Meet the Democratic candidates for Maryland governor: John King

This interview is part of a series of interviews with the Democratic and Republican candidates for Maryland governor in 2022. In these interviews, WTOP asked all the candidates the same or similar questions on education, public safety and crime, jobs and the economy, and transportation. The Maryland primary is July 19.

Democratic candidate John King (Courtesy John King for Governor)

The candidate: John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education in the Obama administration

Running mate: Michelle Siri, executive director of The Women’s Law Center of Maryland

Website: JohnKingForGovernor.com

John King is another former Obama administration official in the race for Maryland governor — having served as education secretary in the final years of the Obama presidency. That’s a post where he oversaw a $15 billion budget — bigger than the budget of Maryland, he points out.

King’s campaign tussled in the spring with rival Democrat Wes Moore’s campaign, with Moore blaming King’s campaign for a “smear campaign” accusing Moore of exaggerating his ties to Baltimore. King’s campaign denied the charge.

King’s opinion on what sets him apart from the large field of candidates: “We’ve got a number of candidates in the race who haven’t been in government, haven’t run anything particularly large. I’ve spent my whole life in public service … I both have the specific vision of how we move towards a more just and prosperous future, and the experience getting big things done in government.”

The interview below has been edited for length and clarity


Education

WTOP: You don’t have to be an education policymaker to care about where our kids are in terms of the recovery from the pandemic. And in Maryland, we have layered over that the passage of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future — and now the heavy lifting begins. How do we actually implement that? Let me ask you, what will you do to make sure that works?

John King: Let me say, it’s been a very challenging couple of years in public education. I certainly feel it as a Montgomery County public school parent. There’s a lot of work ahead of us. Implementing the blueprint means making sure that we get the resources to our schools to raise teacher pay, expand pre-K, expand career and technical education, help our high-poverty schools become community schools with wraparound services.

As governor, I’ll lead on successful implementation of the blueprint, but we need to do more than that. We’ve really got to make up for the academic toll of the last couple of years. I’ve called for mobilizing a statewide tutoring corps — recent college graduates, retired teachers who can work one-on-one, two-on-one with students — to help them make up ground academically and also build positive mentoring relationships.

We also have to address the socio-emotional toll of the last couple of years. And that means investing in school counselors and mental health services to really address the stress that students have experienced over these last two years. So there’s a lot of work ahead of us. But we’ve got great schools in Maryland. And the task is to make sure that every school, regardless of ZIP code, is delivering a world-class education.



Public safety

WTOP: The police accountability boards that every jurisdiction is having to come up with — how do you balance the desire to have accountability within police departments with the issues of recruitment and retention? We are hearing from places like Montgomery County that there are concerns about recruitment and retention of officers about morale. And they apparently have a very high rate of officers who are eligible for retirement, so they may hit the doors, given some of their concerns. How do you feel about striking that balance?

King: We’ve got to make sure that we both protect people’s civil rights and achieve public safety. And those are an intention; they go together. We’ve got to make sure we implement the police accountability reforms that the General Assembly passed, that we do it in a way that provides adequate training to officers, as well as holds those accountable who do the wrong thing. Good officers want those who are doing the wrong thing to be held accountable.

But more broadly, we have to reimagine public safety. We need to invest more in mental health services, addiction treatment, violence prevention programs, like the Safe Streets program in Baltimore. We need to invest more in reentry support so that folks who are incarcerated can get education and job training while in prison and support finding jobs and housing when they return home so they don’t end up doing the things that got them incarcerated in the first place.

And we’ve got to do more to engage young people, particularly in the summer, like summer jobs programs for teens. You know, police officers will tell you they’re often called upon to address issues that really aren’t policing issues; they’re mental health issues; they’re addiction issues. We need to reimagine public safety and invest resources alongside policing in those other supports that will help keep communities safe.

Jobs, economy, transportation

WTOP: Inflation is top of mind nationally, and in this region, transportation is part of that. You know, people talk about that being a driver of a company’s decision to move here or not. So on those two things, on inflation, what can a governor do? What about transportation? And I’ll ask you specifically about I-270, and I-495 toll lanes: Is that a thumbs-up or thumbs-down? And a Chesapeake Bay Bridge span? What are your thoughts there?

King: Look, we certainly need to tackle folks’ sense that the cost of living is too challenging. And there are things governors can do. We can work to address some of those challenges in people’s day-to-day lives.

I think we ought to have universal quality affordable child care in Maryland. That’s a huge expense that families are struggling to address.

We ought to invest much more in public transportation. We ought to build the Red Line in Baltimore, finish the Purple Line in the D.C. suburbs, build the Southern Maryland light rail project, make buses much more frequent and reliable throughout the state, expand the MARC west as well as increasing the frequency of the MARC train. Public transportation helps address a day-to day struggle that folks have with getting from home to work, from home to the doctor, from home to visiting their grandkids.

We don’t need a toll road project. We don’t need the 270 expansion as proposed by Gov. Hogan. We certainly need to do work to replace the American Legion Bridge; we can do that with federal infrastructure dollars. And then we’ve got to invest in public transit, and see that as our long-term solution to addressing traffic. The truth is, toll roads have been proven to only add to the traffic problem.

