Dundalk Eagle: Mizeur says “voters are listening” in race for governor
Heather Mizeur chose to enter a tough race, and she chose to do it the hard way.
After two terms representing Montgomery County in the House of Delegates, Mizeur chose to seek the Democratic nomination for governor against two statewide political heavyweights who had massive advantages in name recognition and campaign cash — one of them the hand-picked successor of the two-term incumbent governor — and whose campaigns were already well-funded, well-staffed and fully operational.
Moreover, she entered the race as a less-than-traditional contender — a woman in a state that has never had a female governor, and an openly gay woman, at that — after having positioned herself at the leading edge of some of the most contentious issues to face the state in recent years.
Then, she chose the “hard way,” becoming the first major-party statewide candidate to opt in to the state’s public campaign finance system and accepting the spending and fundraising restrictions that go with it.
Nonetheless, she has managed to hold her own in the gubernatorial race, slowly gaining ground in the polls even as support for both Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Douglas Gansler has remained essentially flat.
In the midst of a final push aimed at closing the gap by Election Day, Mizeur spoke to The Eagle on Monday.
From the middle out
An unabashed progressive, Mizeur has pushed an economic platform she says is aimed at improving conditions for working Marylanders.
A central part of that plan is a commitment to the often-criticized “millionaire’s tax” on top-tier incomes, which she told The Eagle would enable the state to give tax relief to over 90 percent of Maryland taxpayers.
Beyond taxation, she said, there are ways the state government can stimulate job growth.
“I helped to establish the EARN [workforce training] program, and I’d love to see it expanded, along with adult education, so that we can have a workforce that is ready for the good-paying jobs that are going to be somewhere.
“They should be here, since we have a highly-educated workforce to build on, plus our proximity to Washington, D.C. The EPA and FDA and all those other science-and-tech-driven agencies are right here, and we can leverage that into science-and-tech jobs in the private sector, and they will bring manufacturing jobs along with it,” she said. “Those are the kinds of jobs — good jobs — that mean growth for the middle class, and that’s how we have to grow a healthy economy — from the middle out.”
Her approach to “growing the middle” includes strong support not only for the recently-raised state minimum wage but for a “living wage” law that would likely increase workers’ incomes even further.
Acknowledging the attendant concerns about labor costs, especially among small businesses, Mizeur said she was willing to work with small business owners and adjust such policies to address their concerns.
“Besides,” she noted, “we’d be asking them to accept higher wages, but we’d be offering them a lot of regulatory relief.”
She described the current regime of business regulations in Maryland as “chaotic” and “hard to navigate,” and asserted that bringing order to the system could improve business conditions in the state without weakening the essence of the protections such regulations provide.
“Businesses know we have regulations, and they know we need them,” she said. “We can make it a lot easier by taking one united approach and eliminating so much of the mess.”
Finally, she stressed the importance of infrastructure improvements and environmental remediation not only as physical improvements in themselves but as drivers of economic activity.
“We have a port that generates five times the economic activity of a Super Bowl,” she noted, “and we should take that as far as it will go. And cleaning up contaminated places like Sparrows Point would not only improve the environment, it would be a $1.7 billion economic engine.”
“The state, and the governor, have a role to play in all of this, and we can use it to grow our economy.”
Legalize it – and tax it
Mizeur has gained considerable attention for her proposal to legalize marijuana and her three-pronged argument for doing so.
First, she told The Eagle that current laws both divert law enforcement resources that would be better directed elsewhere, and that their inherently arbitrary enforcement has a history of producing biased results.
“African-Americans go to jail three times more often [for marijuana offenses]. That’s a problem that would go away if we treated [cannabis] the way we treat alcohol or tobacco,” she said. “In terms of its health effects, the National Institute of Medicine has thoroughly debunked the myths. It’s in the category of alcohol and tobacco, so we should treat it no differently under the law.”
