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?
Jeang: Yes, my experience in citizen lobbying with the Maryland State Education Association has given to me in-depth knowledge that the proposed reforms provided by the Kirwan commission prioritize providing quality education and equity programs to the most vulnerable communities, where the quality of life is poorest, and increase the quality of education by providing more teachers and higher salaries for them as many are underpaid despite their union protections. The direct funding lockbox to the casino revenues as was originally promised in the 2012 referendum was a great start in this year’s commitment to funding the education budget and reforms, and the same thing can be done for marijuana sales if the substance is legalized. Furthermore, reforms to reduce administrative overhead, which many teachers I know support since they say their aides are poorly trained and don’t help much while their administrative offices continue to be non-responsive to their requests, can open more of the budget for the needed program funding.
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?
Jeang: In my opinion Maryland favors roads too much, and not even in the right way. My county of Montgomery alone blew a majority of its transportation budget building new county highways instead of maintaining the roads already in place, and now struggle to repave both the old and the new because of budget constraints while our public transit continues to decline in quality and, in effect, ridership. Because of the way it spent its transportation funds in the past, and the amount of needed upgrades to transportation infrastructure now, some things will have to be prioritized if we want to keep transit as public as possible. We’ll have to make smart choices, starting with the most cost-effective improvements that cover the most people like BRT systems or MARC commuter expansions for areas of decentralized population. As for the BaltimoreLink, mixed reviews have come through, though I suspect some of the negativity stems from years of general mistrust of the MTA to do its job properly. I would suggest taking the overhaul and transition process more seriously at the input of the public if it is to be effective, and keep in mind that the Red Line extension offered something that BaltimoreLink did not, more access to commuter routes to and from the DC and Virginia area. In conclusion, I’m leaning towards transit authority and administration could and probably should do more to accommodate Baltimore’s transit needs.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Jeang: Yes. There are at least three major benefits to the legalization of marijuana, both medical and recreational. First, it opens the door to a new industry, and more industries mean more tax revenue for funding state programs and projects, which is sorely needed as our state continues to face the prospects of cuts due to budget deficits. Second, it addressed criminal justice reform as there are quite a few people locked up for merely processing a single bag. With it legal, fewer Marylanders will have criminal records hampering their job opportunities and restricting their rights and access to helpful programs, and prisons will cost the taxpayers less since there will be fewer prisoners to contain. Third, it directly fights the opioid crisis by acting as a non-lethal substitute for painkillers. Medical studies have shown you literally cannot die by marijuana intoxication alone. In fact, you cannot technically overdose marijuana period because THC is not even absorbed through the brain stem like opioids are.
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?
Jeang: Maryland must make a commitment to achieving a zero-waste status to reduce pollution into the bay and lessen the costs of cleanup and recovery projects. The reforms necessary for this goal will have to include a transition to 100% renewable energy, modernizing the grid to be energy efficient, adoption of sustainable farming practices, expansion of food recovery networks, statewide bans of certain plastics and chemicals, container deposit legislation, implementation of rain collection and biowaste digester/composter projects, and mass-transit infrastructure building. Everyone will have to do their part to make this a reality, but especially the industries themselves must be held accountable for environmental damage cost they shift to the taxpayers and workers. It’ll be an uphill battle, but once achieved, it will give Maryland and its natural treasures not only environmental health, but economic resilience through self sustainability.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Jeang: I would work with other state legislators and the governor to get the required waivers from the federal government to implement a state single-payer system, as outlined by gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous in his 19 page healthcare plan. And while we’re fighting, I would work to reinforce and expand what negotiating power the state already has with its waiver to implement the all-payer model, which fixes all hospital operations at a set rate so clients are not overcharged and overhead cost is reduced. If the viability of creating a state public option presents itself, if only to cover the uninsured as Rich Madaleno suggests, I would also not hesitate to support it, but would emphasize the fight for the state waivers or to pressure a national universal healthcare model must continue in full force.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Jeang: Drug reform policy is a big must as trends have shown that the criminalization of abusive substances only leads to more severe actions and consequences on the whole, not to mention they’re ineffective as their main targets, addicts, flat out ignore them as the fear of violence and incarceration does not overcome their cravings. And while I am in favor of background checks for gun reform, the sad truth is the highest number of fatalities that come from gun violence are contributed by the police. Despite the reforms pushed for since the infamous Freddie Gray shooting several years back, little has changed other than the BPD being caught in the act more often. Body cams catch evidence planting, unarmed shootings, various forms of corruption, yet accountability is rarely established on the whole. It’s my belief that how the law enforcement system is structured in Baltimore drives many on the force to look for trouble and assume the worst. Arrest quotas, supplying the department with military-grade surplus, little to no enforcement of protocol, they’re all incentives for the police to seek escalation of conflict in most situations. In addition to stopping these bad habits, public disclosure of official policies and procedure for the department as well as a requirement for deescalating training for all members of the force must be established to improve public relations and trust, because a lack of it creates tension on both sides.