Ben Jealous is a Democrat vying for the governor’s seat in Maryland. He must face off with seven other candidates in the Maryland primary. These are his unedited answers to WJZ’s questionnaire.
Name: Ben Jealous
Hometown: Pacific Grove, Calif.
Current Town/City of Residence: Pasadena, Md.
I’m running for governor, not because I need a job, but because I have a vision. A vision where we fully fund our schools, ensure universal healthcare with a state based Medicare For All system that stops rising premiums, and invest in communities across the state to ensure economic opportunity for all. I’m a civil rights leader and community organizer who was named the youngest ever National President and CEO of the NAACP. In 2012, I was named Marylander of The Year by The Baltimore Sun for leading the effort to pass the Maryland DREAM Act, ensuring marriage equality, abolishing the death penalty, and expanding voting rights.
As governor, I’ll get us back to doing big things again. I’m focused on fully funding our schools and fulfilling the promise to make sure that the casino revenue promised to our kids actually goes to supplementing our kids’ education rather than supplanting historic sources of funding. With two kids in Maryland public schools myself, this is personal for me — we have to raise teacher pay, ensure universal Pre-K, and provide pathways to a career whether that be an apprenticeship program, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree.
Tell us about your experience:
I’ve been a non-profit executive or a partner in a business since I was 26 years old. In 2008, I was named the youngest-ever National President of the NAACP. In leading the organization, I focused on advancing progressive priorities that lifted up working families across our country. While leading the organization, I doubled our revenue stream and multiplied our donor base by a factor of eight. I’ve helped to pass monumental civil rights reforms including the Maryland DREAM Act, marriage equality in our state, and abolishing the death penalty here too. And on the federal level I helped President Obama pass major legislation like the Affordable Care Act and increase coverage to millions of Americans.
Tell us about your family:
My grandmother and grandfather moved to Maryland in the 1940s to work for Planned Parenthood and the B&O Railroad, respectively. They were activists and organizers whose daughter, my mother would go on to sue Western High School for Girls in Baltimore when she was 12 years old so she could desegregate it when she was 15. My mother met my father, another activist, when they were both young educators in Baltimore. They were forced to leave Maryland to get married because interracial marriage was illegal at the time but I would spend my summers in Baltimore with my grandparents, and it became a second home for me. As National President & CEO of the NAACP, which was headquartered in Baltimore, I was able to work in the city I grew up in, and after my tenure there, I continued to work growing small businesses and start-ups as a partner at Kapor Capital. I now have two children who attend Maryland public schools.
What do you view as Maryland’s most pressing issues?
Education is my top priority and what I see all across Maryland is chronic underfunding of our public school system. Well-funded public schools are the surest ticket to the middle class and the best way to make sure we have a dynamic, well-educated, productive workforce. Our own state’s consultants have found that we are underfunding our kids by $2.9 billion annually. That’s unacceptable.
I have two kids in our public schools, so this is personal. I’ve been endorsed by the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) which represents 74,000 educators across our state because they know that I am committed to fully funding our schools. I’ve come out with two education plans highlighting how we’ll fully fund our schools, provide full-day universal Pre-K, and ensure free-tuition for all Marylanders to attend community college.
We also need to fix our broken healthcare system. Marylanders know that the status quo is untenable — premiums have risen by double digits every year under Larry Hogan and it hurts everyday workers and small business-people alike, so we need to do something different. I’ve put a plan on the table to lower prescription drug costs, stop rising premiums, and ensure universal coverage through a Medicare-for-All system.
How important is bipartisanship in state government?
I’ve been very clear that I’m not running to the left or to the right, I’m running towards the people. I’m addressing problems like chronic underfunding of education, a healthcare system that demands more and more and delivers less and less, and an economy that doesn’t work for all of us. As the National President & CEO of the NAACP, I knew how to bring people together to get big things done. We worked on prison reform nationally with partners from the civil rights movement and Grover Norquist and the largest correctional officers union in the country.
As governor, I won’t be focused on partisanship, I’ll be focused on making sure we can offer the people of Maryland real solutions to their problems, not half-measures.
Are there personal experiences that have contributed to your decision seek office?
Growing up in a family rooted in civil rights and in social justice has shaped my worldview. My grandmother was a social worker who would teach me that “you can’t half-solve a problem, if you do, you still got a problem.” My mother, who became a part of Brown v. Board era activism when she sued Western High School at just 12 years old, made sure I grew up as an activist and an organizer. When I became the youngest-ever President & CEO of the NAACP, it was because I had a family that had passed down a legacy of civil rights activism. When I was named Marylander of the Year for my part in leading the effort to abolish the death penalty, pass the DREAM Act, enact marriage equality, and expand voting rights, it was because my parents and grandparents had given me the tools to succeed.
And come November, as governor when I fight for the rights of working people, it will be because of those same principles my family has lived by for decades.
What sets you apart from the other candidates in the primary race?
I’m the only candidate in this race who has laid out comprehensive plans on education, healthcare, criminal justice reform, the opioid crisis, and more, all of which can be viewed on my website at benjealous.com. I’m also the only candidate in this race with the trust of Maryland’s teachers and nurses. The Maryland State Education Association which represents 74,000 educators across Maryland has endorsed my campaign and my plan for full-day universal pre-K, raising educator pay, and expanding tuition-free community college to every Marylander. I’ve also been endorsed by Maryland’s nurses represented by National Nurses United, the Service Employees International Union, and DC Nurses Association. They believe in my plan for Medicare-for-All and they believe that together we can stop rising premiums, lower prescription drug costs and ensure universal coverage.
As a lifelong civil rights leader and community organizer, I’ve spent my life getting big things done for working people and as governor, I’ll do the same.
What are voters telling you they want to see more/ less of in the state?
Voters are looking for a governor with the courage to put whole solutions on the table and a track record of getting big things done in our state. They’re done with half-measures when it comes to their children’s education — they want a governor who will promise them that their zip code won’t determine the quality of their public schools. Maryland voters are asking for a governor who will be honest about our failing healthcare system and push our families forward no matter what is happening in Washington. And they want someone with a proven track record of civil rights and activism who has the executive experience to make sure these solutions are implemented.
As governor, I’ll be sure to fight for the working people of our state and be honest about what it is I plan to do. That’s why I’ve put comprehensive plans on the table on my website at benjealous.com. I’m the candidate the teachers trust to fix our underfunded school system and the candidate the nurses trust to provide quality healthcare for everyone.