Baltimore Fishbowl: Big Fish Q&A with Maryland Delegate Heather Mizeur

Gubernatorial candidate Del. Heather Mizeur’s platform is so unapologetically progressive, it makes some of her fellow Maryland Democrats look downright right wing. Her position on marijuana is to outright legalize it. She proposes a broader expansion of pre-kindergarten programs and a higher minimum wage increase than either of her party rivals, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. And her stance against hydraulic fracturing in the state is utterly unambiguous.

Mizeur grew up in rural Illinois, the daughter of a welder and union member. But her political interests drew her eastward to Washington, D.C., where in 1994 she got a job as the legislative assistant to U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky. The transplant set down roots in 2001, when she bought a house in Montgomery County. Two years later she was elected to Takoma Park City Council. In 2006, she won a seat in the House of Delegates, representing Maryland’s 20th district.

In 2012, Mizeur was a major proponent for marriage equality in Maryland, a cause she had championed since 2004, when as a Takoma Park City Councilmember she helped the municipality become the first in the state to pass a resolution in support of same-sex marriage.

I talked with Mizeur about her life philosophy and her take on Maryland politics.

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.

Everything boils down to a choice between fear and love, heart and head; I lead with my heart.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

My father taught me at a young age to have an opinion; stand up for it; and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?

Be fearless and stand up for what you believe in. We need your talents, innovation, ideas, and creative potential. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.

There are some hefty planks on your platform: marijuana legalization, a living wage, the Paycheck Fairness Act, upending our test-oriented education system, curbing youth incarceration, fending off fracking, and more. Which is the most crucial? Which do you think would be the most difficult to actually enact?

We need to create a government that works for all Maryland families. That’s what being a progressive is all about — we can’t allow any one to settle.

But right now inequality is growing. We need more opportunities for success — from universal pre-K to living wages. We need to give all Marylanders the opportunity to hold a middle class job, raise a family in a safe neighborhood, and send their children to high-quality schools.

There is no doubt that my top priority is to grow the middle class. Working families need to earn more and be taxed less. That’s why middle class tax relief and instituting a living wage are the centerpieces of my jobs plan. We have to grow our economy from the middle out.

I have set an ambitious agenda, but I’m also practical.  My record in the General Assembly — for example, expanding health coverage to 50,000 more children or extending family planning services to 35,000 more low-income women — demonstrates my experience in bringing people together to get big things done. It’s time to change the status quo and bring progressive change to Maryland.

If you could unilaterally alter a single aspect of state politics what would that be?

We have to end the corruptive influence of money in politics. The best way to return Annapolis to the people is to ensure their voices aren’t drowned out by deep-pocketed special interests. In addition to public financing, it’s time to clean up the campaign finance system by banning corporate and state contractor donations and instituting more transparency measures.

My life in public service has always been focused on a dedication to transparency, inclusion, and ensuring that more people are engaged in the public process. I want to be governor to ensure that all Marylanders have a voice in Annapolis and I can’t think of a better way to do that than by eradicating special interest control over campaign finance.

Your running-mate Delman Coates was an outspoken supporter of marriage equality in Maryland. As a pastor, he made the case that it was possible to support civil marriage for same-sex couples without compromising one’s personal Christian values. Do you believe that his example made the difference on Question 6? What skills and insights will he bring to the lieutenant governorship?

Delman’s leadership as a key black clergy member in favor of marriage equality was absolutely critical to our victory. He was a leading voice informing voters that many faith leaders were willing to stand on the side of fairness, justice, and equality for all Marylanders.

At the time he made this courageous stance, some fellow clergy leaders predicted the end of his church and his career. Instead, nearly 1,000 new members joined his church in the months following his public stance on marriage equality. He proved that people are drawn to someone willing to show the courage of his convictions and a commitment to putting values into action for the greater good.

Reverend Coates will be a tremendous lieutenant governor for our state. He is a highly respected statewide civil rights activist and leader of progressive, social justice action. He is the chief executive of a non-profit organization with a multimillion budget and thousands of members. He has a track record of public service directly in communities, whether by helping families impacted by foreclosure and rebuilding neighborhoods through positive economic development or fighting for fairness on criminal justice reform, marriage equality, and the Voting Rights Act. Delman knows how to bring people together to get things done, and will be my full partner in the Mizeur-Coates administration.

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