2018 Primary election results

Krish O'Mara Vignarajah

Krish O'Mara Vignarajah
  • Democrat
  • Running mate: Sharon Y. Blake
  • Age: 38
  • Residence: Gaithersburg

About Krish O'Mara Vignarajah

Education

I’m a proud Maryland’s public school kid. I attended Edmonson Heights Elementary, Woodbridge Elementary, Johnnycake Middle School, and Woodlawn High School. In fact, I’m the only candidate running for governor who attended Maryland public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. After Woodlawn, I attended Yale College and graduated with a Master’s degree in Political Science & a B.S. in Molecular Biology. I received a Marshall Scholarship to attend Oxford University and study International Relations. I completed my law degree at Yale Law School.

Background

I have had the privilege to work at the highest levels of business and government. Most recently, I served as the Policy Director for Michelle Obama in the White House, where I led the Obama’s signature multi-billion dollar Let Girls Learn initiative and managed different initiatives related to veterans, nutrition, and education. I previously served as a senior policy advisor in State Department under Secretaries Clinton and Kerry, where I helped develop and oversee the Department’s $51.6 billion budget and led programs in private sector investment, infrastructure, entrepreneurship, women’s issues, engagement with youth and religious communities, and climate change. Before joining the government, I gained valuable private sector experience by consulting for Fortune 100 companies with McKinsey and Company, practicing law at Jenner & Block, and teaching courses on International Relations as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University.

Questionnaire

1
Education
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?

Vignarajah: My absolute top priority is fully funding our schools and implementing the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations. I’m the only candidate who is a product of Maryland public schools from K-12. I’m the daughter of two Baltimore City public school teachers and my running mate, Sharon Blake, was a lifelong public school teacher and former Baltimore Teachers Union President.

I personally lived through many of the problems we’re still facing today, such as trying to learn in sweltering heat or freezing cold in so-called temporary trailers that still remain today or watching my parents struggle on their teachers’ salary, but still pay for classroom supplies and food for students that the school couldn’t afford.

I support fully funding the Commission’s recommendation. As Governor, I will build the full additional state-share of $1.9 billion into my first budget. I also strongly support the Commission’s recommendations of raising educator pay, elevating the status of the teaching profession, and investing in universal pre-K and STEM education. This is ultimately about closing the opportunity gap and ensuring every child realizes their full potential.

To ensure full funding, I will:

  1. Reduce costs elsewhere, such as displacing mass-incarceration with drug treatment;
  2. Raise revenues by increasing taxes on vices/pollution;
  3. Close loopholes in tax code;
  4. Dedicate gambling revenues towards education;
  5. Renovate schools to improve energy/water efficiency and redirect savings back into schools;
  6. Secure outside funding for investments that pay for themselves through long-term savings, like pre-K;
  7. Generate new revenues from private-sector jobs growth.
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2
Transportation
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?

Vignarajah: We must provide both safe roads and efficient transit. This is personal, because when my family immigrated to Maryland, we couldn’t afford a car for several years. If it wasn’t for the buses along Route 40, my dad couldn’t have gotten to his job teaching at Edmonson High. Indeed, for many Marylanders, transit is the gateway to opportunity.

Today, we have a 1950s transportation system that spends twice as much on roads as on transit—and the results are disastrous. Marylanders spend 74 hours in traffic annually and lose $1,500 in lost wages and wasted gas. At the same time, the deficiencies in public transit are a root cause of poverty, crime, and the lack of opportunity.

My administration is committed to cutting commute times in half by investing in both roads and transit. Greater Baltimore contains almost half of the state’s residents, yet receives only a fraction of transportation funding. Rather than spending $9 billion to create a few luxury lanes, while the rest of suffer with near-term construction and no long-term benefit, my administration will adopt a different approach and base decisions upon equity considerations:

  1. Build the Red Line: My administration will restart the Red Line on my first day.

  2. Fix the BaltimoreLink: The routes, frequency, and reliability all have to be rethought.

  3. Reduce congestion: Add reversible lanes, improve light timing, and improve interchanges.

  4. Develop complete streets: Work with communities to build safe, complete streets, including separated bike lanes.

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3
Marijuana
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?

