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?
Nemec: Among other things, the commission recommends strong support for early childhood education, phasing in an increase of teachers’ salaries, and creating an effective system of career and technical education and training. I support all of these recommendations. This may not be popular, but it needs to be said. Maryland needs to impose a tax on carbon dioxide production. This encourages good behavior and discourages bad behavior. We can use the money raised from this tax to invest in clean energy, build better roads and public transportation, and above all fund public schools. Moreover, any funds that were promised to public schools from the gaming industry must make its way to our public school system.
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?
Nemec: Ultimately, public transportation needs more funding. Baltimore is one of the only major cities in the nation without a properly and efficiently functioning local rail system. The Light Rail only serves the wealthier, central area of the city and the bus system has always been terrible and the adjustments haven’t improved the system at all. Also, services such as the Charm City Circulator, which is free for public use, only serve the higher income areas as well which makes no sense. By creating revenue from a carbon tax or the legalization of marijuana, we could possibly have more funds to allocate towards improving our transportation infrastructure and therefore improving the quality of life for all Baltimoreans.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Nemec: Yes, I do for several reasons. One reason is that, by many sources, marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes. There’s no doubt that long-term use of marijuana has an affect on the human body, but no more so than alcohol. Another reason is that it is immoral to imprison humans for using marijuana. The war on marijuana leads to a black market that criminal organizations use to fund violent operations. It has contributed to the explosive growth of incarceration in the US over several decades. Moreover police enforcement of marijuana possession and use distracts them from crimes that hurt real victims. Despite the costs, millions of people still use a drug that most Americans view as relatively safe. Lastly, we have seen success in other states that have legalized and regulated marijuana. By some reports, Colorado has spent its early revenues renovating schools, funding treatment programs, and combating dropouts and bullying. On top of that we are in the middle of an opioid epidemic. In places where marijuana is legal, opioid use drops.
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?
Nemec: Nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution are the top contributors of weakening the ecosystem of our Bay. Maryland must continue to work towards reducing pollution below the total maximum daily load it can withstand. This isn’t just about animal and plant life; it’s about human life and commerce too. We must continue to encourage farmers to use conservation practices like cover crops, forest buffers, and streamside fencing to reduce agricultural runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. Nutrient management planning for all agricultural operations in Maryland are mandatory, and we need to ensure that farms comply with these regulations. These ideas not only reduce agricultural runoff but can reduce a farm’s operational costs and improve a farm’s production. I’ve mentioned this in a previous question: Maryland must impose a carbon tax. Every serious economist, scientist, and mathematician supports this idea.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Nemec: We live in a country where lots of people don’t have healthcare. Even after the ACA, there are still people who don’t have health insurance. However, the idea that the most vulnerable people in this society are not going to have access to basic healthcare in this incredibly rich country is shocking. Health insurance companies are in the business to make a profit. As a result, they charge high premiums and copays, refuse insurance to people who need it the most, and make the claims process more difficult than it needs to be. There is no question that the United States should implement a single-payer healthcare system like the rest of the modern world. Many states have tried to implement a single-payer system at the state level and have failed. We should at least be trying to make affordable healthcare more accessible. California is currently exploring a bold and controversial new plan to keep healthcare costs in check by letting the state government set medical prices. I think Maryland should do something similar. I propose that we establish a new state authority to regulate prices that health insurance plans charge. We should use Medicare prices as a baseline on we charge for medical care.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Nemec: Total violent crimes have risen roughly 30% since 2014. We can increase police presence and give them better resources, but that only goes so far. We must address the root cause. The problem is that many of these people are desperate. They’ve grown up in poverty without adequate education or strong leaders. Baltimore City public schools has an average high school graduation rate of just 56%. Their neighbor Baltimore County has an average high school graduation rate of about 81%. It’s no coincidence that the median income of the city is a fraction of that of the county. Furthermore, the unemployment rate in the city is about 8.6%. We need to ignite Baltimore City with better access to education, after school programs, and decent paying jobs. Educated people are less likely to commit crimes. One study showed that the nation could save as much as $18.5 billion in annual crime costs if the high school male graduation rate increased by only 5 percentage points. At only 56% high school graduation rate, there is a lot of room for improvement. If we keep children in after school programs, we keep them engaged. Finally, someone who works 40 hours a week on minimum wage earns about $20,000 gross annually. That’s assuming they don’t take a day off. After paying for necessities like rent, food, utilities, taxes, etc, one hardly has anything leftover for themselves. When people are hopeless and desperate, they resort to crime. Introducing a livable wage would be a solution.