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?
Harris: We must work toward equity and equal access to opportunity for all students in Maryland’s preK-12 education system. The Kirwan Commission provides a starting point for this work. Historic and current disinvestment, concentrated poverty, and each County/City’s ability to fully fund public schools must be a central consideration in the new funding formula. Maryland must educate and empower the “whole child” via culturally sustaining curricula, wrap around services (including after school), and supporting expert educators at all levels in all districts. Maryland can once again have the best schools in the nation, if we prioritize our children and their teachers.
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?
Harris: We must rebalance our transportation priorities to improve the movement of people from areas of high unemployment to areas of economic opportunity. The is in need of additional resources and innovative funding possibilities to create a world class transit system. Furthermore, climate change and high levels of asthma in West Baltimore are challenges that require we refocus on more environmentally sustainable forms of transportation. The technology and resources are there, we only lack the political will to realize real the change. Baltimore, the economic engine of Maryland, is not adequately served by existing mass transit. We need a “complete streets” approach that prioritizes clean, healthy, and sustainable forms of transportation. Rapid buses with advanced technology, an expanded and improved light rail network, equitable bike lane infrastructure, and handicap accessible sidewalks are all part of the solution. Investing in a quality transit system will create jobs, create access to and from existing jobs while simultaneously reducing our carbon footprint.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Harris: Yes. The tax revenue can generate millions that can go directly into education. Poor Black, and Brown communities have been saddled with criminal records, unemployment, and violence with the prohibition of marijuana. A restorative approach to these misdirected policies is needed, and should focus on harm reduction and include resources for public health programs that keep young people, veterans, and other priority groups healthy and safe.
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?
Harris: The Chesapeake Bay is one of the prides of Maryland. It is rich with cultural, historical, environmental, and economic value. When the federal government endangers decades of work to protect the Bay, the work of leaders in Annapolis becomes even more important. Half measures simply aren’t good enough. we need bold public policy to protect our waterways, the livelihood of Marylanders in the seafood and recreation industries, and to protect our homes from flooding. Maryland should lead the nation in moving to a zero waste economy that keeps waste out of our streams, rivers, and beloved Bay. In addition, we must hold developers to a higher standard regarding the environment and community benefits agreements before approving their profitable projects. But if we are to hold the private sector to a higher standard, the state government needs to do its part by funding the implementation of the Consent Decree and ending practices of dumping raw human waste into the Jones Falls, which endangers communities in the 40th District on the way downstream to the Bay. A healthier Chesapeake Bay means a healthier Baltimore economy and healthier Baltimoreans. We have the tools and resources to protect the Bay if we have the will to think and act big.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Harris: High quality accessible healthcare for all Baltimoreans and Marylanders is essential to moving toward an economy that works for us all. Many experts believe the unlikelihood of federal waivers from the Trump Administration and lack of scale would make a single payer system on the state level impossible. However, we must pursue every avenue to increase access and quality in Maryland while urging our federal representatives to pass National Improved Medicare for All in the next Congress. Meanwhile, there are three main areas for immediate improvement at the state level. First, the widespread consensus in the medical field is that early intervention preventative care is the single most important, and cost effective, policy at our disposal. That means protecting and fully funding women’s health providers like Planned Parenthood. It also means increasing access to daycare and de-privatizing the administration of Maryland’s public healthcare program for poor children to achieve cost savings and increased service delivery. Second, we must do right by our young people by increasing access to healthcare services in preK-12, community college, and public 4-year higher education institutions. La Clinica del Pueblo and Esperanza Center are excellent examples of how non-profit institutions are filling the void regarding delivery of health care to immigrant populations. We must expand these services to reach all Marylanders. especially those in public schools. Finally, we must do right by our seniors. This means expanding funding for programs that allow seniors to age healthily in place, such as CHAI’s programs for seniors.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Harris: Let’s be crystal clear: the level of violence in Baltimore is unacceptable and untenable. It is the number one issue I have heard expressed while knocking doors across the 40th District over the last 14 months. My neighbors and I are fed up and ready to implement both immediate and structural changes to move us toward a more peaceful Baltimore for all of us. The state has an indispensable role to play in helping Baltimore address violent crime. We must increase funding for violence intervention programs like Safe Streets and re-entry programs like the Lazarus Rite. But we must also attack violence at the root, by providing young people with alternatives to violence so they do not go down that dangerous road in the first place. That means providing the funding so that every public school should be a community school with wraparound services. That means increasing the number of school counselors and psychiatrists. And that means increasing access to GED services and counseling for those young people in the juvenile justice center downtown. Strong, healthy communities with economic opportunities do not turn to violence to resolve problems. An intentional focus on the root causes of violence and addressing poverty is key. Increasing funding for violence intervention programs, moving our criminal justice system away from its punitive function toward rehabilitation, and investing holistically in the health and wealth of communities suffering from violence, we can create a safer Baltimore for all of us.