Maryland’s Gubernatorial Showdown

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UPDATED 5.10.18 3:30 PM: Kevin Kamenetz, one of the candidates included in this article's coverage of the Maryland primary elections, passed away suddenly this morning.

We send our condolences to his family, friends, and supporters.

On June 26, several Maryland Democratic candidates will square off in the gubernatorial primary. The winner will face Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) in the general election on Nov. 6. Despite their progressive platforms and Maryland’s Democratic-leaning electorate, the Democratic candidates may struggle to displace the popular governor.

Polls identified three front-runners in the eight-candidate Democratic field: Rushern Baker (polling at 19 percent among likely voters), Ben Jealous (12 percent), and Kevin Kamenetz (10 percent). All three share similar positions on Israel — supporting Israel and opposing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and education — wanting to increase teacher salaries and make trade and community colleges more affordable. Jealous and Kamenetz staked out more progressive agendas than Baker by supporting a $15 statewide minimum wage. With eight weeks until the primary and over 40 percent of poll respondents undecided, the race for the Democratic nomination is wide open.

Baker has been county executive of Prince George’s County since 2010 and previously served seven years in the Maryland House of Delegates. According to Baker’s website, Prince George’s County thrived under his watch: Crime declined by 55 percent, businesses added 16,000 new jobs, property values rose, and the county saw over $9 billion in economic development. Meanwhile, school dropout rates fell, enrollment and teacher retention rose, and more children received pre-kindergarten education.

If elected, Baker plans to expand his Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, which allocates extra resources to areas facing health, economic, public safety, and educational challenges. Baker is the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate with an aggressive stance on campaign finance reform. He wants to replace political donations from corporations or political action committees with a publicly funded campaign finance fund.

Last year, 20 Montgomery County Jewish communal and political leaders — including Ann Lewis, former White House communications director under Bill Clinton — endorsed Baker.

Kamenetz has served as county executive of Baltimore County since 2010. Previously, he served four terms as a county councilman for District 2, which contains Jewish neighborhoods in Pikesville and Greenspring, along with communities in Liberty Road and Woodlawn. On his website, Kamenetz says that since 2010, Baltimore County added 28,000 new jobs, saw $5 billion in new investments, had a 50 percent drop in the unemployment rate, and spent $1.3 billion (since 2011) to create or renovate Baltimore County Public Schools.

As governor, Kamenetz plans to increase funding for public school buildings and steer more funding toward struggling school districts. He also said he will stop efforts to privatize schools — perhaps referring to Hogan’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program, which provides scholarships to low-income private-school families.

Jealous is the only candidate who hasn’t held an elected office. From 2008 to 2013, Jealous served as president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). On his website, Jealous posted a more comprehensive policy platform than his opponents, with detailed policy proposals for health care, the opioid crisis, criminal justice, police reform, and infrastructure.

He is the only front-runner who supports a statewide universal health care plan. Jealous’s Medicare for All plan eliminates all out-of-pocket expenses for Marylanders and includes coverage for mental health and eldercare. To control costs for consumers, Jealous plans to negotiate prices with health care providers and pharmaceutical companies. He proposed a combination of income-based premiums paid by employers, sales tax, and a non-payroll income premium to pay for the program, but plans to convene an advisory panel to investigate further.

Whichever candidate wins the June primary will face an uphill battle in the general election against Hogan, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary. Although 55 percent of registered voters in Maryland are Democrats, nearly 70 percent of voters approved of Hogan in recent polls.

Hogan’s high popularity may stem from his record on the economy. In his most recent State of the State speech, Hogan took credit for creating 115,000 new non-farm jobs and reducing the unemployment rate by 2.4 percent over four years. He invested $324 million in school construction, and provided $17.5 million for college tuition relief (allowing Maryland universities to cap tuition growth at 2 percent annually). Hogan’s BOOST program, which provides scholarships to private school students, is particularly popular in the Orthodox Jewish community.

One-on-one polling matchups from April found that Hogan would beat Baker or Jealous by 13-14 percentage points and Kamenetz by 16-17 percentage points. There is a sliver of hope for Democratic challengers — 22 percent of voters are still undecided.

In Virginia, there is no gubernatorial election this year; Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam began his term in January 2018. Since then, Northam negotiated a bipartisan regulatory reform deal to reduce state regulations by 25 percent within three years. Northam also announced the Virginia Founders Fund, which aims to increase venture capital in Virginia. Despite these early successes, Northam ran into budgetary troubles trying to thread the needle on a Medicaid proposal to expand the free healthcare program to over 400,000 uninsured Virginians.

For Marylanders, the June 26 primary represents a choice between degrees of progressivism and government experience. In November, voters will decide whether to continue Hogan’s current business-friendly, center-right agenda, or shift gears and bring in a candidate willing to push Maryland policy — on healthcare, the minimum wage, and education — significantly to the left.

By Aharon Loeb

 Aharon Logue is a junior studying government and philosophy at University of Maryland, College Park. He is an intern for Great Consulting, a policy research and communications firm owned by Gabriel Aaronson.