Rushern Baker welcomes GGWash readers and contributors at one of our happy hours in 2016. Image by the author.

The state of Maryland is poised to make fundamental and critical decisions about public education, infrastructure, and the environment that will have long-lasting consequences for generations as it chooses its next governor. We urge Maryland Democrats to nominate Rushern Baker as the smart growth leader and experienced executive this strong and growing state needs to bring communities together to advance fiscally, socially, and environmentally responsible priorities.

A race with local, regional, and national significance

The Maryland primaries are coming up soon, on June 26, 2018. The deadline to register to vote is June 5, and it has never been more important that you do so. However, the Maryland governor's race will not be decided during the primary: rather, a Democratic challenger will be chosen to face incumbent Republican Larry Hogan on November 6.

This year, a tremendous amount is at stake for the Old Line state. While the national Republican and Democratic parties view this race as an important referendum on their federal leadership and policies, it is vital to not lose sight of the local issues that will shape the future of Maryland.

Will the beautiful and varied state that is home to the globally unique Chesapeake Bay, 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the storied city of Baltimore (and the greatest spice/condiment ever created to bless food) double down on the failed highway-building policies of the last generation, continue to ignore the growing pedestrian safety crisis on state roads, and please exurban voters by largely abandoning the state's largest city's infrastructure needs? Or will we come together to choose a better future?

The next governor of Maryland will decide the state's rail transit future. Image by Chris Bojanower licensed under Creative Commons.

Six men and one woman have put themselves forward as options to lead Maryland Democrats in the charge against Larry Hogan. We heard back from five of them in our candidate survey (click names to see the responses): Rushern Baker (currently Prince George’s county executive), Ben Jealous (the former head of the NAACP), Kevin Kamenetz (Baltimore county executive), Rich Madaleno (state senator), and Jim Shea (lawyer). We did not hear from Alec Ross (tech entrepreneur), Krish Vignarajah (previously a policy director to former First Lady Michelle Obama), or Governor Hogan.

Based on their responses, their records in office where applicable, and other statements they have made on the campaign, we feel Rushern Baker is the clear choice for the Democratic primary.

Baker is strong on transit and transportation priorities

On funding for Metro, Rushern Baker unconditionally supported dedicated funding to repair a decaying system. Ben Jealous and Jim Shea's responses were disappointingly vague and lukewarm, and Kevin Kamenetz's support was conditional on WMATA board reform.

We would like to recognize Senator Madaleno for co-sponsoring the Maryland Metro Funding Act in the recent Maryland state legislative session and for his clear, strong assertion that “failure to address Metro's significant funding shortfall will cause severe harm to our state and will inconvenience Maryland's commuters.” Our enthusiasm for his work on Metro is tempered, however, by his record of opposition to the Purple Line in the past.

On highway expansion and prioritizing funding for transit, Rushern Baker demonstrated the clearest and most absolute understanding of induced demand of all the candidates who responded to our survey. On Hogan's highway expansion proposal, Baker said:

Prioritizing highway expansion is not a sustainable, long-term solution to our traffic woes. We've seen time and time again that more lanes on the highway leads to more cars on the road. What we have to pursue in Maryland is a cultural shift away from single-occupancy vehicles towards mass transit options. Investments in transportation infrastructure must focus on moving the most people as fast as possible, rather than moving the most cars as fast as possible.

Jealous' answers on pedestrian safety and affordable housing show a lack of depth

As we read the questionnaire responses, Ben Jealous gave an alarmingly generic response to the safety crisis on Maryland state roads, where hundreds of lives are lost each year. He said, “As governor, I would work with local officials to jointly develop transportation plans that cater to the specific needs of each jurisdiction” and that he'd “consider” changes to SHA policy.

In contrast, Rushern Baker had a bold and informed stance. He pointed out that “traffic fatalities have increased by 18% in the past three years” and “the majority of traffic fatalities occur on state roads, so state leadership is absolutely necessary to make progress on this issue.” If elected governor, Baker committed to “make Maryland the first state to adopt Vision Zero and set us on the path towards zero traffic-related deaths by 2030.” Since Prince George's County has not adopted Vision Zero under Baker's leadership, however, this is a commitment to watch.

Jealous similarly had a vague answer to other questions such as one about how to strengthen affordable housing protections around the future Purple Line. While Jealous has received significant attention from national Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and a number of other sitting senators, the governorship of Maryland is not just a stepping stone to federal office. The state needs leaders with experience in the challenges facing the state. Both Baker and Kamenetz, as executives of important counties in the state's two metro regions, have that experience.

On our head-to-head comparison exercise, Jealous's ratings were drastically lower than for the others — a response of his was rated higher than another only 10% of the time, versus 46-68% of the time for his competitors.

Candidates speak up for regional cooperation

We also asked candidates about how the region can work together. Legislators in DC, Maryland, and Virginia had introduced a bill to prevent a bidding war over the Washington football team. A number of the candidates criticized the “race to the bottom” that's happened around bids for Amazon HQ2, where each jurisdiction is competing to offer the biggest incentive package. The answers from Kamenetz and Baker, the two county executives, particularly stood out on this.

Kamenetz talked about how rather than have Baltimore County itself bid for HQ2, he supported the city of Baltimore's Port Covington location. He said, “I did it, not because Baltimore County lacked strong potential locations, but because I understood that a project of this scope requires a broader vision: one that recognizes that a strong and vibrant region is what is best for the state. I am thrilled that Montgomery County is now a finalist for the site — in addition to DC and Northern Virginia. As governor, I will continue to advocate for a balanced approach that maintains our priorities while not mortgaging our state's future.”

Baker said, “Regionalism is an approach that has not been seen in the DMV as we regularly compete against each other in an attempt to land new companies. Our interconnectivity as a region is a strength that has not been played often enough when approaching massive regional opportunities.” He also cited his support for Montgomery County's location even though it is not in the county he leads.

Baker stands out in the field

Madaleno and Shea had several strong answers, though not as much so as Kamenetz and Baker, and in addition to his record on the Purple Line, Madaleno spoke favorably about road widening through reversible lanes as an approach to transportation on our questionnaire.

While we appreciate Kamenetz's record and voice, Baker had the clearest and most thoughtful responses. He also has a record as county executive creating walkable, transit-oriented places and reducing corruption. We endorsed him in 2010 during his first county executive run, and he followed through on his campaign promise to prioritize transit-oriented development, delivering big projects at New Carrollton, Suitland, and Largo.

One contributor said, “I admire Rushern Baker’s work to revitalize Prince George’s County’s older neighborhoods and town centers, particularly the Route 1 corridor which is rapidly becoming one of the coolest urban places in the region. His efforts to revitalize the town centers in Suitland and Largo are promising and reflect a real commitment to our issues.”

Rushern Baker's accomplishments and continued growth as a regional leader inspire our hope for a Maryland governor who will advance policies and budget priorities to move the state forward. We hope Democratic voters will nominate him on June 26.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees. Want to keep up on other endorsement posts? Check out our 2018 primary summary page and sign up for our weekly elections newsletter.