Do you support the findings of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education? Are you committed to funding associated reforms, and if so, how?
Ross: I am in full support of the Commission’s findings and believe we must do everything we can to implement new programs and funding models that allow us to take bold steps to improve our education system. Education is the starting point for addressing nearly every societal need, and for that reason, we must prioritize equitable, innovative educational programs for our children. I believe we have a budget that we can make work and our first priority should always be to use existing resources. We have a $43.4 billion budget and the distribution of that budget and how it relates to the funding of schools must be reviewed and possibly redistributed. In addition, we must continue to take steps to make sure that dedicated funding sources, like casino revenues, actually reach our schools. At times, Maryland has had some of the highest performing schools in the country, but we have persistent inequities in many of our districts that severely disadvantage students. To realize excellence at all of our public schools, we must develop plans to improve our schools that are customized to meet the their specific needs. It’s not just about investing more in public schools. It’s about investing smarter. We need to account for special circumstances in school districts with high levels of poverty. We need to make sure our schools are equipped with high-speed Internet access and technology for the classroom. And we need to properly compensate and reward our teachers.
Is Maryland's transportation spending appropriately balanced between roads and transit? Does the state have the resources to meet its transportation needs? With the cancellation of the Red Line and the advent of BaltimoreLink, is the Baltimore region adequately served by transit?
Ross: To begin, let me be clear: my policies would be focused on mass transit, as opposed to expanding highway transit. This is clearly not the stance of our current governor, given his multi-billion dollar highway expansion plan. We need a multimodal transportation plan for the entire state, and Baltimore region in particular, that connects all our jurisdictions to each other and the nearby states, as well as provides local solutions that increase quality of life in all communities. Right now, our transportation system just isn’t working for everyone. In Baltimore, cancelling the Red Line rail project was something that I completely disagree with. We need a transportation solution for all parts of Baltimore City, and Hogan’s decision to cancel this project is just one example of how he does not prioritize equity for all Marylanders. I would advocate for and implement a transit solution similar to the Red Line for Baltimore. As part of a multimodal approach, I would also work closely with local leaders and transportation organizations to make sure we are including other modes of transport in our plans, like walking and biking. In terms of measurable outcomes, I would look seriously at commute times, which are a tremendous tax on Marylanders and sap productivity and quality of life. It is still the case in Baltimore City that the length of your commute time directly correlates to your economic wellbeing. This should not be the case.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Ross: It is high time for Maryland to adopt progressive marijuana policies. The social and economic benefits of taxing and regulating a legal market for marijuana are a clear win for the state and redress a legacy of failed drug policies. That is why I have already released comprehensive policy outlining how we would go about legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana in Maryland. Legalization and the expungement of the records of those with past marijuana convictions are also morally the right thing to do, recognizing and reversing many years of discriminatory criminal justice policies that have disproportionately burdened minority communities. The plan I outline follows a tried and tested path toward legalization that has worked in other states and won the support of many legislators in Annapolis — not to mention a majority of their constituents. Marijuana must no longer be a scourge in our communities that sustains a black market of criminal enterprise nearly $800 million in size. It is time to bring it all under the rule of law — drawing an estimated windfall of $200-300 million in tax revenue, creating jobs, and helping thousands of Marylanders get their lives back out from under the shadow of a criminal record.
At a time when the federal government's commitment to Chesapeake Bay restoration is questionable, what new steps should Maryland take to protect this resource?