Vignarajah: I support the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

Legalizing medical marijuana has tangible public health benefits, like creating significant reductions in the number of opioid-related overdoses. Further, the taxation of marijuana could become an important source of revenue to fund education in Maryland, but the cultivation and sale of cannabis also needs careful regulation and fair competition for licenses to ensure that people of color are not shutout from the potential economic opportunities.

Ultimately, I believe we need to treat drug use as a public health issue not a criminal one. This philosophy guides my approach to liberalization measures. We need policy that sensibly follows the evidence, rather than the drug enforcement dogma that too often penalizes our most vulnerable communities due to their ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic status.

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4
Bay
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?
Vignarajah: “The Chesapeake Bay is Maryland’s most precious natural resource. At a time when the Trump Administration has tried to defund the Bay Program, unravel the Clean Water Rule, and undermine the Bay’s pollution diet, we must be more vigilant than ever As Governor, I will protect the Bay from pollution and the effects of climate change by:
1. Investing in Natural Systems: I will fully fund programs for oyster restoration, reforestation, streambank revegetation, wetland restoration, and cover crops—all of which improve water quality and improve resilience to climate impacts.
2. Implementing Phosphorus Management Tool: I will work with farmers to implement the PMT to focus our efforts on the places where it will have the greatest impact.
3. Improving Agricultural Practices: We must do a better job leveraging the wide array of federal, state, and local programs designed to reduce nutrient pollution. From improved manure management and cover crops to precision nutrient application and advanced irrigation solutions, we can both reduce pollution and make farming more profitable.
4. Reducing pollution from Septic Tanks and Impervious Surfaces: We must prioritize water infrastructure projects that reduce pollution by connecting homes with septic systems to central sewer systems and encouraging green infrastructure solutions that reduce runoff pollution from impervious surfaces.
5. Addressing Upstream Threats: We must hold other Bay States accountable to fulfill their obligations to reduce nutrients, sediment, and toxics. We must resolve the growing crisis at the Conowingo Dam as more sediment overflows into the Bay during severe storm events.”
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5
Health Care
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?

Vignarajah: “Healthcare is a human right and under my administration, every Marylander will have access to affordable healthcare. Over 350,000 Marylanders are currently uninsured and, as the Trump administration continues attempts to dismantle our national healthcare infrastructure, another 400,000 Marylanders could lose coverage.

My administration will work with the General Assembly to develop and implement a state-run public option that would offer affordable healthcare coverage to every Maryland resident. A public option is a government-run insurance plan available over the Affordable Care Act exchanges that would compete against private insurers – driving down the overall cost of health insurance, particularly in areas with just one or two private insurance options.

This solution allows Maryland to achieve our goals of universal coverage and affordability without raising taxes or recklessly dismantling our current healthcare infrastructure. We need to make immediate improvements to the coverage, quality, and cost of Maryland’s healthcare for all its residents—regardless of their income or zip code.

As Governor, I’ll be focused on improving outcomes for patients, and to do so, I’ve called for the following:

  1. Expanding Maryland’s all-payer rate-setting system;
  2. Reinvesting in preventative public health programs through innovation grants to local health departments;
  3. Employing targeted enrollment incentives;
  4. Improving healthcare access and coordination in rural areas by expanding grants to community health workers, school-based health centers, mobile integrated heath units, and other non-traditional providers and improving access to public transportation;
  5. Enhancing senior care and end-of-life care; and
  6. Developing new efforts to improve maternity care.”
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6
Crime
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?

