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?
Hester: I support the findings of the Kirwan Commission and believe that the implementation of those findings is vital to meet the 21st century needs of education in Maryland. I support efforts to bring universal pre-K and a professional pay structure to attract and retain the best educators. The Commission’s work so far makes it clear that teachers feel overworked and undervalued. We need to examine our teacher pay to attract the best talent to our school systems and create flexible systems that allow teachers to move within their profession rather than leave it. Increasing teacher pay to better our students will come at a cost; we can afford that by ensuring that gaming revenues are locked into general education 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?
Hester: Our region experiences some of the greatest congestion in the nation. Too many spend too long in their commutes and those who rely on mass transit are underserved. Cancelling the Red Line in Baltimore and forfeiting nearly a billion dollars in federal funding in the process was a mistake. Baltimore needs a full mass transit system and BaltimoreLink is not sufficient. The recent total shut down for emergency repairs to the metro shows that there has been substantial under-funding of mass transit for years. Investment in public transit not only addresses our infrastructure and community development problems, but also serves as a powerful economic engine – creating jobs in transportation and creating greater access to workplaces.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Hester: I support Maryland’s laws to decriminalize possession and make marijuana available for medical use. Before legalizing marijuana, we need to ensure that rules and regulations as well as the necessary enforcement procedures are prepared for this change. Through studying the experience of other early-adopter states and constructing policy around their experiences, we can properly prepare for the potential impacts on public health, impaired driving, and underage use.
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?
Hester: The Chesapeake Bay’s health has improved dramatically since the 1960s, however much more remains to be done. The current presidential administration has threatened to rollback funding of this vital regional resource. We must be ready with state funding and efforts that don’t rely on federal support, such as expanding incentives for businesses and homeowners, public-private partnerships, and private fundraising for grants programs. Maryland must also work with regional neighbors like Pennsylvania and even New York in reducing their contributions to polluting the Chesapeake Bay. We must prevent future exacerbation of current environmental concerns with sustainable growth. Reforestation, increased permeable surfaces, and investment in pervious surface technology is crucial to storm water management and preventing soil erosion and runoff. We can leverage education, incentives, grant programs, and legislation to change norms on the neighborhood level, so that homeowners use watershed-friendly practices on their own lawns and gardens.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Hester: Access to affordable health care is a critical issue in Maryland. The bipartisan bill recently signed by the governor is an important step, creating a reinsurance pool for 2019 financed in part by a tax on health insurers. The intent is to stabilize the individual marketplace by reinsurance funding to reduce premiums. This one-year fix will help curtail rising premiums for 150,000 Marylanders. An important component of the bill is dedicated to studying the long-term stability of the Maryland insurance market and the possibility of reinstituting the individual mandate that expires in 2019. Finding a permanent solution to this one-year fix will be one of the most important goals in 2019 to ensure all Marylanders have access to affordable care.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Hester: No single law or program will be able to address violent crime in Baltimore. A complex effort by government, law enforcement and communities is required. We can increase efforts like Safe Streets Baltimore, expand drug and alcohol rehabilitation and clean up blighted buildings. We can encourage police recruitment from within communities and support community policing activities to cement trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. We must acknowledge, however, that crime is the symptom of larger problems of economic inequality and limited opportunity. Serious investment in education, job training and employment opportunities can break the cycle of poverty and crime.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Hester: There is room for growth and improvement in Maryland’s business climate, especially for small and medium sized business and entrepreneurs. A well-educated workforce means a stronger business environment. We can expand apprenticeship programs, affordable higher education, vocational training, effective K-12 education, and early childhood education to help cultivate a 21st century workforce. In addition, if we can lower the barriers of entry, we will foster new businesses and create long-term job opportunities for Marylanders. Programs like TEDCO (Technology Development Corporation), can be expanded and scaled to create incubators for small businesses. Ensuring affordable access to healthcare will increase entrepreneurs’ ability to start a business without worrying about their family’s health care. Increasing funding in public transportation and infrastructure will help businesses connect with a variety of markets more efficiently.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Hester: Ideally, the supreme court would call for a national system for establishing district maps. In the interim a state non-partisan, independent redistricting body would ensure the fairness of the redistricting process and would encourage elected officials to appeal to more moderate voters. There must be clearly set standards on how to determine representative fairness in a district and a transparent process that ensures accountability.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Hester: Fostering trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve is essential. The LEOBR is dependent on the police policing themselves and most departments have managed this effectively. However, we must remain cognizant of the mistakes made in Baltimore and remain vigilant that similar lapses do not happen elsewhere. Leadership in government and in the police departments must remain alert to how effectively the LEOBR is administered. Increased community outreach and transparency that does not impede the ability of law enforcement to do their jobs will help to create the relationships necessary to build that trust and must be a priority for all police departments in the state.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Hester: Opioid addiction is a national tragedy and a medical care emergency, requiring major changes in how we approach pain management. I support a comprehensive plan to combat the crisis that includes changes in our emergency response, addiction, rehabilitation and prescription policies. We can equip our first responders with Naloxone to counter the effects of opioid overdoses in the worst of situations. We can promote medication-assisted treatment for dependence and remove barriers in Medicaid to inpatient addiction treatment. We can improve the protocols of our medical system for managing chronic pain and utilize a state prescription monitoring system to identify potential problems in opioid use before it becomes a problem of addiction or overdose.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Hester: During the last several decades, income inequality in the United States has increased. Children born into low income families are born with similar abilities, however they have different educational opportunities. The resulting educational attainment gap between children born into low- and high-income families grows over time. In order to fight income inequality, state policies need to provide middle and low-income families better access to education and employment training that provide new skills in light of changes in technology. Additionally, we must acknowledge that income inequality has a magnified effect along gender and racial lines. Equal pay for women and the prevention of discriminatory compensation practices for people of certain races or ethnicities must be considered in combating this problem in Maryland.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Hester: A government that is truly of the people must be open to the people. State records and meetings must be accessible to all Marylanders. The basic mandate of the Public Information Act is to allow citizens to have access to government records without unnecessary cost or delay. The Attorney General requires that agencies and government officials have a clear process for handling record requests and that fees are reasonable. The existence of the Public Access Ombudsman who mediates disputes ensures an additional level of transparency. Open meetings laws aim to guarantee that public business is conducted openly and that citizens are allowed to observe their public officials, their deliberations, and the decisions that become public policy. One remaining area of concern is that technology now affords groups to “meet” and hold discussions without a physical presence. The use of email and virtual meetings must not take away the right of the public to observe our government at work.