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?
Watson: Yes, I support the preliminary recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. The implementation of the recommendations will begin to be debated in January, 2019, by the Maryland General Assembly. As a former Howard County Board of Education member and current Howard Community College Trustee, I have the experience to hit the ground running and make well-informed decisions on educational priorities and funding sources. Expansion of early childhood education is critical to increasing success of students. Teachers must be highly qualified and compensated. We must provide career and college pathways earlier in school than we do now. We must prepare students who are ready to take on the technology, research, and healthcare jobs that are in demand. Additional resources must be provided for at risk students and there must be an accountability system in place for the measurement of the impact of the recommendations. I am committed to funding these reforms which will come both from an increased investment by the state, and a redirection of present education expenditures to the recommendations and new priorities. Casino funding was supposed to be used for additional education, not to supplant existing funds and that must and will be corrected. Other funding sources will be evaluated. I am not in favor of increasing income taxes, but believe there are corporate loopholes that can be closed to generate additional funding for 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?
Watson: While investment in roads must be part of the solution, sufficient investment in transit is paramount to solving our long-term traffic congestion challenges. The cancellation of the Red Line left Baltimore without a future-oriented solution. BaltimoreLink is an attempt at improving MTA bus routes, and we must continue to have a dynamic system where government and MTA are constantly evaluating efficiencies where speed, frequency, access, walkability, and reliability are the measures of effectiveness. The state must develop a more comprehensive plan to manage our transportation needs throughout Maryland. We must have funding available to provide basic infrastructure maintenance and upgrades to bridges, and roads, while also investing in transit. If the state is to be competitive in the economic development arena, elevate opportunities for all citizens and lessen income inequality, a plan for more comprehensive transit must be developed, along with a plan to fund it.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Watson: I would first support an analysis of the impact in other states where recreational marijuana is legal so that if Maryland does proceed, it does so informed by the initial efforts of other states. I am open to supporting a program of legalization with strong checks and balances protecting young people as well as an educational initiative. I advocate for a change in the federal law to allow research studies on the use of marijuana and how it affects people short and long term
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?
Watson: First, I believe we should do everything we can to make sure that we do not lose federal funding of the Chesapeake Bay Fund, by lobbying our congressional contacts in Maryland and in other states. My hope is that voters will consider protecting the federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay, a litmus test for candidates. States and federal agencies have committed to specific pollution reduction targets by 2025 and meeting those targets is critical not only to the health of the bay, but to the economy that depends on the bay. While agricultural runoff is a large source of pollution in the bay, unmitigated stormwater runoff, wastewater treatment and rural septic systems also negatively impact the bay. I support amending the Forest Conservation Act, which currently requires planting only a quarter acre of new trees for every acre of trees cleared, to require more tree replacement with a high-end goal of a one-to-one ratio. I support use of best available technology for wastewater treatment and new septic systems and increasing incentives to farmers to create better buffers near streams and waterways. The science is clear, and the efforts put forth by the state thus far have been successful as the “State of the Bay Health Index” has improved by over 6 percent in the most recent published score. We cannot afford to go backwards and must build on the progress that has been made since 2010 with or without federal participation.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Watson: I believe that access to health care is a universal right. Maryland must be at the forefront of innovation in health care delivery to be able to expand care and reduce costs. Reduction of costs is the major benefit of a single payer system as overhead is reduced and savings is provided back to the patients. This type of system would require waivers from the federal government to roll programs together as well as major investment in healthcare administrative infrastructure. Ultimately, I believe a plan to do this over a period of years is achievable. In the meantime, should the federal government make the Affordable Care Act null, the state must step in as it did this year in shoring up the state health exchange and providing an alternative to Marylanders. The state could consider a model used in Howard County in previous years, Healthy Howard, which provided access to healthcare for the residents who made too much money to qualify for Medicaid but could not afford health insurance. Innovation in administrative systems, healthcare delivery, patient care and follow up, is necessary to reduce costs and make healthcare more affordable and available for everyone.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Watson: The State’s role in helping Baltimore address violent crime is to support to the city’s implementation of evidence-based violence reduction measures, to help fund community initiatives such as the successful Safe Streets program, and to help improve the public-school system to provide career and college readiness for young people and expanded opportunities for employment. The state must make sure that laws are in place to appropriately sentence repeat violent offenders to keep them off the streets, as well as support strong rehabilitation programs for all offenders. To be successful in reducing violent crime, it is imperative that state officials act in partnership with city officials in developing the best methods to attack this public safety problem that leads to successful, sustainable outcomes and continuous improvement.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Watson: Many jobs exist in cyber security, genomics, data analysis, robotics and the healthcare field that provide a living wage for families. Not all jobs in these areas require a college education. The state can encourage professional development and certification programs to fill these employment needs within state agencies and at community colleges. Implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education will help schools reset career and college readiness goals to meet the needs of these growth industries. I would characterize Maryland’s Business Climate with a grade of B- and believe that there are more opportunities to be realized through the partnership of state and local jurisdictions, with educational institutions, and the private sector to provide qualified workers for the growth industries of the future.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Watson: Yes, to reduce polarization of the electorate and encourage bipartisanship, gerrymandering must end.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Watson: The Law Enforcement Bill of Rights is intended to provide due process to law enforcement officers under internal investigation. I believe a review is indicated to evaluate the protections that are in place and whether those protections meet the goal of due process to the officer, without sacrificing a strong investigative process that provides justice.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Watson: The single most effective thing the state can do to address the opioid crisis is to direct resources to long-term residential treatment programs in Maryland. We must create a system based on treatment on demand to get addicts into treatment as soon as they ask, so they no longer have to endure long waiting lists. Maryland needs detox, medical and counseling programs in greater numbers to provide treatment to addicts in their home state. No one treatment program fits all, and so there must be a continuum of programs available. The State must continue to work to reduce unnecessary pain prescriptions from the medical and dental communities. No teenager should become a heroin addict because the oral surgeon provided 30 OxyContin pills, yet this has happened in our community. Increasing access and availability of mental health treatment, as well as mental health screenings in adolescence would also be beneficial in preventing substance abuse.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Watson: There are several contributing factors to the increasing income inequality in Maryland and across the country. Maryland must implement the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence to provide an environment in public education that provides all students with opportunities for college and career readiness with highly qualified and compensated teachers. Providing quality pre-Kindergarten programs is correlated with increased rate of high school graduation, college attendance and higher earnings. Additionally, providing transit opportunities so that people can reach employment centers and earn a family sustaining wage is imperative. The state should support local jurisdictions in affordable housing efforts and continue to work on a health care system that reduces overall costs as both will bring stability to families with lower incomes.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Watson: The Public Information Act was updated in 2015 by establishing a public information compliance board, as well as an ombudsman to mediate complaints when fees charged by government agencies exceed a certain limit. Another key change is that a report is required of the Attorney General’s office that evaluates the implementation of the law and the outcomes. One issue that can stand as a barrier to Marylanders ability to exercise oversight are the fees that agencies can charge for producing documents. We need to be sure that excessive fees are not charged, as well as monitor the new process, that has been in effect for a few years, with the compliance board to determine if additional substantive changes would help improve transparency and appropriately further the goal of government oversight by the citizens and the media.