2018 Maryland election results

Robbyn Lewis

Robbyn Lewis
  • Democrat
  • Age: 55
  • Residence: Baltimore

About Robbyn Lewis


I hold a BA Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and an MPH International Public Health from Columbia University in New York.


I am an international public health and policy professional. I am currently a member of the Maryland House of Delegates where I serve on the House Environment & Transportation Committee. Before becoming Delegate, I devoted almost 20 years working around the world working on public health programs. My work included conducting clinical and operations research, scaling up health innovations, and strengthening health policies in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean. I am fluent in French, and skilled in Mandarin, Zarma and Haitian Creole. I began my international health career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, where I worked in a remote Maternal & Child Health clinic. After, I worked for several years at other international organizations, such as the World Bank, UNICEF and Family Health International. After coming home, I worked at Johns Hopkins University for a decade managing international clinical trials, operations research studies and health programs. Most recently, I served as Special Assistant at the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, where I helped expand access to affordable, quality health insurance coverage to over 1 million Marylanders.


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?
Lewis: Yes, I support the commission and will work to ensure that all proposed funding reforms are followed. The nine building blocks laid out in the Commission’s initial report provide a robust framework for reforming our public education system. For Baltimore and Maryland’s students to succeed in a 21st century economy, it is imperative that we create a world class education system across our state. We face daunting challenges, including a growing number of jobs requiring some level of post-secondary education, as well as an increasing percentage of low skilled jobs which are in danger of automation. If Maryland’s economy is to continue thriving, we must invest in our public education so students are not left behind. Creating an education lockbox to ensure tax dollars from casino revenue supplement and not supplant education funding is an important first step, but more action will be required. I commit to helping to lead the fight for an equitable funding formula so those students who are most in need of additional wrap around services and after school programming receive those opportunities. I will also fight to make sure our teachers feel valued and remain in the classroom. Too many teachers fill the roles well beyond the scope of their jobs and work hours extended past those in their contracts with no additional pay. The Kirwan Commission presents a pivotal opportunity to restructure our state’s education system and funding formula, a moment we must seize.
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?
Lewis: Maryland’s transportation spending is not appropriately balanced between roads and transit - we can do more to support accessible and reliable forms of public transportation. The state has the resources to meet its transportation needs, but we must prioritize legislation that makes it easy and pleasant for people to get out of their cars and multimodal transportation. Public transit is an equity issue. If people can’t get to work on time, we will continue patterns of systemic oppression by denying some people access to opportunities, while others continue to thrive. That is why in 2011, I founded Red Line Now PAC, the first grassroots, volunteer-run political organization to demand transit investment in Baltimore’s history. In the lead up to the 2013 legislative session, Red Line Now PAC mobilized almost 1000 residents along the project corridor from East to West and lobbied most every city and state elected official. I helped to create the first ever regional transit alliance – the Get Maryland Moving coalition – to bring together Red Line and Purple Line advocates to fight for the 2013 Transportation funding bill. I was devastated by Governor Hogan’s reckless decision to cancel the Red Line project, but I am committed to working to ensure people in the Baltimore region have access to reliable and efficient public transit. This session, I introduced and supported bills to improve bus service quality and reliability, reduce car dependency, and secure more public transit funding including $178 million dedicated to Baltimore.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Lewis: Yes, on the condition that Maryland first carefully evaluate best practices and policies from other states so as to ensure that any legalization process is carried out in a rational, just and equitable fashion. It would be instructive to also first evaluate lessons learned from Maryland’s efforts to introduce medical marijuana and we just passed the bill to do so this session. The process was fraught and the biggest problem was ensuring that minorities and women were given equal opportunity to get in on the ground floor of this brand new industry. Unfortunately, it was not done properly, and a great deal of time, good will, and momentum were lost. We must avoid the exclusionary practices that gave preferential treatment to primarily wealthy white folks; we saw this happen with the legalization of medical marijuana and must end the practices that limit access to business opportunities for women and minorities. I also believe it is worth exploring options for legalizing recreational marijuana, because revenues from a regulated market could be used to fund important public needs, such as fulfilling the recommendations of the Kirwin Commission.
Chesapeake Bay
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?
Lewis: Maryland has a long track record of efforts to restore and protect the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Nutrient reduction programs for the agriculture sector, septic tank regulation, oyster sanctuaries, and other initiatives have contributed to water quality improvements. However, there is still work to do. Maryland has the ability to take significant actions, no matter what the federal government does, or does not do. We should continue to study and improve our current efforts to reduce nutrient and sewage runoff. In addition, Baltimore City and Maryland should double down on desultory efforts to repair Baltimore city’s sewage system problems – demanded by a federal consent decree.
Health Care
