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?
Barnhart: Yes. I agree that our public school funding should be distributed according to the needs of disadvantaged students. Less funding should be distributed to wealthy school districts and districts with larger amounts of children who are living in poverty should have more funding. When high quality education is available to everyone in the local community, business and people’s overall well-being thrives.
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?
Barnhart: In Western Maryland, mass transit services are almost non-existent and poorly funded at best. In many places, a person without a reliable automobile cannot go to work or go purchase food or necessities. We built our infrastructure, and thus our economy, around the car and highway systems. Maryland must further encourage different modes of transit along side the automobile, such as protected bike lanes, space for walking, car-pooling lanes, and bus lanes. Maryland should continue to look into railroad transit as a possible means of reliable public transportation.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Barnhart: Yes. The war on cannabis and other drugs has failed. Drug abuse and addiction must be treated as a public health issue, not as an issue of criminality. We must further utilize the tools of harm reduction and treatment instead of arrest and imprisonment. The legalization and taxation of cannabis can be a new windfall to our state budget. But we must take lessons from other states who have legalized cannabis and not over tax. This may result in further negative effects downstream, such as underground bulk sales. Common sense taxation needs to be applied to cannabis and hemp products. It should be noted that big corporations and millionaires want to cash in on this industry as it legally unfolds. We must first promote small business owners and cooperatives to engage in the industry. In addition, low-level non-violent cannabis drug offenders should be immediately released from prison and have their criminal records expunged. The war on drugs, especially the war on cannabis, has disproportionately affected minority communities and people of color. We must work to undo the damage that has been brought to these communities and persons.
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?
Barnhart: For too long, we have sacrificed our environment for short-term economic gain. This is especially true for large corporations. As an example, the TransCanada natural gas pipeline is scheduled to run underneath the Potomac river. There are obvious major concerns over the health of the river and the safety history of TransCanada. This is temporary infrastructure built for a temporary fuel, it is not sustainable. We need to do all we can to stop this pipeline. But this is just one example. There are countless others of how corporations abuse our environment for the sake of economic gain. Large corporate farmers use intense amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus as fertilizer for crops. This is washed into the rivers and bay and harms the wildlife and ecosystem. In order to combat such issues, we should look towards allowing local communities the power to invoke tougher environmental protections than what is required at either the state or federal level. This gives power back to the communities while at the same time protects the environment. Maryland must do all that it can to ensure a healthy and functioning environment. Without a healthy environment our social and economic well-being collapses.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Barnhart: Health care is a human right. Maryland should implement a single-payer universal health care system. Far too many families, like mine, go bankrupt because of healthcare costs. Private insurance companies and businesses should not be allowed to treat people’s health as a commodity for profit exploitation. Maryland’s state GDP is equivalent to that of other developed nations such as Denmark, Norway, and Ireland. All of these countries offer free universal health care to their citizens and residents. We do not have to copy their models exactly, but we can take lessons from their systems and apply them to our state. Moreover, as we transition to a single-payer system we can add further protections and transparency to our current health care system. We can allow patients to know the full costs of services before services are given. We can give the state more negotiating power with the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, who overprice their products. Finally, we need an overhaul of services for people with disabilities. We need to better fund Medicaid and Medicare services and work to eliminate waiting lists for services.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Barnhart: In general, the state can help direct the limited resources police departments have towards that of violent crime. For instance, by legalizing cannabis, police do not have to direct as many resources towards cannabis use and can allocate those resources towards violent crime. If we want violent crime to decrease, then we need to better address non-violent crime. On the other hand, we also need to address the causes of violent crime. According to a recent study by Mario Coccia from Arizona State University, one of the major sources of violent crime is income inequality. The more income inequality there exists, the more likely there will be violent crime. When people do not have the basic resources they need in order to survive, they will turn to more nefarious means in order to get those resources. It therefore seems that if we reduce income inequality and bring sustainable local and community owned businesses to places that have massive amounts of poverty, we will see a decrease in violent crime.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Barnhart: Maryland’s economy is strong. But it is hard to notice this strength here in Western Maryland. It is clear that the vast majority of economic activity occurs further East in the state. The development of some counties are fast paced, while others, like mine, are slow. It is clear that there is a concentration of wealth and power occurring in this state. In order for our local communities to further develop and create more family-supporting jobs, we need to bring the principles of democracy into the workplace and into our economy. This means we need to create business that reflect theses values, such as cooperatives, credit unions, and institutions that use shared governance. In doing so, this creates businesses that prioritize the welfare of their employees instead of profits for corporate shareholders who often do not live in the state, let a lone the community. We can support ideas like reducing tax on labor, making labor more competitive. We can reduce taxes on small businesses as well as bureaucratic burdens. This would cut the failure rate of small business. Moreover, we should work to promote those who are self-employed by making health insurance premiums fully deductible for the self-employed. There is a lot that we can do to help foster job creation, these are just a few of the ideas that the Green Party has to offer.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Barnhart: Yes. Gerrymandering is undemocratic. Voters should pick their politicians, not the other way around. Our districts must be redrawn based on population, not political party. Gerrymandering only allows for the views of a select portion of our population to have their voices heard. This must be fixed. There needs to be other fixes to our electoral system. We need instant runoff voting (aka. ranked choice voting). In such a system, voters can rank their choice of candidates in order of preference. If their candidate does not win in the first round when there is no majority, then their vote can be reallocated to their second preference. This voting system was recently implemented in Maine. We also need to change the laws surrounding third parties and make it easier for third party and independent candidates to participate in the political 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?
Barnhart: I believe tat our local police officers require effective resources to do their jobs and be an integral part of the community. But this does not mean that they are above the law. Police should be held to the same standards as civilians within the criminal justice system. There are appropriate operations of the police that require privacy. I see this bill as having good intentions, it tries to help the police protect themselves. But it can be used by untrustworthy officials and further corrode the trust between police and community members. We should focus on methods that rebuild trust between police officers and civilians, like furthering grants for resource officers who actively engage members of the community.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Barnhart: As stated previously, we need to address addiction as a public health issue, not as a criminal justice issue. Simply locking away drug dealers is not going to make this crisis disappear and help those who already suffer from addiction. We have used this strategy for decades, with little to show for it. We armed and militarized our police in an effort to put away hundreds of thousands of drug offenders across the country, yet the opioid addiction and overdose crisis continues to get worse. Instead, we must invest in harm reduction strategies that are backed by science. Needle exchange programs, better education programs, and more mental and behavioral health services are needed. This is especially true in Western Maryland. Addiction often stems from trauma and isolation. We can build places and spaces that foster connection and communal relationships. Instead of filling our prisons with low-level non-violent drug offenders, we need to focus on rehabilitation and recovery. Overall, we need a more holistic approach that comes from public health.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Barnhart: As mentioned previously, bringing democracy into the workplace is one way of creating jobs while reducing income inequality. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, which is $15 an hour so that workers can have a wage that will meet their needs. By investing in people and community projects we can raise up our economy and our people. Corporations should not dominate the economic landscape, since their main goal is prosperity for the company, not the community.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Barnhart: For those who are already active in the political process, these laws are satisfactory. However, open meetings and sunshine laws are not enough to advance civic engagement. By using more online technologies we can further advance civic engagement. Moreover, transparency matters very little unless those who are in power are held responsible for any wrong doing. I see sunshine laws as a good step forward towards better accountability for public officials.