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?
Ranker: We need to do everything we can to help our students succeed. I strongly support the Commission’s work and am committed to supporting the reforms outlined in the report. Several schools in District 21 are in desperate need of repair, and unsurprisingly these tend to be under-performing schools. We need to devote more resources for at-risk, low income, and students with disabilities to break the so-called school to prison pipeline. Retaining quality teachers has been difficult, and we need to appropriately compensate these hard working professionals who are tasked with one of the most important jobs in our society. I especially support universal pre-k, so that all students come to kindergarten ready to learn, and free summer programming for low income students to help lessen the learning gap that is often exacerbated during the summer. I also agree with the commission’s recommendation to strengthen the system of governance and accountability to ensure that our students are being best served by their schools. Providing a quality education for our children is a costly but necessary investment in the future of our state. It is an essential task of our elected officials to ensure that each child has what they need to flourish. I strongly support legislative efforts to ensure that all casino and gambling money contribute entirely additional, rather than replacement, funds for our education budget, as it was originally sold to the public. I’m committed to providing the additional resources necessary to fully implement the Kirwan Commission recommendations.
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?
Ranker: When I first came to Prince George’s County in 2000, the Metro Rail system was one of the region’s selling points. We failed to invest in our infrastructure, including basic maintenance and safety standards, to the point where it has become a significant liability. The new regional investment in WMATA is a good start, and I am glad to see that construction on the Purple Line is set to begin. But we still need to improve existing services, including MARC and Washington-area bus services. We need to improve mass transportation options in the greater Baltimore area too, which helps take cars off the road, relieves congestion, and helps lower our carbon footprint. The cancellation of the Red Line and a preference for suburban road-building was not only a lost opportunity for economic investment and transportation equity in the Baltimore region, but fails to promote transportation values that help avoid suburban sprawl, congestion, and environmental degradation. We can’t afford to squander future mass transit opportunities, especially when they come with significant federal funding. Walkable and bike-able communities are part of the solution, too. I want to work with counties and municipalities to build complete streets (safer streets for everyone, including walkers and bikers). New development needs to be prioritized around already existing mass transit options. And with so many important questions left unanswered and because of the disruption it would cause to our communities, I do not support the current MAGLEV (high speed train) proposal.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Ranker: I support decriminalizing the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana. But we need to do more to be smart on crime when it comes to drugs. Addiction to illegal drugs often leads to other crimes, and some studies show that substance abuse accounts for a majority of patients who use our emergency departments without health insurance. We need to invest in better treatment options that will allow people to get the help they need and will save money in the long run. I favor setting up a few strategically placed clean, safe centers for addicts to shoot up. These centers, as has been observed in other parts of the world don’t serve to encourage drug use, but help save lives when overdoses happen, and help build trust and steer addicts into the programs they need to get clean. These innovative centers have been proven to work well, and for the health of our citizens and neighborhoods are worth trying, at least on a trial basis.
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?
Ranker: We are making important strides in restoring the Chesapeake Bay, and cannot afford to halt our hard-won momentum. We need to increase our use of renewable energy and to reclassify what counts as a renewable energy source. Current law sets a target of 25% of our energy usage coming from renewable energy sources by 2020. The important question is, what counts as a renewable energy source? Wind, solar, hydroelectric, and trash incinerators. Why do trash incinerators count as a renewable energy source? Several years ago, after over $100,000 of campaign contributions by trash incinerator companies, Maryland classified them as a renewable energy source. As a result, we continue to subsidize these major polluters with state funds. This must end, and this example demonstrates the importance of removing big money from state politics. I am not taking and corporate or Political Action Committee money and even limiting what I’ll take from individuals, because we can’t afford to have big money set our policy. I support programs that help local communities develop and implement strategies to manage storm water. For example, I have worked with the Prince George’s Department of the Environment and several other leaders and partnered with University of Maryland students to launch a “Friends of Guilford Run” group to help protect a local stream in College Park. These students have been eager to gather teams to clean up trash, plant native plants, remove invasive species, and more, all things that help the Chesapeake.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Ranker: While I applaud the effort to prop up the state’s health insurance marketplace in light of Congressional sabotage, we still have hundreds of thousands of Marylanders who don’t currently have insurance. Premiums continue to rise, along with our anxiety. Medical debt continues to be the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. We continue to spend more than twice as much per capita on healthcare than most developed countries, with little to no difference in life expectancy. We have some of the best medical facilities in the world right here in Maryland, and yet health care inequality continues to rise. While there are many who benefit from the current system, we need to find ways to lower costs and make sure that everyone has access to quality health care. We can’t just wait and see what happens on the federal level. We can be innovators and lead. I pledge to work with stakeholders to devise and implement a plan in the single payer mold, to ensure all Marylanders get the quality health care they deserve and allowing the broadest possible access to quality health care.