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.
The candidate: Maryland State Del. Dan Cox, who represents District 4, which includes Frederick and Carroll counties.
Running mate: Gordana Schifanelli
GOP nominee Dan Cox says he’s running to “Restore Freedom to the Free State.”
An attorney and Maryland state delegate representing District 4, which includes Frederick and Carroll counties, Cox has been critical of COVID-19 mandates and other public health measures and even, in a longshot move, tried to impeach Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan (who has endorsed Cox’s rival, Kelly Schulz, and calls Cox a “QAnon whack job”).
During the campaign, Cox has attacked what he calls “divisive Marxist teaching” and “gender identity indoctrination” in schools.
Cox says he’s proud to have won the endorsement of former President Donald Trump for governor of Maryland — a state in which Trump received less than 33% of the vote in the 2020 election. Cox has been criticized by other members of the Maryland General Assembly for being present at the D.C. rally on Jan. 6 and tweeting “Mike Pence is a traitor” as the mob overran the Capitol, though he later issued a statement denouncing the violence.
Cox says he believes his message resonates with voters across the political spectrum, and that he represents the future of the Republican Party.
The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
WTOP: We are coming out of this pandemic, and there are, of course, concerns about everything from learning loss to the mental health of our kids to how schools should operate. And we have the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future being implemented. So my question is, what are your main concerns as we move forward with education? And how would you implement the Blueprint for Maryland’s future?
Dan Cox: Well, as governor, I will eliminate the CRT (critical race theory) and the divisive Marxist teaching, as well as the gender identity indoctrination that’s going on through our code of Maryland regulations — state board regulations being passed down to the counties. We want to instead empower parents to be in charge of their children’s education. And that’s what parents want in Maryland: They want to be involved; they want to make sure that they know about what’s being taught so they can opt their children out if there’s something that’s objectionable to them. And I’ll give you an example: Howard County, right now, is offering a read-aloud for pre-K up through third grade on transgender, changing your sex — that’s inappropriate entirely for our children. It has nothing to do with what we really need in our education.
And to implement the blueprint, I would be looking to empower our local boards of education instead of empowering this new “super board” that they’re calling for. I would look to appoint to the State Board of Education as well as the “super board,” members that are parents-rights advocates that are educationally trained to focus on building up the children with their key core subjects, such as reading, writing, arithmetic, the STEM technologies, American history, helping children see that our country is the greatest on Earth — and that, yes, we have overcome so many things. That’s what makes us great in this country and what unifies us. And that’s a message that’s appealing across all party lines. So I’m excited to advance that in our campaign for governor and you can read more at CoxForFreedom.com.
WTOP: In the Howard County instance, what is the actual curriculum item you brought up?
Cox: You can look at it on our social media, which is on Facebook. I’ve posted it there. There is a reading, a read-aloud, that’s being offered to children. Parents should opt their children out, because it’s a read-aloud discussing the fact that age four and up the discussion of changing their sexual identity from boys to girls, etc., as being something that’s acceptable. That’s not acceptable to be taught in our schools by a huge majority of parents. And we can make sure that we love one another and protect our children and make sure that those kinds of instructions are not allowed. You can go to my social media and see the actual documents and the actual information that’s being prepared.
And this is why I presented the Maryland Parental Bill of Rights, House Bill 618. It is to empower parents to know several things: First of all, what the curriculum that’s being taught their children actually entails — very clear details, not some summary, but the actual chapter and verse of these different documents and these different curriculums that are being pushed on their children.
If a parent objects to any sexualized curriculum or any divisive Marxist-style anti-Americanism … they can opt their children out. They have the right to do this. And a lot of parents don’t know this — that the state does not control their children’s education; the state must allow them to opt their children out of subjects that are objectionable, either for their viewpoint or their religious beliefs. And that is very important and crucial for parents to know, and to not be afraid of doing, because for some reason, from the top down, we have very disturbing information being pushed on our children in Maryland, and I intend as governor, to get to the bottom of it to remove those materials, such as a gender-queer book that teaches pornographic depictions to elementary kids. That will be removed from our schools, and whoever placed it there I will seek to have an investigation and, if necessary, refer those individuals for prosecution.
