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?
Ziegler: I strongly support the findings of the commission. Education is not only a fundamental civil rights issue, it also our best tool for negotiating a rapidly changing job market in which we face losing jobs to automation, and the creation of jobs we have not yet imagined. We have always prided ourselves on having first rate schools in Maryland, but the commission found that in fact Maryland is in the middle of the pack in the US, which is in the middle of the pack in the world. We can and should be number one. Top notch schools are a powerful catalyst for broad based economic opportunity. I am committed to finding the necessary funding, through a lockbox on casino revenues which should all go to education, through making education the top priority in the budget, through greater accountability for school budgets to ensure that the funds reach the classroom, and eventually through the higher tax revenues generated by a better educated population. The GI bill returned almost $7 for every dollar we spent; a spectacular success story which we can repeat in Maryland with investment in pre-K, K-12, and adult education.
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?
Ziegler: Baltimore traffic was recently ranked 36th in the nation. Not terrible, but not great either. Public transportation is always tough to fund. It’s extremely expensive, there is the chicken and the egg problem of not enough riders to fund good reliable service and no way to get more riders until there is good, reliable service, and we are all just used to getting in our cars. Yet more and more people are looking for a car-free or nearly car-free lifestyle and driving up property values where that is possible. Public transportation that connects lower income neighborhoods with jobs and services is a huge factor in expanding economic opportunity. We should favor public transportation over roads in funding decisions wherever possible.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Ziegler: Currently nine states have legalized recreational marijuana, affording us an excellent opportunity to see how well it works, and I would like to wait for more data from those states. There are numerous factors to consider, among them law enforcement, traffic accidents, drug abuse among adults and young people, as well as mass incarceration, in addition to the potential revenues.
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?
Ziegler: We will need to step up our environmental efforts in Maryland as the federal government rolls back regulations and dismisses climate change. In terms of protections for the Chesapeake Bay, I support a ban on EPS (expanded polystyrene) food containers which are a major source of waterway pollution. There are good compostable and recyclable alternatives, and it’s time we did away with this petroleum based source of litter and pollution. I also think we need more regulation of lawn chemicals. Farmers in Maryland are heavily regulated in terms of what they can put on their crops and when, but homeowners can throw anything they like on their lawns, the runoff from which ends up in the bay. I would like to see incentives created for small, best practices chicken farms to allow them to compete with the large scale factory farms which are a major source of pollution. Last but not least, we need a regional approach to nutrient and stormwater management, recognizing that runoff from our neighboring states flows into the bay without honoring state boundaries.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Ziegler: As a nation, we pay about twice what the average wealthy, developed nation pays for health care, and our outcomes are about 50th. We spend about 35% of our health care dollars on administrative costs, and most other wealthy, developed nations spend about 7%. We take a pill for everything, perhaps because we are one of two countries in the world that allow direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs. Doctors are unhappy, patients are unhappy, and for the first time ever our life expectancy is going down. Clearly it’s time for change. I would support a system similar to Massachusetts’s which has a state mandate for most residents to buy health insurance, and a state Health Connector which offers free or subsidized insurance plans to residents who qualify, along with plans for people who don’t work, are self-employed, or work part time or for more than one employer. In this gig economy, with employers finding myriad ways to avoid giving benefits to their workers, we must detach health insurance from employment. I support state funding for research into non-medical ways to keep people out of the hospital and emergency room, such as Johns Hopkins is doing with asthma. Health Affairs recently conducted a successful study in keeping vulnerable sick elderly and young disabled patients out of the ER by delivering nutritionally appropriate meals. These initiatives are part of a necessary shift in focus from disease to wellness.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Ziegler: We need both short term crime fighting initiatives and longer term solutions to address the underlying causes of violent crime, and one in no way should overshadow the other. We just saw the results of the NEAP scores for Baltimore, and learned that 13% of fourth and eight grade students are proficient or better in reading. Clearly this underlies the crime problem in Baltimore, but at the same time the crime problem makes learning more difficult for children who live in high crime neighborhoods. Experts agree that a high percentage of homicides and shootings in the city are committed by a relatively small number of violent repeat offenders. I applaud the recently passed legislation that imposes a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence for second offenses using a gun in a violent crime. I think state police assistance is certainly warranted.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Ziegler: Maryland’s business climate has improved, but we still have a long way to go in creating jobs that really support families. Among the opportunities are clean energy jobs, including two major wind energy projects approved by the Public Service Commission, and infrastructure and transportation initiatives. The most powerful thing the state can do to support the creation of good jobs is to fully fund education and adopt the reforms suggested by the Kirwan Commission.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Ziegler: Gerrymandering is wrong, no matter which party engages in it, and every attempt to disenfranchise voters is a threat to our democracy, no matter the means. I absolutely support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw congressional and legislative districts. Given the complexity of the task, we need to ensure not only that the body is truly independent and non-partisan, but that the process is completely open and transparent.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Ziegler: The Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights is another case where openness and transparency are badly needed. I deeply respect the rights of law enforcement officers and appreciate the difficulty of their jobs, but the LEOBR, layered on top of union contracts, has resulted in years of payments to victims of excessive force without forcing any change in the department. The Gun Trace Task Force case and the Tavon White case at the Baltimore City Detention Facility should make this clear. It will be impossible to improve community/police relations, and therefore to lower violent crime in Baltimore without changes that give residents a stronger voice and create a more open disciplinary process. Both the majority of good law enforcement officers and Baltimore residents deserve no less.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Ziegler: In order to create the political will necessary to find the funds we need to fight the opioid crisis, I would like to fund a study to put a dollar figure on its consequences. We need a multi-pronged approach, from simple and relatively inexpensive measures like 24⁄7 drug disposal sites to keep opioids out of the water supply and the wrong hands, to ones much more difficult to achieve, like creating real economic opportunity in places where it doesn’t exist. I would like to see public education campaigns focused on addiction as a disease, and on relieving the stigma that can get in the way of treatment. We need enough treatment beds so that every addict revived from an overdose can be offered one right then and there. We need easily accessible and free or reduced cost treatment for anyone who wants it. We need training for first responders in the use of naloxone. We need community mobilization events that put information and resources where they are needed. Numerous counties and localities have filed suit against the distributors of opioids, who knowingly shipped them thousands of times more opioid doses than there are residents, overwhelming law enforcement and social services. I pray those suits are successful: distributors must be held accountable.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Ziegler: . Universal pre-K would help to bridge the wide vocabulary gap between children from non-English speaking and lower income families and those from more advantaged families. Education is fundamental to addressing income inequality and the effort needs to begin at the pre-K level and continue through 12th grade with a fully funded and accountable education system committed to providing equal opportunities for every child. The state should support our unions and their efforts to create family supporting jobs, as well as the apprenticeship programs they offer. We should outlaw the practice of changing employees schedules and hours without notice, and we should make a much more serious effort to increase the availability of affordable housing. Like several other states, the Maryland legislature created a consumer financial protection commission to fill the gap now that Trump has defunded the CPFB. We will have to count on them to stop the still rampant racism and discrimination in mortgage lending that keeps many people of color from owning homes. Current levels of income inequality are an insidious disease that eats away not only at our democracy, but at our economy, and the state should do everything it can to overcome it.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Ziegler: Maryland’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws seem reasonable enough to me, but they certainly do not ensure our oversight of government, as the Nathaniel Oaks case clearly illustrates. From outright public corruption to business as usual lobbying, it’s hard not feel as though special interests and well-connected companies own our government. Campaign finance reform would be a more effective path to change than an expansion of the PIA and open meeting laws.