Ross: The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure, teeming with life and providing economic and recreational benefits estimated at $33 billion a year. Protecting it is essential for our environment and economy. My Administration will prioritize cleaning up and preserving the Chesapeake Bay. It’s especially important that our next Governor fight to protect the Bay in light of Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s attempts to slash funding for Bay cleanup. As Governor, I will support the Chesapeake Bay Program where Maryland works cooperatively with other state and local governments, as well as with the federal government to clean up the Bay. I will also support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and implementation of Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plans and related pollution reduction targets. Additionally, I will invest in solutions to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay that harness advances in technology, innovation, and citizen engagement, like the Chesapeake Conservancy’s Conservation Innovation Center, which uses cloud-based data analysis techniques to more effectively identify conservation opportunities. We will make Maryland the center of the green economy and provide funding for environmental innovators by establishing a statewide Maryland Green Bank. Finally, to clean the Chesapeake Bay, we have to support farmers. In 2016, nearly one-third of Maryland’s total land area was used for agriculture, the largest commercial industry in Maryland, which supports roughly 350,000 jobs. As Governor, I will advocate for increases in technical and financial assistance to help farmers implement conservation practices to increase their efficiency, reduce pollution, and preserve natural resources.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Ross: Without extending health coverage to all Marylanders, we are denying quality of life to many in our state and increasing health care costs for everyone. This is something we must do immediately. To begin with, we must play good defense and then launch a good offense to make sure Marylanders are able to access the health care they need. As a starting point, we need to protect and preserve the best parts of the ACA. We also need to add a public option through Medicaid so that everyone in Maryland has access to quality, affordable health care. This is an important step we can take in Annapolis, and we do not need the support of the federal government to do so, and I would push for such an option wholeheartedly. I have no confidence in this Congress to add a federal public option, so as Governor I will commit to working with the legislature to establish a state run public option. We also need to continue to fight to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. The House and Senate were right to pass HB 631, allowing Attorney General Brian Frosh to go after pharmaceutical companies accused of price gouging. As Governor, I would support the Maryland Attorney General’s office and work with our congressional delegation and others to fight for common-sense legislation to make drug prices more affordable for Maryland families.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Ross: The state must work hand-in-hand with Baltimore City’s local government to develop and implement a holistic plan to address violent crime. At the state level, we can help address this issue from many perspectives, beginning with making sure we are not making it easy for guns to flow through our state. For example, Maryland–with a few exceptions–does not let localities regulate firearms. If places like Baltimore want to set higher standards than Maryland law currently permits, they should be able to. Maryland as a state should establish a “floor”, not a ceiling. In addition, we must empower our police officers to be part of the community, not aggravants of it, by promoting community policing methods. The way that we reduce violent crime is by empowering more officers to engage on the ground with community members, and also equipping key community actors, like teachers and health care providers, in the best way possible to do their jobs so that issues like poverty and inequality are not continually perpetuated.
How would you characterize Maryland's business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Ross: Our current governor likes to claim that Maryland is “open for business,” when in all reality, we are not doing enough to support our state’s innovators and business owners, especially when compared to our neighboring states who work every day to poach our businesses. We are too focused on the ‘Amazons’ of the world, and not on supporting the small and medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of our economy. My running mate, Julie Verratti, is acutely aware of the challenges that face business owners, given that she is the co-founder of Denizens Brewing in Silver Spring. Together, we are focused on supporting and growing homegrown innovators. This is the key way to increase the amount of good jobs in our state and attract the kind of investment that will lead to many more. I have also proposed a $1B investment in inclusive innovation that will ensure that workers in our state are able to compete and succeed in an ever-evolving technological economy. The objective is to accelerate the integration of technology and innovation into every sector of economy by dramatically expanding the number of tech-savvy workers in Maryland. We will focus especially on the more than 50 percent of Marylanders without a college degree. What we are missing is a set of institutions that are designed to deliver specific skills quickly, affordably, and credibly — working with industries — so that people earn credentials that are connected to actual skills and translate into jobs. We can close this gap.