WTOP: When you say anti-Americanism, can you give me an example of that in the schools?
Cox: Certainly. When you say that we are systemically racist and systemically bigoted as a nation, those are patently false statements. We have fought wars to make sure that we’re not bigoted. We have a wonderful history of Martin Luther King Jr., who said that we need to be judged by the content of our character, and not the color of our skin. And instead, political parties, particularly on the left — the hard left — is doing extremist and bigoted approaches to our education to literally propagandize our children against our own nation.
Education (Section) 7-105 — that’s the Education Code of Maryland — requires that the Pledge of Allegiance be provided in every classroom with the United States flag in every classroom in the state. Sadly, many of these classrooms are not only not displaying the United States flag, or having the children pledge allegiance and teach wonderful things about our Bill of Rights that each student has a right to know — they’re not doing this in schools. Instead, they’re displaying flags that are, many times, against our values here, such as different Marxist-type flags and flags that depict movements and sociological positions that are ideologically opposed to many parents’ viewpoints in their own home. So we need to get back to the unifying focus of our country being the great nation that it is, and that it provides opportunity for all. … And children need to understand that they can be whatever they decide to be; nothing will hold them back. And they don’t need to view their fellow classmates as somehow against them just because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background or in any way of any category. We are Americans; we’re unified, and we need to get back to that in our state. And I intend to make sure that happens.
WTOP: In terms of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, how would you implement that?
Cox: Well, certainly, we need to first focus on ensuring that teachers are paid more than what they’re paid, and I voted for that. I made sure that teachers’ salaries need to be increased when I was a state legislator — I’m still a state legislator. But in the vote that happened, we worked hard to make sure that teachers got the money they need. But sadly, a lot of these dollars are not flowing to the classroom. They’re instead flowing to these bureaucratic positions. Baltimore City, for instance … It’s one of the highest-paid school systems in the nation. Yet they have no adequate result for the education of the children there. So we’re going to turn that around quickly, by empowering the teachers, by empowering principals to be able to report directly, to say these are the problems and the issues that we need to fund and to make sure that we address quickly; to bypass, when necessary, the red tape and the bureaucratic structure to make sure that our kids have school choice options.
Florida’s doing this magnificently, where parents get to decide; the money follows the child and that improves and empowers all schools. Public chools in Florida are improving far better than Maryland schools are, and so we can do better. We need to get Maryland back as one of the best states in the nation for education and make our children smart again in every category and stop this divisive using of the infrastructure and of the billions of dollars — we’re talking about $32 billion in the Kirwan budget — and yet the result that we see in Baltimore City is a 1% testing rating for the students. That’s unacceptable. We’re going to turn that around.
… I think unfortunately, there’s a lot of “woke culture” being shoved into our local schools. I want to empower the local boards of education and, where necessary, to ensure that the superintendent follows the law and makes very clear that the local boards are going to be provided full authority to implement actual teaching and education, and to make sure that those funds are not withheld from schools that do this and that take very clear steps to protect their children from this kind of gender indoctrination and the overreaching. As well as the fact that look for the last two years, we’ve literally shut our schools down, and our children — over in my county, in my district of District 4 — we’ve had suicidal ideation rates increased by 34%, for our children. That’s unacceptable. We will never again shut our schools, and we’re going to make sure that our superintendent follows the law in that regard.
WTOP: We’re seeing the state law that requires the counties to form these police accountability boards. How do you feel about the way that’s being implemented? And how do we balance the need to follow that law with the need to recruit and retain police officers in communities?
Cox: It’s a great question. It’s disastrous … in a word, because we’re losing our police officers by the hundreds — not by the dozens — by the hundreds. I think Baltimore City is down 800 police officers, I’ve been informed as a state delegate. This has got to end. We cannot have our streets be war zones. We need to make sure we empower and protect our citizens and our communities.
