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?
Simpson: Education is vital to our growth as a State. As such, we must always strive to improve our schools. The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education provides many important recommendations that must be enacted. We must evaluate education’s funding structure—the way it is currently structured is not working for our most vulnerable students. Our funding structure must be based on the cost to provide all students, regardless of where they live, a high-quality education that prepares them for a higher education and career. I graduated from a Maryland Public School. Teachers should be compensated for their sacrifice for our future. I would oppose all legislation designed to weaken our public schools.
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?
Simpson: A strong public transportation is vital to protecting both our economy and environment. More people will use public transportation if it gets them where they need or want to go—the Red Line would have provided vital connections across the city for the people of Baltimore. As Delegate, I would advocate for state funds to build the Red Line to bolster Baltimore City’s public transportation system. Our current budget is overly concerned with expanding roads to increase traffic and pollution. Public transportation must also be safe and well maintained. The recent complete shutdown of the Baltimore Metro system was appalling and should have been prevented with proper oversight. It caused stress on workers, their employers, and customers. As Delegate, I would support strong regulatory oversight of public transportation safety and construction to ensure that our tax dollars are building projects made to last.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Simpson: Marijuana has been proven to be much less addictive than the other Schedule 1 drugs. Legalizing marijuana in other states has resulted in a reduction in crime. While small amounts of marijuana are decriminalized in Maryland, people with larger amounts are still subject to criminal penalties. African-Americans do not use marijuana any more than members of other races, yet they are more often incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. This contributes to the mass incarceration of African-Americans in the State of Maryland, causing deep pain in our communities. For these reasons, I support legalizing recreational marijuana for individuals age 21 and over.
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?
Simpson: Maryland must take strong steps to protect the Chesapeake Bay, a vital resource. Public awareness campaigns, like the don’t be a litter bug campaign, must be part of all environmental protection legislation to ensure every generation understands how to protect our land, water and air. As State Delegate, I will sponsor and support legislation to ensure that environmental regulations stay in place at the state level to prevent large companies from polluting the Bay without regard for the devastating consequences such pollution has on Marylanders.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Simpson: My daughter has Crohn’s disease. Her treatments cost over $15,000 each. We even received a bill for over $43,000 for the exact same treatment she receives every 6 weeks. I am very thankful we have good insurance. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone. No one should be a paycheck away from becoming bankrupt because they or someone in their family gets sick. This empathy drives me to support single-payer healthcare to ensure every Marylander has access to the care they need. We must always incorporate community input when making changes to healthcare. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege reserved for only the wealthy in society.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Simpson: Addressing the root causes of violence is vital to ending its cyclic nature. The State government has an obligation to provide funding to programs like Safe Streets that are proven to help reduce violence. The State must expand access to victim services. All legislation should include funding for law enforcement training and community oversight. Furthermore, anti-crime legislation should include provisions that provide rehabilitation opportunities for offenders who have served their sentences to ensure they can reintegrate into society.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Simpson: Maryland’s current business climate is cautiously optimistic. However, we need qualified workers to fill positions. In recent years, Maryland has spent considerable time, energy, and money courting larger corporations at the expense of many of our small family owned and minority businesses. Maryland needs to facilitate long lasting relationships between our local businesses and our higher education institutions to reduce education costs, keep local businesses current with innovations and trends, and meet the need for qualified employees.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Simpson: Districts in Maryland are not drawn fairly. Gerrymandering, regardless of which party does it, is undemocratic. Voters should choose their representatives—not the other way around. Maryland needs an independent multi-partisan commission that uses mathematical equations to determine districts.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Simpson: As a former child protective services worker and a program manager for the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System, I understand the risks and sacrifices our State and local law enforcement officers make to protect Marylanders. That said, every profession has a few poor performing misguided workers who are clearly in the wrong profession and reflect poorly on the rest of the team. In law enforcement, a minority of misguided individuals have caused horrific instances of police brutality that reflect poorly on the entire force when they are protected rather than terminated. An unjust society is created when any citizen is given more rights than other citizens. All workers, regardless of profession, should be protected while performing their duties—but these protections should not permit willful negligence or immunity from responsibility. Police officers deserve the same due process rights as every day civilians and not special treatment. This will allow corrupt officers to be brought to justice and dedicated officers to continue protecting Marylanders.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Simpson: The opioid epidemic is a mental health and substance abuse issue. Tough on drug campaigns don’t work. People don’t stop using or selling drugs because they are afraid of going to jail. If it did, our drug epidemic would have been solved when these campaigns were initiated 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago and 4 years ago. People addicted to drugs and their families need services, not punishment. Addiction is already difficult enough. As a community, we need treatment, not punishment. Our judicial system is not equipped to rehabilitate people addicted to drugs. We need more treatment centers, not bigger prisons. Our mental health and substance abuse communities must be given the resources to lead us to recovery. Properly funding healthcare to include mental health and substance abuse treatment helps protect our communities.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Simpson: Raising the minimum wage is the first step in improving the economic situations for many hard-working Marylanders. No one who works forty hours a week should live in poverty. Fifteen dollars an hour is a sensible minimum wage that would help lift people out of poverty. I would support implementing this minimum wage gradually over the next three fiscal years, with full implementation by fiscal year 2022. Income inequality solutions must also address access to clean water, healthy food and quality education.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Simpson: Our State’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws are a start; combined with citizen oversight, these laws provide transparency, cut waste, and improve government programs. As State Delegate, I would sponsor and support more citizen review programs to audit and improve government functioning.