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?
Willard: I strongly support the Kirwan Commission’s finding that resources should be allocated more efficiently and effectively, instead of continuously increasing funds for education. I support increased teacher salaries, school safety, and career education. Without a final report of the Commission of how such funds would be allocated; however, I can not fully support the Commission’s specific findings. Any formulaic changes should account not only for low-income disparities, but also for population growth. Montgomery County, for example, accounts for 40 percent of the State’s annual student growth, but its share of State funding does not reflect its proportionate contribution. Also, for the State’s under-performing schools, funds alone are not the answer. The creation of mentorship programs with older students from higher-performing schools is one low-cost way we could elevate the schools in greatest need and encourage more high school students to consider teaching as a career choice. We need our best and brightest to serve as teachers in our local schools. I strongly support optimizing State funds for public education and safety of students, and I look forward to seeing the final report of the Kirwan Commission.
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?
Willard: While I believe that our transportation spending is appropriately balanced between roads and transit, I am not sure the State has the resources to meet all of its transportation needs. I do support public-private partnerships that offer commuters the option of taking faster routes through tolled express lanes, as has been proposed for I-270 in Montgomery County. I want to clarify; however, that I do not support blanket tolling of previously “free” roads along the lines of what Virginia has tried to do to I-66. I would like to explore other innovative ways to meet our transportation demands effectively and efficiently. I also think sensible maintenance of our most dangerous roads and bridges is critical. It doesn’t make sense to build new roads if our existing roads don’t serve us. Common-sense maintenance should include; however, “recurbing” and other cosmetic issues many of our citizens in Montgomery County have experienced. With respect to transit, I am not as familiar with the Baltimore area, but in Montgomery County, I think we have done a pretty good job in working with our partners from other jurisdictions that comprise WMATA. It is essential that transit and road projects fall within the master plan and aren’t built soley for political reasons.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Willard: No, I do not support the legalization of recreational marijuana in Maryland. Currently, there is a conflict between federal and state law with the nine states that have decided to legalize recreational marijuana. California, Colorado, Washington, and six other states are currently at odds with federal authorities with respect to marijuana. I believe that a national solution would be the most effective way to deal with this difficult issue.
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?
Willard: The Chesapeake Bay is our State’s greatest resource and a national treasure. Its protection requires far more than what we can do as a single State, but as a delegate, I will ensure this resources is protected and cherished. Agricultural waste from chicken farms on the Eastern Shore should be addressed. I would like to look into efforts into reducing the nutrient load from agriculture without harming farmers economically. Best management practices, such as nutrient management plans and streamside buffers and fencing reduce runoff from nitrogen, phosphorous and other waste that harm the watershed. I also support smart growth through land use planning. County planners take a more measured and enlightened approach to transportation and other development projects. To that end, I support the Forest Conservation bill, which stalled in the House Transportation Committee last year. The value of trees and forested areas in acting as a filter to dangerous pollutants from agricultural runoff into the bay should be a given. Moreover, regional initiatives such as the Chesapeake Bay 10 billion oyster restoration program are essential. I strongly support working with our regional partners to protect our precious Bay.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Willard: The State took a step in the right direction with the recent enactment of legislation to keep rates in check for the next few years, but we need more to be done. Governor Larry Hogan has proposed a bold set of initiatives to address this important issue. I strongly support these efforts to bring stronger, more comprehensive, and less costly medical care to Marylanders.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Willard: I strongly support Governor Hogan’s recent proposal to enhance State police presence in Baltimore City. I also support greater oversight of former criminals (those on parole or probation), as well as legislation calling for longer sentences for violent criminals. Though I am not an expert on Baltimore given that I live in Montgomery County, I believe the solution to violent crime lies not only in stronger law enforcmenet but also in community development. For example, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has a number of significant initiatives for community development which focus on scientific metrics, rather than prejudice or emotion. If elected, I will encourage the State to support more fact-based solutions to the problem of violent crime in Baltimore.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Willard: I would characterize Maryland’s business climate as better than it was four years ago, but not quite where it should be, particularly with respect to smaller businesses. During Governor Hogan’s administration, the State of Maryland has created 110,000 jobs, seen its unemployment fall to 4 percent, and experienced a greater growth in domestic product out of all the 50 states. This is good news, but it partially reflects the low statistics Governor Hogan inherited 2015. We still have a way to go. Regrettably, Montgomery County created the second fewest number of businesses in 2017 of any locality in the Washington Metropolitan region . Our State needs not only the big businesses such as Amazon, Under Armour and McCormick, we also need small businesses. Maryland can do more to create a friendlier environment for small businessses. We need to enhance tax credits, such as the Maryland Biotech Tax Credit, to ensure growth of smaller businesses and the creation of more family-supporting jobs. The State also should strengtheen support for education and training to ensure that Marylanders achieve their full potential in this 21st century economy.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Willard: Yes, I strongly support the creation of a non-partisan independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census. The current system, which relies on partisan politics, has created voter apathy and cynicism. For example, in my district (District 18), I am the first Republican in 12 years to run for delegate. The current system also forces some voters in Montgomery County to change their registration from Republican or Independent to Democrat in the hopes of having a greater influence on the political process. Every voter should have a voice, and under the current system, this is not possible. I agree with the plaintiffs in Benisek v. Lamone, which is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, that Maryland’s 2011 redistricting of its Westernmost district to include more Democratic votes from Montgomery County violated voters’ first amendment rights. I support Governor Hogan’s legislation to put the determination of Maryland’s legislative and congressional district maps in the hands of a nonpartisan commission.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Willard: I don’t believe that the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR)adequately balances protections for the police and the public. While I am grateful for the sacrifices our law enforcement officers make in their sworn duty to protect us, officers should not be above the law. The LEOBOR makes it impossible to discipline or remove bad officers, even in those instances where they have been convicted of felonies in courts. While the vast majority of police officers are good people, the public should be protected from corrupt and violent officers. The LEOBOR’s immunity for officers puts the public in danger.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Willard: The opioid crisis seems to be pervasive, but there are geographic pockets of our State and elsewhere in which it is rampant. I would start by focusing on these areas in three ways: 1. by reducing the availability of abusable prescription medicine; 2. by making treatment options available to reduce withdrawal symptoms; and 3. by building community support for people suffering from this dreadful addiction. If elected, I also will encourage our Attorney General to join Maryland as a plaintiff against corporations such as Perdue Pharmaceuticals and Endo Pharmaceuticals, which bear responsibility for the current crisis. There is a direct correlation between the opioid crisis and unemployment and isolation. Creating jobs in affected areas is just one way to address the problem. Local school boards in affected areas also should look at their curriculums and ask whether there is sufficient career based training for high-school students who do not opt to pursue a college degree.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Willard: I believe that income inequality should be addressed through a greater State commitment to education and community support rather than through the redistribution of wealth. Poverty in Maryland is primarily the result of a lack of opportunities and should be addressed through education and training. Unfortunately, discrimination continues to play a role in poverty. We need to ensure that discrimination is not tolerated and efforts are made to give members of most vulnerable communities more opportunities to thrive.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Willard: I strongly support transparency in all aspects of Maryland government. Statutes such as the Open Meeting Law are important first steps to ensure greater accesss to, and accountability of, Maryland government, but more can be done. I will support proposals to solicit greater public comment on issues of importance to the legislature. The current system does not permit a sufficient number of diverse voices to be heard in the current hearing process. I will work actively to reform the way in whcih citizens testify and otherwise provide input to the Maryland Assembly if I am elected.