Beyond that, we’ve got to do more to grow our economy in the state. We’re fortunate to be a wealthy state, to have a significant surplus. But there are still folks struggling from the COVID period: small business owners who need access to capital, folks who are struggling to make ends meet because we haven’t gotten to the $15 minimum wage throughout the state yet. So we’ve got to make sure that we achieve really shared prosperity in the state.

WTOP: And then what about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge span? I know just recently the feds gave a green light to further exploration. I know we’re way early in the game here, but to a third span, that would be pretty much in the footprint of the current bridge. What are your thoughts on expansion, a third span or some other way of tackling that issue?

King: As you point out, it’s very early in the process. There’s a lot more study that’s needed around the needs, as well as the environmental impact of a project like that. I think one of the things we’ve got to see is, how has our society changed as a result of COVID? More folks working from home? As we achieve reliable internet access throughout the state, how does that impact the level of traffic on the bridge? So there’s more study that’s needed, I think, before we commit to adding to the to the bridge

WTOP: I went back to look at a couple of the debates and one thing that struck me was how often all of you on the stage agreed or supported the statements of the other. What would you say to someone who says, “Well, I don’t know, they all seem the same. I’ll just flick the switch for any one of these candidates.” What sets you apart?

King: Well, a couple of things. One is, while folks may say some of the same slogans, they haven’t been willing to commit to the details of what it would take to accomplish them. So it may be true that all the Democrats mentioned climate change. We’re the only campaign that’s put forward a specific plan for how we get to be one of the first states to be net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and really take meaningful action on climate in terms of building standards, transportation policy and growing renewable energy.

So the specific vision for how we move forward and then the experience in government. Look, we’ve got a number of candidates in the race who haven’t been in government, haven’t run anything particularly large. I’ve spent my whole life in public service. As Secretary of Education, I oversaw a budget $15 billion — bigger than the budget of the state of Maryland. So I both have the specific vision of how we move towards a more just and prosperous future, and the experience getting big things done in government.

WTOP: Since you brought it up, tell me a little bit more about your climate plan.

King: Sure. Look, we have got to tackle climate. You know, we are already seeing the consequences around the state: flooding regularly in places like Ellicott City; farmers who are losing farmland to saltwater intrusion. We’ve got to tackle building standards, ensuring that new construction is done with renewable energy, rather than digging our hole deeper around reliance on fossil fuels. We’ve got to move our state buildings, our schools, our college campuses, to net-zero by 2030. We’ve got to tackle transportation: investing in public transit; building 10,000 charging stations so that we can move our cars over to electric; we’ve got to make sure our state fleet, our school buses and our public transit buses, are all electric by 2030.

And we’ve got to grow renewable energy. We’ve got to grow solar, offshore wind, geothermal. The good news is, we can create really good jobs with a green economy. We just recently saw the reopening of a steel plant in Baltimore County that’s going to produce steel for wind turbines throughout the Mid-Atlantic. That’s an illustration of the kind of economic growth that’s possible if we undertake ambitious action on climate.

WTOP: And going back to public safety and policing, are there areas in public safety that you address in a way that’s different from the people in the field with you right now?

King: I think there has not been enough attention across the field to some of the ways we have to supplement policing to truly address public safety. You know, 95% of the folks who are incarcerated are coming home. If we don’t ensure that folks are getting education and job training while incarcerated, if we don’t ensure that they have support when they return home to find productive jobs to find housing, then we end up with folks doing the very same things that got them incarcerated in the first place. So those reentry supports are critical.

There hasn’t been enough attention to tackling our addiction crisis as a state. And this is an issue not just in the city of Baltimore; this is a significant issue in Western Maryland, where we have a substantial opioid crisis. We need much more investment in addiction treatment providers, in recovery beds; we need incentives for young people to choose to become addiction-treatment providers and to get that training at the college level to become addiction-treatment providers. So if we don’t tackle addiction as the public health crisis it is, we end up overburdening our criminal justice system. And it’s ultimately not effective; treatment is a much more effective route.

WTOP: In terms of being able to engage locally. It’s clear that you have a — and forgive me for the term — a 30,000-foot-view, a large broad view, and I think that’s part of the federal government experience. What about the localities? How do you expect to work, and particularly in your field of education, with the local agencies and boards?

King: One of the things I bring uniquely to this race is deep experience in education at every level. I started out as a high school social studies teacher, as a middle school principal — led schools at the local level and state level, before coming to work for President Obama as secretary of education. So I’ve had experience working with folks trying to tackle the day-to-day challenges in school buildings, making sure that we have the counselors and mental health services we need. I’ve had experience working with school boards to ensure that we’re creating good programs that bridge from high school to college, whether that’s career and technical education programs, or early college programs, where students can take college classes while in high school, or really strong advanced placement or International Baccalaureate classes for high school students to get them ready for college.

And I have experience at the state level, working to ensure that the state’s role is closing equity gaps throughout the state. So I’m excited about the work that we can do in education. And I’m a product of public schools and a public school parent — actually the only person in this race on either side with a kid right now in public school. Public schools saved my life as a kid. Both my parents were educators, but they both passed away when I was little — my mom when I was eight and my dad when I was 12. The thing that saved me was public school and great teachers who made school a place that was safe and supportive, and that’s what’s driven my whole career.

Interview conducted by Kate Ryan; editing by Jack Moore

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow WTOP on Twitter and Instagram to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2022 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up