Vignarajah: Addressing the violence in Baltimore must be a top statewide priority. Annapolis must stop playing politics and start making strategic investments. As Governor, my administration will attack the fundamental causes of crime like poverty, crumbling schools, no jobs, poor transit, and public health needs. We will not return to the failed strategies of mass incarceration, racial profiling, zero tolerance, mandatory minimums, blaming the judiciary, and the war on drugs. As Governor, I will be a full partner in the City’s efforts to rebuild trust between the community and police by providing significant resources and support to help the City achieve greater diversity within the ranks of the BPD; encourage more officers to live in the communities they serve; prioritize de-escalation; end the school-to-prison pipeline; and, above all, foster communication and trust among police and the communities they serve.

My administration will fund proven programs, like Safe Streets, Operation Safe Kids, de-escalation trainings, and gun buy-back programs. We will fully fund Baltimore public schools, build the Red Line, and provide free community college to expand economic opportunity. We will also expand drug addiction like a public health crisis and ensure access to drug treatment and access to mental health services. We will also enact comprehensive gun violence prevention laws to slow the movement of guns into the City. Most importantly, I will be a full partner with the Mayor who will bring the full suite of state executive branch resources to address the underlying causes that are fueling the violence.

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7
Business
How would you characterize Maryland's business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?

Vignarajah: “We have to be honest: Maryland is one of the toughest places to start and grow a business in the nation. Our dependence upon 300,000 federal jobs has made us complacent and unwilling to make tough decisions that would improve our competitiveness. The truth is that without those federal jobs and contractors, Maryland would have the highest unemployment rate in the country. Our complacency has led to job losses in manufacturing, information technology, and, most recently, media with the departure of Discovery. In several other sectors, wages are down and many new jobs pay less than a living wage.

By focusing on the fundamentals, we can create 250,000 new jobs over the next four years:

  1. Supporting Small Businesses: Small businesses create half of all jobs in Maryland. We must improve the predictability of permitting processes, eliminate redundant regulations, reconsider antiquated taxes fees, and expand access to capital.
  2. Catalyzing our Innovation Economy: We have the nation’s second most educated workforce, access to academic and government research to be commercialized, and thousands of entrepreneurs trying to contribute to the economy. We must support them with incubator space and access to capital, support services and markets.
  3. Building an inclusive workforce: Many companies complain to me that they have a hard time finding employees with the skills they need.

With free community college, strategic retraining initiatives, apprentice programs, and hiring incentives, we can connect Marylanders who want to work with employers in construction, specialized manufacturing, biotechnology, cybersecurity, and clean energy.”

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8
Districts
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Vignarajah: Along with the corrosive role of money in politics, gerrymandering is one of the single greatest threats to the health of our democracy. Voters should pick their elected officials—elected officials should not pick their voters. I support calls for independent experts to draw district lines in Maryland using transparent processes/formulas to ensure fairness. At the same time, I will work regionally on solutions to ensure that our good government actions in Maryland do not adversely affect the overall balance of power in the U.S. House.
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9
LEOBR
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?

Vignarajah: I believe the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR) should be reformed. We must expand community involvement in policing and promote greater transparency, while still ensuring officers can continue to effectively perform their duties and their rights as public servants remain protected.

It’s vital that we restore trust between police and the communities they serve.

The only way to achieve this is to overhaul our approach to community policing, which must include opening the LEOBR to a review process driven by community input. Right now, the LEOBR prevents legitimate civilian oversight of police. Disciplinary action against officers cannot be imposed unless recommended, “by a hearing board comprised of other sworn officers.” While the vast majority of police officers have good intentions, this system cannot help but create systemic bias and erode trust with the community.

Communities deserve to have a say in the way public safety is provided. They should have significant input into the structure and standards of acceptable behavior within their local police force. Individuals involved in policy misconduct investigations should have access to the results, without compromising the sensitive personal data. As the state works with local law enforcement to promote de-escalation training, cultural competency training to build a culture where black lives matter, and other forms of community policing initiatives, the need for LEOBR’s protections will likely dramatically decrease. We have the power to ensure communities and police are rebuilding trust and working together to promote public safety and a healthy society together.

