In a few short weeks, Maryland has the opportunity to elect a new governor. Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee, is the best choice Marylanders can make, but that choice only matters if people vote. This race is too important for voters — and Democratic leaders — to take a pass. A September Goucher poll showed Gov. Larry Hogan leading Jealous by 22 points. But the most recent poll, by Mason-Dixon, shows a smaller 15-point difference. Ben is closing the gap, and the race is tightening. This is good news for Maryland voters who overwhelmingly support the progressive policies that make up Jealous’ platform. So why is Jealous running behind Larry Hogan at all? Incumbency provides some advantage, but Maryland is still a blue state and this is shaping up to be an unprecedented year for Democratic enthusiasm and turnout. If a Texas Senate seat is a toss-up, shouldn’t the Maryland governor’s seat also be in play? Jay Hutchins Some of the responsibility sits with the absence of traditional Democratic institutions and middle-of-the-road Democratic leaders who typically help candidates get their message to voters. Without their support — canvassing, fundraising and other operations — Marylanders are looking at another four years of Larry Hogan and his hostility to public education funding, green initiatives and policies like a $15 minimum wage that move our state’s working families forward. Some Democratic leadership support for Jealous has been — at best — wan. Victory is possible. Jealous’ platform is speaking to voters and motivating them to polls. We just all need to be singing loudly from the same hymnal. Why aren’t state Democrats going all out for Jealous? Jealous had a commanding showing in the primaries, the disruptor candidate who won big. His platform includes health care for all, a $15-per-hour minimum wage, investing in a green economy and equitably funding education, all issues that are wildly popular with Maryland voters. Are leaders concerned that his platform is too radical for the state? That having a real progressive on the second floor will be a challenge to existing norms and the power structure in Annapolis? Regardless of what the moderate Democratic establishment may think, having a Democrat in Government House matters. As we’re experiencing at the federal level, the chief executive is vitally important, steering the direction of the state. Maryland’s next governor will oversee redistricting and the appointment of judges. Both of these decisions will have repercussions for Marylanders for years to come. The primaries show a voter hunger for strong progressive leaders in Annapolis. A class of challengers put a true populist agenda before voters and unseated some of Annapolis’ most powerful players, including several committee chairs. This flock of new legislators will hopefully move leadership on how the people’s business gets done in the General Assembly. But all of this progress for state residents will be muted without Ben Jealous as Maryland’s executive. Ben has the experience to make his bold and inclusive plans happen. During the depths of a national recession, Ben guided the NAACP through an era of unprecedented growth, nearly doubling the organization’s revenue in just five years. In 2013, he was named Marylander of the Year by The Baltimore Sun for his leading role in abolishing the death penalty, helping assure passage of the marriage equality ballot measure, chairing the effort to pass the DREAM Act and expanding voting rights. Now is the time for voters, activists and, yes, elected leaders in Maryland to redouble every effort to power Ben to victory in November. A Jealous win in November is a win for every Marylander. Larry Hogan’s center-right policies are out of touch and Maryland voters can send a clear message in November about the direction they want the state to take by electing Ben Jealous for governor.
The writer is the acting director of Maryland Working Families Party. He was previously legislative director for Maryland State & D.C. AFL-CIO and senior adviser and director of government affairs for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, where he worked on progressive issues including raising the minimum wage, foreclosure mitigation, and wage and hour enforcement.