and recommendations for updated policies. It suggested that any new funding formula must be sufficient to finance universal pre-kindergarten for students of all incomes and provide more money for schools in low-income neighborhoods. Kamenetz said we must ensure that funds from casino gambling are dedicated to supplementing improvements in education and not replacing established funding streams. Similarly, all candidates supported raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 and providing three months of paid family leave. There was less agreement on requiring a minimum percentage of women workers for projects of bidders on construction projects.
US News and World Report ranks Maryland 49th in average commute time, just ahead of New York. The candidates were asked, “What do you consider the three top transportation needs the state has to address?” The candidates agreed that mass transit improvements are needed across the state, particularly in Baltimore. Shea recommended construction of the canceled light-rail Red Line in Baltimore, an expansion of MARC train services and additional bus lanes for I-270. He also called for increased transit options and road improvements in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. The gas tax was mentioned by most of the candidates. Baker said he’d prioritize using that revenue to fund mass transit improvements in suburban D.C. and in the Baltimore area.
McCartney next asked the candidates about the incentives Maryland is offering to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to Montgomery County. The answers from the current elected officials differed from those of the other candidates. State Sen. Madaleno, who voted for the estimated $3 billion to $5 billion Amazon tax incentive package approved in the General Assembly session, said he was in support. He said that Amazon would only receive the incentive package if it spends about $140 billion over the next 35 years. “This is a transformative investment,” Madaleno said. It is an unusual and unique opportunity that would diversify the employment opportunities in the state. Jealous, Shea, Vignarajah and Ross all criticized the package. Kamenetz said as governor he would prefer to focus on job skills training to prepare local students for jobs in the state, rather than “write blank checks to corporations.” Baker noted that Prince George’s County submitted a bid for Amazon that requested the state chip in about $4 to $5 billion. “The idea is not just to create Amazon jobs, but have something to build around and create jobs for the state and have additional revenue coming in,” Baker said.
The candidates were asked, “How would your administration address juvenile justice and what policies do you commit to implementing?” Vignarajah said she was committed to stopping the school-to-prison pipeline, ending juvenile life sentences with no possibility for parole, and “treating children as human beings.” Baker agreed and pointed to the differing treatment children of color receive in the courts. He also endorsed improving opportunities for education and training in the correctional system. Kamenetz, who has been a prosecutor, recognized the need to improve behavioral and mental health. Shea called this a “public health issue.” Madaleno drew attention to chronic understaffing in the prisons and diversion options.
On legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, only Baker said he’s not supportive of the idea. Although he favored decriminalization, he said he believes the issue of legalization for recreation needs to be studied more. Madaleno, Jealous, Ross, Shea, and Vignarajah all said the state should legalize, regulate, and tax recreational marijuana sales. All five candidates said they believed doing so would help curtail violence associated with selling marijuana and halt criminal penalties that disproportionately affect people of color. In addition, Vignarajah suggested such a plan would reduce opioid deaths. She also wanted marijuana sale licenses awarded to women and minorities.
The Forum wrapped up with questions about the upcoming election in November. WDC wanted to know, “How will you beat Hogan? Specifically, how will you win back the 100,000 voters that Democrats lost to Hogan in 2014 and not lose any Democratic voters that supported Brown in that race?” Jealous offered a broader coalition, door-to-door registration, and a focus on black male voter turnout. Kamenetz said that he wants to get Maryland moving again: it has been standing still. Madeleno called himself a “one-man truth squad,” saying no one has fought harder against Hogan. He called for organization and focus on turnout for the election. Ross intends to run in all 24 jurisdictions and highlight his experience and outsider status. Shea said he would unite the Democratic Party across the spectrum from moderate to progressive with a focus on expansive growth. Baker will lean on turning out the base and letting people know why this election matters. Vignarajah boldly said, “No man can beat Larry Hogan, and I am no man.” She pointed to the large number of political victories for women lately and promised an affirmative campaign. The candidates finished with opinions about the risks voters are taking if they vote to re-elect Governor Hogan.
*This report on the WDC gubernatorial forum was written before Candidate Kevin Kamenetz’s May 10 death from cardiac arrest. WDC members mourn his passing and send condolences to his wife and family.