In the aftermath of the national disaster known as the 2016 presidential election, cries among Democrats were heard throughout the nation for new faces with new ideas. I believe I found one such new face when I sat down with Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alec Ross to discuss his campaign, his vision for Maryland and how he plans to apply his experience to turn that vision into a reality for Maryland.
I began the questioning asking him how he distinguishes his experience from the experience of the other candidates, namely the administrative experience of County Executives Rushern Baker and Kevin Kamenetz, the state legislative resume of State Senator Rich Madaleno and the national exposure of former head of the NAACP Ben Jealous.
Not a concern, according to Alec Ross, who readily pointed to his own sparkling resume. That resume includes serving as technology adviser to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign which, as you will recall, was not only successful but which relied heavily on data targeting before joining that administration as senior adviser on innovation at the State Department. It is in that capacity which Mr. Ross is convinced sets him apart from the rest of the field of candidates, innovation being the operative word.
During his time at the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton he demonstrated his ability to use innovation to address critical challenges. One such example was his ability to help cut the crime rate in El Paso, Texas, which at the time had one of, if not the highest crime rate, in any American city and is now a city that now has one of the lowest. He did this by devising a secure encrypted text-messaging capability used by local citizens to alert law enforcement to drug cartel activity.
Another example concerned the recovery efforts during the Haiti earthquake only a few short years ago. This earthquake, you may recall, resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 Haitians. The innovation by Mr. Ross? Setting up a program that used a text message that automatically added $10 to the cell phone bill and which resulted in raising more than $40 million at no cost to taxpayers.
His experience also includes cofounding his own non-profit company, One Economy, which focuses on using technology to serve low-income communities, serving as senior fellow at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and as a bestselling author of the book “The Industries of the Future,” which takes an in-depth look at the future of technology and landed on the New York Times bestseller list.
Technology is of critical importance, since to have a robust jobs plan requires having a robust training and development plan which focuses greatly on technology jobs. The manufacturing jobs that left for the cheap labor overseas are not coming back no matter what Mr. Trump promises.
According to Mr. Ross, it is important to Maryland to prepare both college students AND those who do not make it to college to provide job opportunities and his plan is to do just that through training and development in today’s job market. Furthermore, Mr. Ross’ plan would include training in such job-specific areas for college students to go along with the usual college syllabus.
It should also be noted that Mr. Ross also spent time as a sixth-grade teacher in the Baltimore City school system to give him as much a grassroots experience as one can hope to gain. On the topic of education, it is Mr. Ross’ position that the “starting point to address inequality in Maryland is education. I learned this firsthand when I taught sixth grade at Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore. Many of my students were brilliant, but I knew they would struggle to succeed because of where they came from and what lay ahead.”
With regard to the issue of charter schools, Mr. Ross was not against the charter school concept but was strongly against the privatization of charter schools. Taxpayer money should not be used to enable businesses to make a profit. Public funds for public charter schools are okay but the efforts of Larry Hogan and Betsy DeVos to place charter schools in the hands of private businesses will negatively impact both the availability and quality of education. There is a difference between business and government and the profit motive has no place in our education system, especially when funded with taxpayer money.
During our talk, Mr. Ross also pointed to the decimating impact the Trump budget will have on the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. Going from $73 million to zero is a hit not easily countered. Another area of concern the Trump budget will have on the Maryland budget includes rising health care costs. According to Mr. Ross, now more than ever Maryland needs a governor who will strongly resist the Trump budget attacks on states like Maryland.
An issue of particular importance to me is voting and includes voting rights, campaign finance reform and increasing voter turnout. According to Mr. Ross, “We need to change how people think about voting. Voting should be so easy with numerous methods readily available that rather than ask ‘Did you vote?’ we want people to ask ‘Why didn’t you vote?”
Mr. Ross’ plan includes establishing a commission on online voting to study cyber-security leading to online voting to make it easier and more convenient to vote. This sounds like “Pie in the Sky” in view of the Russian cyber-attacks of the 2016 election, but that is the point. Something needs to be done to ensure the security of our elections and to ultimately lead to secure online capabilities. It includes automatic voter registration.
According to Mr. Ross every person in Maryland eligible to vote should be automatically registered to vote. In addition to encouraging more voters to vote, automatic registration during routine state-conducted services also has the added advantage of cleaning up the voter rolls since an individual’s data is updated more frequently.
Other elements of the plan include expanded early voting, simplified student voting by making it easier to establish residency while away at college, advanced registration at high school, expanding the vote by mail option to include all voters, and, among other elements, expansion of public election funding. Mr. Ross pointed to the Montgomery County Public Election Fund Program, which has seen a great increase in the number of candidates running in county elections in 2018, as a model for the state and other counties in Maryland to follow. Currently the funding available in Montgomery County far exceeds that available for state elections such as for governor.
Regardless of which candidate you ultimately choose, all candidates are in agreement on one issue: VOTE!