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Ross: We need to make the modification of Congressional districts a process conducted by independent commissions that rely on the fairness of mathematics rather than the bias of politics. Among the damaging effects of hyper-partisanship in America is the rise in the practice of gerrymandering. Here in Maryland, we have been debating gerrymandering for years. The map redrawn in 2010 by a Democratic administration is still under judicial review. And some of its architects have subsequently called for independent commissions. The Supreme Court will soon decide the question of whether it is Constitutional to redraw district lines for the advantage of one party over another regardless of its impact on accurate representation of the voters in Congress or the state legislature. Whatever the outcome of that case, Maryland should set a standard of independent commissions that seek to deliver a fair and reasonable representation for all voters. Additionally, we need to set up a commission of leading election reform experts tasked with studying the problems of voter choice and political polarization and making recommendations for the state. One possibility to get at this problem is to open up our primaries to all voters. And another promising option is Rank Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting). On its face, this is a logical step toward real change that doesn’t fundamentally alter our elections. It is simple and it will bring more competition into our politics and more choices for voters.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Ross: We must do everything we can to both empower and protect police officers, while also making sure that they are never above the law or not held responsible for non-permitted or illegal actions taken while doing their jobs (or outside of it). The current Bill of Rights for officers has not changed much since the 1970s when it was instituted, and I believe there are some ways that it could be made more current and applicable to our climate in 2018. We must have civilians on all review boards for incidents of misconduct by officers. This is just common sense and it an agency we need to give to citizens. And we must have independent civilian review boards to help us hold officers accountable by those they serve. We can’t cut corners on background checks, and if there are loopholes we need to close, we have to do it. We also must continue to evaluate how complaints are filed against officers and if anonymous complaints are something that we should empower citizens to make. And these complaints must be investigated promptly. As with all other aspects of our government, openness about the actions of our police force indicates the health of our law enforcement in the state.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Ross: As governor, I would support services and solutions that treat the opioid crisis as what it truly is: a public health crisis. We must prioritize inter-agency cooperation so we can address this crisis from all sides, be it in our education systems, state-run healthcare providers, and even in how we treat and train those recovering from opioid addiction as they look to re-enter employment and normal living. If we treat the crisis this way, then there is no reason to be de-funding or privatizing state-run service providers working to address this issue. I believe that we also encourage non-opioid pain treatment methods, including medical marijuana, that are coming to market, as pain treatment is a major runway into opioid abuse. I would work with our legislators and state departments to address this crisis from all sides.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Ross: My run for governor is animated by a belief that talent is everywhere and opportunity is not and that here in Maryland, we need to work to change that. This is about taking a holistic approach to issues of inequality that have always plagued our society and making our state the most inclusive and equitable in the country. I’ve released detailed education policy that outlines programs that will help more Marylanders enter the economic mainstream. I want to make Maryland the white hot center of the skilled trades, training many non-college-goers and those making mid-career transitions to work in high demand, high-paying fields. Additionally, that policy also calls for an expansion of the community schools model, which has proven to be the most effective public school model for helping to lift children and families out of poverty. I have also released detailed policy on child care, calling for new funding models that make child care more accessible to all Marylanders, given how formative it is for children and their future success. We also cannot ignore that we still have incredible equal pay issues, with women making around $0.80 to the dollar compared to men, and African-American women making even less. It should be the case that we are leading the way in equality, and passing legislation to close the wage gap is a great place to start, as well as focus on communities of color and other disenfranchised groups.
Do the state's Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylander's ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Ross: I am a firm believer that our openness in government is a key indicator of how healthy our democracy is. There is always more we can do, and I have been on the front lines of government transparency throughout my public service career. I was the first person responsible for President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, focused on making all government info open, machine-readable, and available in real time. I want to do the same in Maryland. Sunlight is always the best disinfectant. Another example from my time in the Obama administration that I would like to see done in Maryland is his “We the People” website that allowed any American to introduce a petition and gather electronic signatures on the White House website. Once a petition reached 100,000 signatures, the White House would review and respond. A petition system like this can help amplify ordinary citizens’ voices. And it can help bring greater accountability for elected officials to respond to the voters. As Governor, I will implement a “Governor’s Petition Pledge” and commit to responding to any petition that garners at least 5,000 electronic signatures from Marylanders. I know this will be another great tool for Marylanders to engage with their public officials, especially their governor. Lastly, it’s hard to believe that in 2018, Marylanders can’t simply go online and watch all the proceedings of the government they have paid for, but it’s true. As Governor, I will call on the legislature to livestream all votes and committee hearings.