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?
Zokle: I support the majority of the findings in the Kirwin Commission report. The report states that despite better investments in Universal Pre-K, Maryland’s Pre-K programs are viewed as “average” in the United States. We must do a better job to increase Universal Pre-K access regardless of socio-economic background or zip code; doing so will close further close the achievement gap. The report also encourages better protections for at-risk students, including students from diverse communities. Whether referencing smaller student-teacher ratios, career and college ready services, anti-bullying measures and increased mental health access, the answer always comes down to funding to build better schools. I am committed to funding the recommended reforms in the report through increased contributions from our casinos. Our state must increase pressure on casinos to produce the intended revenue for our public school system. If elected, I will fight to make sure this happens.
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?
Zokle: No. Maryland must do better to connect communities across the state and relieve traffic congestion through new transit initiatives. Reducing our carbon footprint to fight climate change should always be a central focus, so building new roads should be the alternative only when new transit options are much more expensive or not compatible with exisiting transportation needs and geographic areas. Our state does not have the resources to meet existing needs, which include funding WMATA and other transit projects. Finally, Baltimore is grossly underserved by transit. Better connections are needed to get around the city and for families to travel to and from Annapolis, DC, and elsewhere in Maryland. This is why we need a new source of revenue for transit projects.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Zokle: Yes. Over 60% of Marylanders support the legalization of marijuana. Legalizing recreational marijuana will lessen the stigma placed on patients who want to utilize marijuana for medical reasons, but hesitate to request a prescription. Legalizing recreational marijuana will also significantly boost our local economies, regardless if you consume it, and will further reduce crime. Legalization should place marijuana under government control and allow for organized labor to participate in the process in order to strengthen the influence of our unions. If elected, I will support legalization measures in order to create a state transportation fund so Maryland better funds Metro, Bus Rapid Transit, Baltimore’s transit initiatives, as well as explores options for increased transit services between Annapolis and our nation’s capital. Legalization funds can also contribute to our state’s education budget to better fund school construction.
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?
Zokle: Maryland can implement a number of programs to protect our Bay. These programs include fighting the Trump administration’s efforts to damage our Eastern Shore, educating and partnering with our farmers to reduce pollution and create a green job market surrounding new energy sources and climate resilience. Climate change and green energy are perhaps two of the most important issues our state can tackle to fend off Trump’s catastrophic policies eroding our bay and threatening Maryland tourism. Unlike our federal government, we must strengthen state resources for our environmental agencies, build coalitions with local organizations, and educate our families on how to join the fight to protect our Bay.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Zokle: Maryland should strive to achieve a single-payer health care system. Until that day comes, our state should focus on implementing the same benefits offered in the Affordable Care Act, implement paid sick leave standards for working families, and increase mental health services. We should invest in the educational and cultural resources, both online and in community forums, that make it possible for as many Marylanders to enroll in these programs as possible. Creating better access to health care improves the well being of our students, unions, small businesses, faith-based communities, immigration population, and our seniors. Increasing access to health care programs may also decrease the number of deaths from opioid use, enable students to perform better in our schools, and offer better services for seniors and other vulnerable populations, including underserved communities.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Zokle: I lived in Baltimore City for two years. During that time, my friends and I survived a home invasion in Fells Point and were held at gunpoint for over two hours until we escaped. I understand the need for stricter gun control laws in Maryland and will build coalitions across the state to achieve reform. In addition to stricter gun laws, we need increased mental health services, more resources for the Baltimore City Police Department, and better investments in community watch groups. Our state should also coordinate efforts with the Mayor and Council to provide better funding for educational and social programs for our youth and discourage criminal activity. These initiatives are part of my Social & Economic Justice and Cultural Awareness priorities.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Zokle: Maryland can do a better job attracting new business around the state. Doing a better job means directing development efforts to areas in actual need of development in order to boost local economies. Targetted development helps protect our environment and accomplishes Social & Economic Justice. Our business climate should also incorporate Cultural Awareness programs to better include our immigrant and diverse populations so they have a better seat at the economic table. One way to accomplish this is through greater participation for women and minorities in our state’s Minority Business Enterprise program. Supporting new and innovative transit projects in our neighborhoods also increases the likelihood of a thriving economy. If elected, I will empower small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, fight to retain and attract new business in Maryland, and help create a green jobs economy to implement climate resilience programs and reduce our carbon footprint. We must be creative in this process. When our economy pushes down on our citizens, we must empower them to push back three times harder.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Zokle: Yes. An independent commission will better serve the voters in our state and preserve our democracy. I am running for office to change the way government works for all citizens across the state. I will support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body if elected.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Zokle: The Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) provides a good foundation for protecting the police and the public, but improvements are necessary. For example, the issue of adding a civilian representative to police review boards was addressed late in the 2018 legislative session. I support this measure because it will change the LEOBOR to better address community needs. However, this process should consider bargaining agreements, including the opinions of law enforcement officers, and provide proper training standards for a citizen who will serve on the board. I also support extending the LEOBOR application to college campuses desiring to incorporate better due process standards for university police.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Zokle: Maryland is failing to provide residents with adequate mental health and wellness programs. We need better health insurance options so individuals struggling with addiction can access the services they need to recover. We also need wellness programs and mental health education in our public school systems so younger generations learn that opioids and other drugs are not alternatives to counseling. These programs should be available to all communities, especially minorities and lower income families. I was appointed by the Montgomery County Government to serve as Legal Representative for the County’s Mental Health Association. Previously, I served on the Montgomery County Children’s Panel to champion affordable housing options for foster youth entering adulthood. These experiences made me realize how few resources our county and state have available for residents in need of them. If we are to overcome the opioid crisis, we can only succeed if mental health programs become a better priority. Our efforts with the Keep the Door Open Act are a good start.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Zokle: Maryland should adopt a $15 dollar minimum wage and also increase wages for tipped workers. We should invest in our small business community, provide training for local entrepreneurs to jump-start small businesses, and increase participation in the Minority Business Enterprise program, which should include LGBT owned businesses. In order to make sure students are career and college ready, I support free community college tuition, state-sponsored student loan relief programs, apprenticeship labor opportunities, and technical courses offered to prepare future generations for multiple career paths. Cultural Awareness programs are also helpful because they allow future business owners of diverse backgrounds to access government services and tax breaks to jump-start a business. Income inequality can also be addressed by investing in better transit options for working families to get to and from work. Finally, we should better invest in environmental protection initiatives and create a “green jobs” market to increase our workforce and achieve environmental justice. My campaign’s top three priorities are Social & Economic Justice, Cultural Awareness, and the Environment. Supporting the above policies and programs will enable these priorities to become a reality.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Zokle: Attorney General Brian Frosh’s December 2017 report on the implementation of the Private Information Act provides recommendations for better government oversight for citizens. State residents should have adequate, accurate, and consistent oversight of government activity, which includes the Open Meetings Act. Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board recently discovered violations made by the Worcester County Board of Education and the Carroll County Board of Commissioners due to lack of adequate closed-door meeting notices and the failure to provide post closed-door meeting summaries. Our boards should continue to identify these errors and improve our cooperation with local governments to achieve proper oversight. We must balance public access to public records with privacy rights of individuals and organizations while protecting government interests. These laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight and we must continue to implement these recommendations so that oversight improves over time.