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10
Opioids
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?

Vignarajah: My strategy to address the opioid crisis includes:

  1. Taking immediate action to save lives: My administration is committed to spending the state resources needed to address the shortage of Naloxone; every law enforcement official, public health provider, and Maryland household should have access to this life-saving drug. We also need to expand the Overdose Survivor Outreach Program to every medical facility in the state to funnel those struggling with addition into medically-based treatment programs.

  2. Expanding access to addiction treatment: We must treat addiction like a disease and ensure 247 access to behavioral health services. We need to integrate the Maryland Department of Health with other state-run services to coordinate whole-person care for those struggling with any kind of addiction, while improving the availability of buprenorphine and methadone. Realigning our state agencies’ data, eligibility, and approach to service could both expand access and significantly reduce the cost of this and future interventions to taxpayers.

  3. Investing in long-term prevention strategies: We must address what economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton describe as “deaths of despair.” Deaths from drug overdose, suicide, and alcohol remain highest in economically depressed urban and rural communities and among people without a college degree. To attack this fundamental inequity, we need to make education and economic opportunity available from cradle to career—restoring both access and dignity to work and investing in our state’s educational infrastructure. This includes fully funding public schools, providing free community college and retraining programs, and investing in public transit.

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11
Income
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?

Vignarajah: There is no silver bullet. We must invest from cradle to career:

  1. Maternity care and infant health: Fighting inequality must start at birth. We must address Maryland’s staggeringly bad outcomes related to maternal health and infant mortality.

  2. Universal pre-kindergarten: Nearly 40% of 3- and 4-year old children still do not have access to pre-k and they rarely catch up to their peers.

  3. Fully funding our schools

  4. Free community college/training programs: We must work to train individuals to compete for jobs in clean energy, biosecurity, information technology, and construction trades.

  5. Access to transit: Retraining is useless unless individuals can physically get to their jobs. The Red Line will serve as a gateway for residents to access 250,000 jobs.

  6. Wages: We need to increase the minimum wage.

  7. Right to organize: When labor has the power to collectively bargain, work conditions improve, basic rights are protected, and wages of both unionized and non-unionized employees rise.

  8. Decriminalization: Employment opportunities often plummet after going through the system. Efforts to ban the box and invest in re-entry programs are not nearly as effective as reducing arrests for non-violent infractions.

  9. Access to capital: Women and minority entrepreneurs have harder times accessing capital.The state should increase direct financial and technical support to start businesses.

  10. Tax fairness: Given the regressive nature of recently adopted Republican tax plan, we must ensure that Maryland’s tax code is progressive, closes loopholes, and expands programs like the earned income tax credit.

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12
Sunshine
Do the state's Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylander's ability to exercise oversight of the government?

Vignarajah: Transparency is a key tenant of democracy. Despite the Maryland Open Meetings Act requiring nearly all state government bodies to keep all meetings open to the public, provide adequate advanced public notification for future meetings, and require note-taking and the opportunity for the public to raise questions or concerns during proceedings, we have recently seen examples where the exceptions within the law are being abused.

Many of the worst abuses have occurred when public bodies are performing administrative functions. This includes the administration of a public law or “rule, regulation, or bylaw of the body,” which has diminished the ability of the public to influence or fully understand certain governance regulations designed to hold institutions accountable.

As Governor, I will work with the General Assembly to update the Open Meetings Act to make sure the public has access to records and meetings on administrative topics including discussion on the regulations of public bodies. This reform keeps institutions more accountable to citizens, and allows the public to take an active role in the development of administrative regulations.

In addition, the 1970 Public Information Act currently prevents citizens from requesting financial or commercial information that supposedly serves the state’s interest to keep confidential. While I agree that personal data must be protected, information about land-use permits by industries and corporations is critical to efforts to protect the environment and achieve workable solutions. This exception must be changed, particularly if we want to hold industries accountable for their impact on natural resources.

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