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?
Ali: Absolutely, particularly the Commission’s emphasis on using our resources to improve the equity in our education system. I believe the framework that its report outlines should be fully funded. I believe that the state can generate significant funding streams from an expanded medical marijuana industry, as well as legalizing and taxing the adult use of marijuana. This measure can also drive down the amount of money we spend annually on enforcement, incarceration, and addiction-related services on multiple fronts: every state that has legalized marijuana has seen a decrease in the level of opioid abuse that its population experiences.
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?
Ali: The State has the resources to meet its transportation needs, but we are not spending them in a way that creates a meaningful balance between transit and roads. Many of my constituents are bus-first commuters, whether they are going to school, work, or to any goods or services they may need that day. We are not making sufficient investments in public transportation to ensure that they can commute quickly and easily by bus, let alone to provide them with other options like rail or bike. Cancelling the Red Line and treating BaltimoreLink as though it is a sufficient replacement is a perfect example of this reality. We need improved bus service AND a first-rate rail system like other cities in the region enjoy. We can improve our transportation by facilitating more community input before changes to the transportation grid are made, and by requiring a more progressive modal split between spending on roads and public transit.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Ali: Yes, because it has been a great success in every state that has embraced it thus far.
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?
Ali: Too often in conversations about our environment, we focus only on high-visibility assets that, though very important to protect, should not come at the expense of our focus on the quality of environment in high-density urban areas like Baltimore. We have an extremely high rate of respiratory illness in Baltimore, issues with water quality even in our schools, and continue to struggle with exposure to elements like lead. These are important problems that deserve just as much environmental attention as the Bay, but often receive much less emphasis. With respect to the Bay, we should expand our investments in remedies that improve water quality and combat shoreline erosion while also restoring native flaura and fauna, like reintroducing more oyster beds and native grasses each year. We can also always improve the septic regulations for properties near the Bay. Truly addressing the Bay’s well-being also requires a comprehensive solution to the impact of poultry farms on the shore though.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Ali: We should expand the service coverage provided under Medicare and Medicade, and do a better job of offering affordable prescriptions for senior citzens. It’s also important to help ensure that people without easy access to the online Health Exchange are better able to utilize its offerings. Of course, good access to healthcare also means supporting union members who have access to healthcare through negotiated labor agreements, which are an important souce of economic power that provides for quality of life services like healthcare.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Ali: Baltimore deserves to have control of its own police department, and remains the only municipality in the state without control of its police department. State government should return local control to Baltimore, so that many of our efforts for structural reform are not required to fit in a 90-day window, and receive the approval of non-Baltimore City electeds. The state should provide more meaningful funding for violence intervention programs like Safe Streets, and coordinate with the City’s police department on clearing warrants, which is a huge step towards addressing violent repeat offenders in the City. But the state also has a role to play in addressing violent crime before it occurs, by providing equitable funding for the City’s school system, and supporting higher-wage jobs and career onramps for disinvested communities in the City. One of the best tools for stopping a crime before it occurs is helping someong secure a good job and a good house.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Ali: Maryland has a strong business climate, that provides many of our residents an extremely high standard of living. Our greatest economic challenge is expanding access to those good quality of life outcomes, which means a more worker-centric approach to business. A $15 minimum wage is one of the most important steps that the state can take towards providing good outcomes for all of our residents, as are expanded investments in technical training and apprenticeships for our young persons. A family supporting job isn’t just one that pays a healthy salary though; it’s one that ensures that a medical crisis will not destablize someone’s financial future. That’s why Maryland needs to support workers who seek to make employer-supported healthcare an expectation in the state.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Ali: We cannot expect republicans to allow for non-partisan solutions to gerrymandering in other states if we are not willing to do the same here. My greatest concern is in making sure Baltimore does not lose Baltimore-only districts in any redrawing of the district maps, and that Governor Hogan is not able to put his finger on the scale of what should be a non-partisan process.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Ali: No, LEOBOR provides disproprotionate protections to the police, without providing any obvious benefits to the citizens they serve. We need statewide reform that allows 2 voting civilian members to serve on misconduct hearing boards in every Maryland municipality, and we need to decrease the amount of time between when an officer is involved in use of force on a civilian and when they are required to give a statement on the use of force. We should also require that each police department offer public reports on officer invovlement in use of force incidents on a regular basis.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Ali: Having professional training in this area, I feel strongly that we need a more health-based approach to all types of addiction, not just opioid addiction. The new crisis centers introduced under the HOPE/Keep the Door Open Act are a good start, but they are exactly that- a start. We know that having treatment centers located more proximate to those suffering from addiction helps improve the rate of utilization. We also need to fully separate the penal system from addiction treatment so that we improve the success rate of addiction treatment. Legislation passed in 2018 took a big step backwards on this front, as some offenders who suffer from addiction are no longer allowed to receive treatment outside of prison, which increases their likelihood both of re-offending and of using again. Drug courts that have a caseload focused entirely on dealing with drug-related cases is also an opportunity to improve the nuance and impact of judicial decisions in this realm.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Ali: We can improve economic outcomes by improving the equity of investments in our educaiton system, and expanding pathways to college, technical training, or apprenticeships. This requires funding formulas that better account for school districts located in disinvested communities, but it also requires debt-free or tuition free higher education for youth who experience economic barriers to continued education. We should also create stronger worker protections, be they higher minimum wages, better prevailing wage guarantees, Community Benefits Agreements that actually hold employers accountable, and expanded access to quality affordable healthcare. This also means a more just approach to our criminal justice system, so that lives are not disrupted by incarceration over low-level drug offenses or crimes of poverty, and expanding the number of offenses that are eligible for expungement and the speed with which eligibility is achieved after release.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Ali: Oftentimes, the impact of PIA laws is dependent on how well they are leveraged by media outlets that the average Marylander reads, rather than the average Marylander utilizing a PIA law in their personal capacity. Cities like Boston have made great strides forward in creating easily accessed and understood public dashboards that report on the delivery of government services though. PIA laws are an important part of the equation, but we should require the government to provide information to the public instead of the public to seek out information in the midst of busy lives, and we should require that public reporting to be done through an easily understood user interface.