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Lewis: The greatest lift must be at the federal level, because federal dollars are needed to undergird health insurance markets in every state. Until we have a rational person in the White House, and a US Congress that is not controlled by corporate interests, we will struggle to protect and expand health care at the state level. I believe that change will come at the national level, but until then there are a few things we can do at state level – many of which we are already doing. Maryland is at the forefront in pursuing innovative ways to protect our citizens’ health care from those currently running the federal government. We just passed an omnibus bill that will temporarily tamp down significant increases in health insurance premiums. This bill authorizes the state to secure a federal 1332 waiver, which will enable Maryland to use federal funds to create a reinsurance program and fund the program using a fee charged to insurance companies operating in Maryland. The fund will raise $380 million this year and keep premiums down for everyday working people. Finally, this omnibus bill allows us study long term solutions to protect and expand health coverage, such as my Basic Health Plan. That bill, which I introduced, was folded into and passed as part of the larger omnibus health bill.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Lewis: As a public health expert, I know that violent crime is not only a criminal justice issue, but a public health one. We must work to interrupt and prevent violence before it escalates, which is why I was proud of the General Assembly’s work in the 2018 Legislative Session. The $11.7 million we secured for evidence based violence prevention programs like Safe Streets will make tangible impacts across Baltimore, like we are already seeing in areas like Cherry Hill and McElderry Park, both in District 46. Great communities are safe communities. This fact really hit home when I moved to my block 18 years ago. At that time, half the houses were vacant and drug dealers operated openly. I joined with my neighbors to build a healthier, safer neighborhood through a systematic community building process called community greening. This process involves mobilizing residents to participate in improving the neighborhood thru tree planting, cleaning, and other participatory activities. It is now well documented that green streets are safer. Funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust - some state funded - made our grassroots efforts possible. While we must work to prevent violence through participatory, public health approaches, we must also hold repeat violent offenders accountable. A balanced approach of prevention and diversion, while also enacting more stringent consequences will prove to be most effective in the long run. The Justice Reinvestment Act’s approach to reforming our justice system towards treating those with addiction and targeting violent offenders is the right model.
Business Climate
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Lewis: One of the most effective ways to stimulate job creation is to build infrastructure, particularly modern transit. This includes fixed rail, as well as bike amenities. Building modern transit infrastructure returns $4 for every dollar invested; this is why it was an absolute economic crime and civil rights disgrace when Governor Hogan cancelled the Red Line light rail project. That decision robbed Baltimore of 10,000 jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity over the coming decades. There is no other investment that would offer greater returns. Damage is done in that regard, but it is not too late to revive the State Center project, which Governor Hogan also has derailed. It is disgraceful that he has, at every turn, blocked the economic catalysts that would have transformed Baltimore, while then claiming that the money spent on Baltimore has made no difference. I advocate for robust infrastructure investment. Construction and operation of transit create good jobs, and the return on investment pays off: companies want to invest in cities with strong transit networks, and it attracts talented and educated individuals. Better transit ensures that working people already living in Baltimore can reliably access job opportunities. According to a recent Regional Development Study, the average commute time in Central Maryland, which includes Baltimore, is 90 minutes each way. This statistic is associated with high unemployment and lower quality of life. If we improve our transit network we will increase equity, enabling folks to get to work faster and more reliably.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Lewis: Yes, absolutely. Districts must be drawn in a fair and impartial manner. However, in order to do so, we must have a complete, unbiased and transparent census. At this time, it is not clear that the census will be implemented as it should be. I am not confident that the current Presidential Administration will approach this issue with the required impartiality.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Lewis: The current Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR) does not currently balance protections for police and the public, largely due to specific provisions. Both processes regarding filing complaints against officers for misconduct, or excessive force are skewed towards favoring law enforcement if people are unable to file their complaints in time. The lack of immediate oversight after a complaint is filed also provides an advantage to law enforcement officers, which the public does not enjoy. Restoring trust between law enforcement and the public is critical to building safe neighborhoods. That’s why I was proud to help pass legislation sponsored by Senator Ferguson and Delegate McCray to create an independent commission to investigate the conditions which led to the Gun Trace Task Force. This commission will help to objectively review departmental policies and any necessary reforms which can prevent additional issues like with the GTTF in the future.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Lewis: The opioid crisis is a public health issue, not a criminal issue that can be addressed through policing and the justice system. Therefore, we must treat it as a public health epidemic and continue to expand evidence-based treatment while providing more social support systems. We must address the drug supply issue both in terms of formal prescriptions by medical professionals and through helping drug users identify products contaminated by fentanyl, the deadly pain medication causing so many overdoses. Users are often unaware that the drugs they purchase may contain fentanyl. As a result, we just passed legislation that will decriminalize drug testing kits. Now legal, users can test their product and avoid poisoning themselves.
Income inequality
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Lewis: In order to address income inequality we have to look at measures that improve access to resources, equitably, for all Marylanders. To do so, we must increase support for unions, build large scale transit infrastructure to ensure people can reach jobs reliably and on time, improve the quality of education, and make it more affordable and accessible to expand health care coverage.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Lewis: While we’ve seen an improvement Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government, we still have a long way to go. Maryland’s Open Data Policy, passed in 2014, was one step toward increased transparency, but we must expand on this, and ensure more documents and materials are, by default, open and available to the public. We can achieve this through more robust investments in information technology, an area in which Maryland falls behind relative to other states. We should also invest in public broadband in our city and large population centers. We must also make the effort to invest and expand internet access to rural areas as well. While we have these policies in place, we must also ensure that open data policies are being met by government agencies. I also support efforts to democratize access to public data, and make it easier for citizens, policy makers, state agencies and elected officials to talk to each other, in real time. There are strategies, such as design thinking, that we could put to broad use; I think its worth looking into, because at this point, communication between the public and agencies/electeds isn’t as transparent and easy as it should be.

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