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Harris: Maryland is certainly open for business; big business, that is. We must shift the focus away from spending billions of tax dollars subsidizing corporations and instead support the family- and cooperatively-owned businesses that have been creating community wealth and value for years. We can do so by empowering the most important players in Maryland’s business environment: workers. Empowering workers will lead to them having more income to invest in their homes, their communities, and their families’ educations. We can empower workers by raising the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour (pegged to cost of living increases), giving all public sector employees the right to unionize, and incentivizing new family- and cooperatively owned businesses that keep wealth in the community. Instead of focusing on opening Maryland for corporate giants to relocate or expand here (and there is still a place for them to do so, on their own dime), we must fairly compensate the hard work of Baltimoreans and Marylanders who make our economy work day in and day out. With fresh leadership, we can move Maryland’s economy toward one that works for all of us.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Harris: Yes. Gerrymandering is a bi-partisan failure nationally and a failure of the ruling Party in Maryland’s General Assembly. As an independent voice, I will always put people before political party. A non-partisan, independent body that draws legislative and congressional district maps is a starting point of a larger set of reforms needed to reinvigorate our democracy. That is why I am proud to be an independent voice running on the ballot line of a Party that holds Grassroots Democracy as one of its four Core Pillars.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Harris: The relationship between police and the public is severely strained. We need to take a step back and rethink policing, so that our men and women in uniform serve as first responders, not a force that some of my neighbors perceive as an occupying one. That salve to this wound is transparency, accountability, and responsibility. We have given police officers a seemingly impossible job. We have unwisely asked them to carry out many functions that would be better administered by other agencies, legislated that they enforce unjust laws, and tasked them with containing the problems associated with systemic poverty. It should be no surprise that their ever expanding workload leaves little time for essential duties like walking the beat and building relationships of trust with community members based on mutual respect and service. That said, however, we have also failed to hold officers who violate their oath to uphold the law accountable for their misdeeds. We have also failed to create a culture within the Baltimore Police Department that is transparent, accountable, and puts protecting the public before protecting cops who violate their oath. The Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR) is arguably more unbalanced in favor of cops who violate their oath in Maryland than in any other state in the country. Maryland’s police officers do not need special privileges not enjoyed by their brothers and sisters across the country to maintain their professionalism and carry out their duty. LEOBR must be changed to make the disciplinary process for police misconduct more similar to the process that you, I, or any employee would be subject to in the case of alleged illegal activity. Accountability requires that the police should not be asked to police themselves, which means having civilians on police trial boards. Transparency requires an external agency have the ability to investigate wrong doing when Internal Affairs cannot or will not do so. These small changes will not impact the overwhelming majority of officers who maintain their integrity and their oath, only those who violate both. If we are to hold the police to a higher standard, we must respect their abilities and limitations. Police should tasked with violence intervention, first and foremost, and have the resources to carry out that daunting task. Violence prevention is a long term strategy the requires time and resources.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Harris: The tragedy of addiction and overdose has touched far too many families in Baltimore. In my neighborhood and neighborhoods across the 40th District, we see the impact of this tragic public health crisis on individuals, families, neighborhoods, and our City and state as a whole. We cannot defeat addiction by fighting fire with fire. The scorched earth policy of the tough on crime drugs war is a failure. We need a three-pronged proactive public health offensive to move toward healing for our City and state and it must be centered around harm reduction. First, we need to educate people– especially our youth– about the negative impacts of controlled substances and, most importantly, harm reduction techniques that will allow them to get help for friends or family members who fall victim to this tragedy. Second, we need public health interventions for all stages of addiction, including early use, addiction, overdose, and treatment. That means funding drug rehabilitation the way we would fund treatment of the outbreak of the Zika Virus, or cholera, or any other public health menace. Third, we need to divert nonviolent drug users from the criminal justice system into the public health system. This tragedy is one of the most severe we have ever seen, but if Baltimoreans are anything, we are tough and we look out for our own. We can steer Baltimore and Maryland out of this tragedy if we work together and enact public policy based not on fear but on fact.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Harris: This question is premised on faulty logic. As President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We should not ask what the state can do to address income inequality, but instead ask how we can build an equitable economy from the grassroots up. That means fully funding tuition-free public education preK-college. That means incentivizing family- and cooperatively-owned businesses that have been proven to keep a greater share of wealth in the communities they serve. That means, as President Obama said, “a return to American values of fairness for all and responsibility from all.” To achieve the vision of community, fairness, and collective responsibility laid out by two of our greatest Presidents, the state of Maryland must be one of many actors moving our economy away from inequality and toward equity. Raising the minimum wage to a living wage (pegged to automatically increase with inflation), permitting all public employees the right to unionize enjoyed by their counterparts in many states across the country, and treating housing, education, and water for the poorest among us not as scarce commodities but as human rights essential to fulfilling our social contract are key components of building a Baltimore and Maryland for all of us.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Harris: No. For far too long, a select few in Annapolis who have been in power longer than I and my peers have been alive have wielded undue influence with insufficient oversight. Participation is the lifeblood of democracy, and our democracy is on life support. We need an infusion of energy, talent, ideas, and enthusiasm. That means making democracy that participatory activity it was meant to be, and not the spectator sport it has become in Maryland. We need not only to increase transparency by strengthening Public Information Act implementation and regulation, but we need to go further toward participatory budgeting and citizen initiated ballot referendums. There is much important work to be done, and no time to waste, so we need to open wide government to the people it should serve to move toward a Baltimore and Maryland for us all.