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Nemec: As of the third quarter in 2017, Maryland has a GDP of about $398 billion. This is higher than the majority of other states and some countries. So our economy isn’t doing too bad, but we can do better. Maryland can certainly do better for small businesses and family owned business. We must look over our licensing laws and general regulations to consider what changes may help businesses thrive without creating undue risks to the public. Expanding state-subsidized health coverage would help businesses avoid the high costs of administering an employer-driven health insurance plan. Small businesses already have a tough time competing with large companies recruiting talent as the basis of salary; there is no need to add to the difficulty of running a small business by tacking on the difficulty of offering a competitive health insurance plan. We can also improve public transportation so that people can get to their jobs faster. This will enhance quality of life in the state so that we attract more employers and employees.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Nemec: In a time where there is so much divisiveness in our country, this is one issue that both major political parties can find common ground. This question addresses the issue of gerrymandering which is fundamentally unfair. It’s fundamentally unfair when Republicans do it, and it’s fundamentally unfair when Democrats do it. It is bad public policy to let politicians choose their voters rather than the other way around. I would support legislation that commissions an independent non-partisan authority to draw legislative and congressional lines without regard to how voters are registered. A healthy democracy requires an informed public to be actively engaged in the selection of its representatives. Gerrymandering effectively aims to give one political party an unfair advantage over the other. I would also support legislation that would change our voting system to reduce the effects of gerrymandering. Particularly, the use of multimember districts alongside voting systems to establish proportional representation such as single transferable voting can reduce wasted votes and gerrymandering. In other words, I would support sensible legislation that proposes an alternative voting system, like ranked-choice voting, in favor of our current voting system where people have a single vote for a single candidate.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Nemec: In my opinion, it does not. To summarize, the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR) protects American law enforcement from investigation and prosecution arising from conduct during official performance and gives them certain privileges additional to those provided to other citizens. For matters of emergencies, it makes sense that an officer can “break” local speed limit laws in order to arrive timely. But this idea can be abused. We have seen instances in other states and our own where police officers have betrayed the trust of their community and put citizens’ lives in danger. There must be a balance between allowing police officers to stray from the law (like breaking the speed limit) from time to time and protecting citizens. I would support legislation that allows the formation of civilian review boards to give civilians oversight over police actions.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Nemec: Studies show that in areas where marijuana is legal, opioid use lowers significantly. The legalization of marijuana in our state would give people suffering with chronic pain an alternative pain relief that is non-addictive. However that is not the only step in our opioid crisis. People need access to healthcare, proper healthcare. If someone doesn’t have health insurance, they end up in emergency rooms where doctors prescribe them those types of drugs. If someone was able to see a pain management therapist at a reasonable price, or even had more open and adequate access to any type of healthcare, opioid use would decrease.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Nemec: If there is only one issue we should address in the state legislative session next year, it should be this. History tells us that when income inequality is allowed to go on for a long enough time, bad things happen. It’s bad for the poor, it’s bad for what’s left of the middle class, and it’s bad for the wealthy too. This is why America exists in the first place. The loss of shared prosperity was the reason for the French Revolution, Peasants’ Revolt, Tiananmen Square protests, and many other revolutions that occurred throughout human history. One obvious solution to address income inequality is to raise taxes on the wealthiest people in the state. Those people can afford to pay extra taxes without taking away their quality of life. Another solution would be to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. This would help bridge the gap between being low-income and being middle class. People who don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck can also have extra money to invest back into our economy.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Nemec: Not enough. Not only do citizens need to be able to get the information, but they need to be able to do something about it. I believe we need a citizen oversight committee of sorts.