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?
Thomas: I wholeheartedly support the preliminary recommendations of the Kirwan commission. Initiatives such as broadened vocational training and education opportunities, increased teacher compensation, and universal pre-kindergarten are especially germane to the needs of our city. A quality and comprehensive public education system is a powerful antidote to the plague of poverty which afflicts much of our Baltimore community and our state as a whole. After being the national leader in education for years, Maryland has unfortunately slipped to sixth in the nation, achieving a B- grade. If we want to reclaim our standing, our state government must protect and prioritize education appropriation. I am committed to championing any measures supporting education funding. I am hopeful that the lockbox referendum will be approved in November, thereby ensuring effective educational funding through state casino revenue.
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?
Thomas: The severity of this issue was underscored in the 2015 Harvard study which found that inefficient public transit is the leading cause of continued poverty. This is unacceptable. First, I would make sure that BaltimoreLink is properly funded to ensure a sufficient amount of buses and routes. Secondly, I would continue to work on building enough support for the Red Line or a similar variation. With such a large percentage of unemployment, especially within minority communities, we need to continue to promote multiple forms of transit to living wage jobs. It will take a dedicated and deliberate exercise of political will on the behalf of our state elected officials to bring a comprehensive and effective transit system to our Baltimore region. Our regional representatives must spearhead this effort.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Thomas: The proposed benefits of the legalization of recreational marijuana are wide-ranging. The economic impact of regulation and taxation of cannabis businesses would bring in millions of dollars in additional state revenue. Furthermore, legalization would allow law enforcement to redirect more resources to combat criminal activity. Legalization would also free up our courts and prisons from the prosecution and incarceration of thousands of non-violent individuals, which disproportionately impacts the African-American community. With all of this being said, I do believe that the legalization of recreational marijuana needs to be approached deliberately, but cautiously. There are societal costs that could possibly counterbalance the aforementioned proposed benefits. I believe that further assessment of the long-term comprehensive impact of legalization in other states should be conducted and considered before recreational marijuana becomes legal in Maryland.
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?
Thomas: The Chesapeake Bay is an integral part of our region and therefore needs continued safeguarding. I will support legislation protecting the Bay, such as the Offshore Drilling Liability Act, which passed this past session. Additionally, municipal sewers leaks and sewage overflows from treatment facilities are particularly concerning. I would support heightened state oversight of these issues.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Thomas: Healthcare is truly a basic human right. I therefore support a single-payer health care system so Marylanders can have access to quality health care and freedom from financial hardship due to enormous medical debt. Program funding would be made possible by factors including the reduction in health insurance administrative costs and the increased demand of employment opportunities within the state.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Thomas: Too often when discussing the issue of crime, the symptoms are confused with the underlying causes. Mass incarceration has been clearly shown to be an ineffective method for reducing violent crime. There has not been enough of a focus on strengthening the rehabilitative effect of the correctional system. And once returning citizens come back home, there is a lack of sufficient services to facilitate a positive life change. Recidivism is a major contributor to criminal activity. It costs the state and city millions of dollars in medical and correctional services. The broader societal costs are exponentially higher. Real Chance Real Change is my initiative for our returning citizens that will provide wraparound services, including housing, vocational training, mental health, and financial literacy. During this time, program members will serve as advocates in the neighborhoods they came up in. This will provide much needed additional advocacy for our forgotten neighborhoods. After completion of the program, jobs will be guaranteed by local businesses who are incentivized by state tax credits. The designed impact of this initiative would therefore be to reduce recidivism and new participants of criminal activity, while providing more skilled labor to local businesses.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Thomas: With the vigorous regional competition from Virginia and D.C., Maryland must continue to becoming increasingly attractive to companies of all sizes. As a small business owner, I understand the impact that family-supporting jobs can have on the health of a community. I support the responsible use of business incentives at the state-level to stimulate job creation, such as tax-credits and grants.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Thomas: I believe that our elected representatives should not cede the authority to outline congressional and legislative district boundaries to an unelected group of individuals. I would be inclined to support initiatives like the Mid-Atlantic Compact, where the six regional states would all undergo redistricting in a bipartisan manner. Such measures would ensure procedural equity among the parties.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Thomas: The relationship between the community and the Baltimore Police Department has clearly deteriorated over time. Mutual trust must be gradually established to mend the broken relationship. Amending the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), is a critical step towards increasing the community confidence in the equity and efficacy of police actions. I support the appointment of a civilian to the proposed three-member panel specifically tasked with hearing and addressing cases involving police brutality. As a delegate, I also intend to hold regular community meetings in the district, bringing together community stakeholders and the representatives of the relevant police districts to help bridge the divide. Ultimately, it will take a healthy partnership with the community and the police to enhance the quality of life within our city.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Thomas: Opioid addiction has been ravaging our Baltimore community for decades. With almost ten percent of our population suffering under the sickness of addiction, we must act with purpose and commitment to address this issue. The increase in the lethality of the drugs, including but not limited to, carfentanil has been particularly alarming. Increased funding for traditional drug treatment facilities is essential. We must however be comprehensive in our efforts to ameliorate this scourge, including initiatives promoting better education and vocational training opportunities, mental health and wraparound family services, and active community support centers.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Thomas: Discrimination across the board must be addressed at every opportunity by the state. For example, discrimination in the ability to own a home has been a long-standing problem. The most prevalent source of family wealth is found in home ownership. Suitable housing is a basic necessity for all of our residents, irrespective of income-level. From the municipal perspective, I support the affordable housing trust fund to provide quality low and moderate income housing opportunities. At the state level, I would explore the feasibility of utilizing some of the casino revenue to provide an ongoing financing source for the trust fund.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Thomas: Public officials, and the government as a whole are to be accessible and accountable to all Marylanders. The Public Information Act (PIA) and open meeting laws are therefore critical to ensuring effective governmental oversight. The outmoded PIA rendered inefficient the facilitation of transparency. I support legislative initiatives, such as the establishment of the Public Information Act Compliance Board to improve public confidence in their government.