Twelve of the 13 Maryland gubernatorial candidates who met in one room Thursday were presented with one question: “What is your Black agenda?”
During a reception hosted by the Maryland Black Caucus Foundation of Maryland and Verizon, each candidate summarized who they are, why they’re running and a few policies they propose to implement if elected governor next year.
But Del. Darryl Barnes, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, had a message for the candidates during a reception at the Westin Baltimore Washington Airport Hotel-BWI in Linthicum Heights, Anne Arundel County.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think that we had a true and sometimes, unapologetic conversation when it comes to the Black agenda,” said Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro. “When we start talking about the Black agenda, I’m looking for things that impact my community. I’m looking for a candidate that is bold and courageous. I don’t want no one on here saying all lives matter. Because on this day today, it’s about Black lives.”
Because Thursday marked the second time Barnes asked each candidate about a Black agenda, he requested a Nov. 1 deadline to outline a plan on their respective websites before the June 28 primary.
“Not only will we have you on record about what you say out of your mouth, [but] I also want to be able to see what you have been writing in your plan on Black Marylanders,” he said.
All nine Democratic candidates appeared Thursday: former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III; former nonprofit executive Jon Baron; Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot; former Attorney General Doug Gansler; former President Barack Obama administration official Ashwani Jain; former U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr.; author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore; former Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez; and Baltimore businessman Mike Rosenbaum.
Although there aren’t any women running the Democratic primary, several men are seeking to become the first.
Baker, King and Moore seek to become the state’s first-ever Black governor; Perez as the first Latino as the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic; and Jain of Indian descent.
Three other candidates presented their platforms: Republicans Robin Ficker and Del. Daniel L. Cox, who represents parts of Carroll and Frederick counties. David Lashar, an information technology executive from Annapolis, represents the Libertarian Party.
The only woman in the race, Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz who resides in Frederick County, wasn’t able to attend. She became the first candidate in April to announce her intentions to seek the Republican nomination.
The second four-year term for Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, expires in January 2023.
Franchot spoke first so he could leave early and take care of his wife, who had surgery earlier in the day. His campaign shared a blue-colored document called “A Level Playing Field” that outlines a plan for Black Marylanders, which he says he submitted last month.
Besides ensuring 40% Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) participation in the cannabis industry, Franchot said he will have the first Black woman in the state’s history to serve as lieutenant governor. He didn’t say who she would be.
“I pledge to work closely with every single one of you to build a stronger, brighter and more equitable future for our communities,” said Franchot, who’s been the state comptroller since 2007.
Baker spoke second. He became the first Democratic candidate Wednesday to announce Montgomery County council member Nancy Navarro as his running mate.
Baker plans to present a formal Black agenda within the next two weeks focusing on homeownership, environmental racism and Black companies participating in state transportation projects. He also had a message for elected officials highlighting late Maryland leaders Howard “Pete” Rawlings and Clarence Blount.
“You don’t need governors to have a Black agenda. It’s nice. It’s great, but you don’t need it,” he said. “People who came before you did everything in their power so you would be the Black agenda, so you would have it…to actually change the course and people’s lives matter.”
Third to speak at the lectern, King said public school education served as a safe haven, especially after the death of his mom when he was eight years old and then four years later when his dad died.
“The Black agenda begins with education because I know how foundational education is,” he said. “Not only for our community, but for the future of our economy and our democracy.”
King said part of his proposal would be to invest in affordable child care, the state’s historically Black colleges and universities and create a state bank to make loans available for small businesses. All state policies presented should have a racial equity impact statement, he said.
Before a majority Democrat audience, Cox summarized his platform as a member of the GOP and choosing him would be “a safe vote for you.”
Cox, a Donald Trump supporter, summarized his platform such as not mandating employers to have workers vaccinated, parental freedom of school choice, “make small business great again” and improve the educational structure in Baltimore, the state’s largest city.
“As governor, the individual will always come first. We believe as Republicans in the power belonging to the people,” he said. “Our unique Republican form of government demands that each citizen’s rights must be protected. There are no collective rights. There are only the rights of the individual.”
Moore, of Baltimore, received some of the most rousing applause Thursday. His campaign not only announced this summer he raised $1 million since joining the field, but also support from Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City) and this month’s endorsement from Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman.