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Jeang: Because of its proximity to numerous federal institutions on the south end, and wealth of universities and hospitals, Maryland holds a relatively stable climate with one of highest percentages of educated workforce in the nation, with room to hire in their major hubs. However, because many tech firms and superstores place their businesses in northern Virginia, there are dangerous arguments that Maryland should lower its corporate tax rate to be competitive with its neighbor. Combine that with the recent bidding war for Amazon’s new HQ along with few distinctions of regulations between small and large companies, and I conclude a majority of Maryland leaders are too focused on getting outside business and their workforce to move in instead of building up local businesses run by already existing residents, a troubling recipe for economic unsustainability if you ask me. The state of Maryland can shift its focus to growing its own family businesses back home with a combination of equity programs for startups, tax and business regulatory reforms to accommodate companies with a smaller workforce, close corporate loopholes and enact stronger state union laws to protect workers from income inequality, and most importantly create a state jobs program for areas of need like infrastructure and environment to decrease unemployment numbers.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Jeang: Of course. It saddens me to know that Democrats are willing to play just as underhanded as Republicans do if they get the chance to redraw the lines in their favor. It creates a misrepresentation of the general populace in government, and gives liberals no real legs to stand on when they complain how their conservative opponents rig the vote in their favor. I was swapped along with a good chunk of Montgomery county from district 8 to 6 just to defeat Republican incumbent Roscoe Bartlett, and all that did was raise partisan attacks across the state that limited thoughtful debate, which resulted in contributing to Larry Hogan’s election as governor 2 years later when he championed an independent redistricting committee. On an additional note, I also point out that while the Maryland state constitution defines the parameters with how its legislative districts are drawn, it does not define congressional districts, giving the redistricters much more leeway on how to draw them. So I would not only support an independent redistricting committee, but work to amend our state constitution to have congressional district adhere to the same restrictions that legislative districts do as well.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Jeang: While the LEOBoR’s intent was to ensure the same due process for a police officer as a civilian, I believe the bill fails to take into account what resources and abilities an officer and his/her department have available to use that a civilian does not when accused of a criminal action. Moreover, there are provisions included that analysts conclude provide extra protections not covered by the original bill of rights, such as the purging of complaints and investigation records after a few years. Given the lack of accountability of Balitmore’s police force, I would wager to say there is at least some grounds to accuse officers taking unfair advantage of these protections when possible. Changes should be made that hold an officer to be more responsible of the position he/she holds, at the very least the extra protections should be eschewed if an officer is really to hold equal footing to a civilian on investigation. I would also promote more civilian involvement in keeping investigations and reviews transparent by passing legislation to establish requirements that build more citizen review boards in areas that do not have any and strengthening the impartiality and abilities of existing ones.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Jeang: As explained in questions 12 and 9, decriminalization of abusive substances and legalization of recreational marijuana both contribute to ending the opioid epidemic as less money is spent on incarceration and punishment of drug offenders as a result, and instead can be used to expand detox and rehabilitation clinics and programs. Another thing to do would be to regulate the prices and oversee the distribution of prescription medication statewide as it is within the state’s power to do so. Many opioid additions start when clinics overprescribe opioid medication, and when the prescriptions become to costly to afford in poorer circles, people turn to more cheaper and unrefined opioids like heroin. Oversight committees with citizen participation would ensure physicians don’t overcharge or oversell opioid prescriptions just to increase their profit margin and inadvertently create addicts. Additionally, prioritizing preventive healthcare more would reduce the need of introducing painkillers like opioids to people in the first place. That means making sure there are enough doctors, nurses, and clinics available for regular visits, and implementing healthcare policies that make the cost of regular checkups affordable to everyone.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Jeang: First, a statewide increase to the minimum wage must be implemented as living wage studies from various universities show the current minimum, $9.25, is actually at poverty levels for some families in Maryland when factoring in the costs of living. And while $15, over a period of adjustment to protect smaller businesses, would be an increase that covers most individuals across the state, current service and tax rates would still put quite a few households in the red. As such, a tax reform that indexes wages to lower the cost of affordable living for poorer communities, and at the same time closes corporate loopholes to ensure richer communities pay their fair share and make up lost revenue for funding the state’s public programs must follow suit immediately with the wage increase if not at the same time. Additionally, many of those on the poorer end of the income spectrum have professions in labor. So increasing labor protections in the state(like a Workers Bill of Rights) will ensure workers have the benefits, fair scheduling, organization, and training/education to make their livelihoods more affordable and reasonably comfortable.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Jeang: While the Public Information Act in Maryland has been through reforms for the first time in decades in 2015, many institutions continue to use outdated and overbloated administration and bureaucracy to invalidate and/or withhold indefinitely public requests to their records, one of the most prime examples being education budget and staff records. The Montgomery County Civic Federation has many members that have been attempting to get information from the county’s board of education and superintendent in order to address administrative inaction to hold student abusers accountable, but have been stonewalled at every turn. The open meetings laws are not strong enough yet either, as local boards and councils can use the same tactics to say they were not given enough notice or claim information pertaining to the meeting’s topic is either too sensitive to be discussed to the public body, or is an exemption that does not fall in any of the public body’s functions. Bottom line, while the PIA and open meetings are supposed to bring transparency in principle, there’s too much overhead and room for interpretation on the local levels of office to make it streamlined or enforceable. Administrative reforms to cut the bureaucracy and promote direct involvement of the citizen boards in access of information must be implemented, likely from the bottom up if we’re to promote autonomy and active participation in communities. But the state can continue to tighten reforms to the PIA and open meeting laws in order to cultivate said climate.