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Ranker: Primary leadership on addressing violent crime in Baltimore needs to come from the citizens and the elected officials of the city. I look forward to working with elected officials from Baltimore to help support them in their efforts. On a state level, we are positioned to help address the root causes of crime in the form of systemic disadvantage and poor outcomes for young people growing up in segregated, high-poverty areas. First and foremost, we need to support our education system and provide wrap around services for our children to make sure they have strong support systems as they grow into adulthood. Community colleges, apprenticeship programs, summer employment programs, and other alternative paths for young people is critical to ensuring that every young person has an opportunity to fulfill their potential—benefitting themselves and our state. A smart approach to crime includes better treatment programs for those experiencing addiction, as mentioned in other questions above. We also need to nurture and restore trust between the police and the people they serve. This includes building public accountability. We must fully fund local programs such as Safe Streets that help local outreach workers connect with high risk youth and young adults to help defuse dangerous situations and keep neighborhoods safe. I have seen firsthand the value of such programs, and strongly support expanding them to other parts of Baltimore.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Ranker: We need more quality, good paying jobs that help people provide for their families. We have shown a willingness to throw large sums of money to try and lure top international companies to move to Maryland, but I want to focus on helping Maryland entrepreneurs launch new businesses that will bring new jobs to our state and ensure that the profits are reinvested in our local communities, not just by shareholders around the world. I want to work with counties and municipalities to build programs to work with those starting businesses, especially to help them navigate the process,
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Ranker: Yes! Extreme partisan gerrymandering is bad for democracy, no matter which party it benefits. Along with our broken campaign finance system, partisan gerrymandering undermines public trust in our government. Regardless of what other states do or don’t do, we shouldn’t make excuses about why we won’t do the right thing.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Ranker: Just like every profession, there are some police officers who excel at their jobs, and some who do not. I have heard from some outstanding police officers who privately are frustrated with actions and the lack of repercussions of some of their colleagues. For the sake of public safety, we need to be sure that police officers are held accountable for actions that betray the trust of Marylanders and endanger the very people they are serving. We need to be sure that those convicted of felonies on the job are not allowed to continue in their positions. I support body cameras for all police officers and state troopers. I also support civilian involvement on review boards, along with increased transparency. In this time and place, we need to build the public trust of law enforcement, and transparency is a necessary step towards that goal.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Ranker: From 1999 to 2010, opioid prescriptions quadrupled in this country, even as addiction rates and overdoses increased. Opioid related deaths have topped 40,000 a year in this country, and the trend is getting worse. Increased attention has helped but there is much more to do. Any solution needs to comprehensively address root causes and involve drug companies, physicians, treatment centers, insurance companies, state regulators, and public policy. We need to further limit the legal use and amount of opioids prescribed. We must devote significant resources to Medical Assisted Treatment and other effective treatments for opioid addiction, even though costs can be high and not entirely covered by many insurance plans. We also need to make sure that Naloxone continues to be available and that more people are trained to use it in order to help reverse an overdose. These actions need to be done in partnership with neighboring states and the federal government, which needs to tighten the international shipping requirements of opioids (as more and more packages filled with opioids come into the country) and provide more funding to help combat this dangerous epidemic.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Ranker: There is a lot that the state can and should do to address income inequality, beginning with education. We need to invest in the public schools and wrap around services that serve low income neighborhoods. We also need to provide more need based financial assistance for Marylanders to attend vocational training programs, community college, and public colleges and universities. We need to make sure that workers in our state can earn a living wage to support themselves and their families. I support increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. For too long our tax dollars have been subsidizing businesses that underpay their workers.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Ranker: We need to continue to push for transparency, and ensure that adequate resources are provided to allow citizens to hold our government accountable. Maryland currently ranks poorly compared to other states when it comes to access to public information and transparency. This is unacceptable. We also need increased transparency when it comes to campaign finance. There continue to be a proliferation of LLC’s especially that are set up to provide shadow money to candidates, allowing wealthy donors to circumvent the rules. If we won’t join other states in banning corporate donations, we at least need to provide adequate resources to ensure that our campaign finance laws be adequately enforced.