Moore highlighted part of his plan that includes procurement reform to ensure businesses receive both prime and subprime contracts, make college more affordable and equitable appraisal values for homeownership.
“This campaign has the experience, the vision and the path not just to win, but to finally unlock opportunities for Black families across this state,” he said. “Right now, we can do different and build a future our ancestors envisioned and one that our children deserve.”
The other Republican candidate, Ficker, said he pledges to cut the sales tax by 2 cents, or $780 per year and per household. In addition, he would make the state more business-friendly so major corporations don’t locate in neighboring Virginia.
Ficker, a 78-year-old attorney from Montgomery County who practices civil rights and traffic law and who’s white, said he would be the state’s first governor whose parents “were born in Africa” who later worked as missionaries on the continent.
“I will be a Caucasian governor and I’m also going to be the first Black governor that Maryland has,” he said.
Remaining six candidates
Rosenbaum, the Baltimore businessman and former official under former President Bill Clinton administration, said job creation would be ways to improve the Black community. He founded Catalyte and Arena, software firms which help assess, process and create thousands of jobs nationwide.
He also said challenging the status quo must be done such as being able to pay for full-day prekindergarten education, reduce health care disparities and eliminate biases.
“Having a stable job is one of the best things that we can do to help people,” he said. “Maryland is one of the richest states in the richest country in the world. We have the economic resources. We have the tools…to guarantee a career for every Maryland who wants one. What we lack is the will.”
Perez plans to use his knowledge as a civil rights attorney and U.S. labor secretary as part of a Black agenda such as fighting police brutality, predatory lending and voter suppression. He would also enforce the state’s Department of Labor to issue quickly unemployment checks in a timely fashion after it took some residents six months to receive them.
As governor, he said would work with the legislature that included the Democrats work on passage of police reform legislation this year that received “no damn help from [Hogan].”
“We have so much that we can do,” Perez said. “One of the most important things that we need to remember is we will develop this vision together.”
Baron, who served as an official in the Clinton administration and on boards and commissions under President Obama and former President George W. Bush, summarized how the state’s poverty rate of 9% mirrors that figure from 1995.
He also said the education achievement gaps for Black and white students 20 years ago are nearly identical today. That’s why one of his goals would be to implement statewide tutoring programs for struggling first- and second-grade students.
“It is decades later and we are still mired in the same problems that are harming the lives of millions of people in our state,” Baron said. “Clearly, we need to do something very different.”
Gansler, the former state’s attorney general, offered some humor as the 10th candidate to speak while thanking those in attendance for staying because “it’s been a long night and a lot of hot air” in the room.
During his time as attorney general, he said his office led the country in combating the foreclosure crisis and creating a domestic violence court in the state.
He also supports funding universal prekindergarten, affordable child care, helping formerly incarcerated residents and legalizing cannabis for recreational use, including expunging criminal records of those affected.
“What I’m hearing around the state is [voters] want someone with experience,” Gansler said. “This is no time for experiments. They want someone that can win.”
Lashar, the Libertarian, disagrees because he says the “two established” Republican and Democratic parties haven’t done enough. He praised the legislature in passing police reform legislation this year, “but there’s unfinished business.” He supports ending qualified immunity, which allows police officers from facing civil liability while on duty.
The former registered Republican said the state’s major education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future plan needs to offer school choice, which would provide Black students additional options for success.
“My question is, why would we deny the privilege of educational choice to historically disadvantaged communities across the state?” he said. “There’s multiple tactics we need to take, but let’s make sure we include choice in schools.”
The final candidate, Jain, a 32-year-old cancer survivor, said part of his platform represents a Black agenda. He manages a volunteer-run campaign with more than 300 people, making every campaign event free and creation of mobile offices in all 23 counties and Baltimore City.
He pledges to eliminate the state income tax, create the state’s first guaranteed jobs program, make public transit free, legalize marijuana and impose anti-corruption measures.
“All of these issues and the ways I’m operating my campaign will help African Americans across this state,” said Jain, who works as program director for the National Kidney Foundation serving the DMV. “I believe decisions about us should not be made without us.”