“Even the ‘gateway effect’ [which argues that marijuana use is a precursor to the use of harder drugs] is really due to its being illegal, which causes users to be exposed to the underground markets for other drugs.”
Acknowledging concerns about the use of the drug by young people, she noted that legalization would actually give the state the same level of practical control over the availability of cannabis that it now has over alcohol and tobacco.
“When we bring an underground market into the light of day,” she said, “we can have some control over it. Trust me, no drug dealers out there right now are carding anybody.”
Finally, Mizeur has promoted the potential benefits of taxing cannabis in much the same way as alcohol and tobacco are currently taxed.
“We could have $160 million of new revenue, consistently, every year,” she said, noting that such money would be enough to fund the education initiatives she proposes.
Closing the gap
Mizeur has a plan for the extra revenue she hopes a marijuana tax will yield.
“We have the top-ranked school system in the country, but also the second-highest achievement gap [between students in poor vs. prosperous areas] in the country,” she said. “We have a chance to eliminate that disparity.”
The key, she argues, is early childhood education, and her calls for marijuana legalization have been consistently coupled with calls to spend the resulting revenue on universal pre-kindergarten education and other initiatives to better prepare young children to get the most out of school.
“We can avoid the [socio-economic] divisions that start happening immediately, and later, we can save enormous amounts of money of remedial education, because we will have prepared them better the first time around. It shouldn’t be just the wealthiest parts of the state that get the best educational outcomes.”
“We have to clean it up”
“We should all be ashamed that pregnant women are told not to swim in the bay because it might be toxic to their babies,” Mizeur said indignantly.
“There are things we can do. We have to address wastewater runoff, stormwater runoff and agricultural runoff,” she said, “we have to boost the oyster population in the bay — one oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day — and we have to get serious about conservation of bayside lands.”
As for the controversial “rain tax,” Mizeur said she is “very open” to changes in exactly how the state addresses stormwater issues, and she stressed that any solutions should not place the burden solely on a small handful of counties but should take into account the ways that other areas — and even other states — contribute to bay pollution.
With regard to the former Sparrows Point steel mill site, Mizeur said that “with 40,000 people living in the area of Sparrows Point, including Edgemere, Watersedge, Turner Station, and the rest, we have to be concerned about the environmental legacy there.”
She expressed particular concern with the state’s role in holding the site’s current owners to their obligations.
“There was $500 million set aside [in the Hilco-ELT purchase agreement] for getting better research on the full extent of the real environmental issues there. It’s the job of the next governor to stay on top of this and get the answers we need — that we’ve been needing.”
A clean fight
As the primary campaign draws to a close, Mizeur has no regrets about the path she chose — public financing (and the limits thus imposed), largely avoiding negative campaigning, and taking unvarnished progressive positions on most issues.
“I want to restore integrity in the process,” she said. “If we can show that you can win an election within the public financing system, we can get more people to go that way. And to get people engaged, you have to limit the influence of money.”
The difference in style stretches to her campaign’s focus on issues rather than on her opponents, although she recently found herself in a mild conflict with Gansler over his repeated mentions of Mizeur’s lack of a college degree.
[Mizeur cut short her college education when a Capitol Hill internship turned into an offer of a full-time job from a member of Congress.]
As for her progressivism, she says she not only wears it proudly, but shares it with her running mate, Prince George’s County clergyman Delman Coates.
“He’s the only person I would want in the foxhole with me,” she said. “With him, I’m doubling down on strong progressive social justice values. He’s got a brilliant mind and a strong heart, and together, we will work for bold and innovative solutions.”
Marylanders, she asserts, are more ready for such boldness than skeptics might think.
“I’ve been hearing from Libertarians, Greens, independents, even some Republicans — who may disagree with me on this or that thing, but they say, ‘You are honest and you’re trying to do something; I respect that.’”
Trying to do something, she says, is the entire point.
“Some people are running for office because they want to get the job. I want to do the job.”