And the way you do that is you empower local community policing; you empower those who know how to hire, that they are involved in law enforcement, they have the training from the law enforcement background, to make these decisions. We need to stop putting (on) these boards individuals from the community, some of which have never even had a job before. We’re talking about individuals that have never been trained or have any background in public safety trying to make the decisions in the different counties in the cities as to how to instruct officers who have been trained in the law and in policing — this is not going to work. It’s a disaster and it needs to change.
We need to get back to the fact that our police need to have the backing that I will provide as governor to ensure that they maintain their quasi-immunity, that whenever there is a rogue or a bad situation, we will certainly investigate and protect everyone’s rights. But at the end of the day, we need to make sure that we restore freedom and confidence in our streets again. I mean, right now in Prince George’s County, the carjackings are nearly daily. You can hardly be safe in your neighborhood in many of our counties and cities. And that shouldn’t be.
So we’re going to get back to making sure police are protected. I would like to double their pay across Maryland, as well as with the State Police. You can’t have a young man or young lady earning $39,000 a year in Baltimore City and being shot at. I mean, I think their starting rate was $39,000; it might be up to $43,000 a year now. And yet they’re possibly putting their lives on the line, while some of our politicians and such are making a lot more … We’ve heard some of the superintendents in failing school systems are making $300,000 a year.
We just had a massive horrific school shooting in Texas. And yet in Maryland, many of the counties were trying to remove the SROs that would protect our children and I know in Montgomery County, they did so. Not in my county. We have SROs; we have our schools hardened. We need to make sure that that happens. On my watch, every school will be hardened and will have SROs and we’re going to protect our police and back them.
WTOP: In terms of police, I know that some departments have a high number of police who are eligible for retirement. How would you again work to retain them?
Cox: That’s a great question. And you know, there is an incentive to retire early sometimes because of the way that they’re mistreated. And so I think we need to get back to making sure that they understand they’re treated like heroes. And we’re going to never again try to defund them. We stopped that in my committee, the Judiciary Committee, but sadly, so many different negative things were passed against the police, including where criminals can literally issue Public Information Act requests from jail, without signing under oath, any assertion in the MPIA (Maryland Public Information Act) … They can also make complaints against officers that are just frivolous without signing under oath those accusations. I fought hard to stop that. We’re going to make sure that we restore that as your next governor. And I think to retain officers, that goes a long way. Because if officers feel like they’re protected, if they understand that the community has their back and they have the option to have increased retirement pay if they were to stay on. An officer will say, “You know what? It’s a good job. I think the community has my back. I think I’ll continue to serve.” SRO positions are wonderful positions; many officers would love to stay there and help the kids, they build long-term relationships over the years … And I think, ultimately, that’s the way back.
We need to make sure that Maryland, once again, understands the Constitution, demands that the people have a right to peace, and that they have a right to their peace officers being protected. And I think we can do that — we’re smart enough to make sure that we can do that and retain our officers and respect them once again, because we’re a great state — the great state of Maryland — and we can make sure that people are protected.
Jobs, economy, transportation
WTOP: Inflation is obviously top of mind nationally. And a lot of our concerns about both inflation and the economy deal with attracting jobs. And that gets into how job creators look at the transportation situation in Maryland. So I’ll ask you first: what would you do to draw more jobs to the region, or to the state? And on transportation questions: What’s your thought on the I-495 and I-270 toll lanes project and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge?
Cox: Well, we need to immediately lower property taxes and corporate taxes. It’s becoming a crisis. Over the last 10 years, we’ve lost 250,000 net Marylanders, and many of those individuals have businesses. Over 40,000, I’m told, of businesses have moved out in the last two years because my opponent designed the “nonessential list,” so-called, where 50% of our businesses in Maryland were shut down. But yet they could move across the Potomac, or they could go to Florida, or Tennessee or North Carolina, and they were much better treated. And in Florida, for instance, the taxation rate for corporations is much lower. There’s zero income tax for employees. So we need to make sure that we have these incentives. You could go to Delaware and have a better tax rate, right across the line. So how are we going to retain and bring in new business? The way to do that is to lower our taxes immediately, to take immediate action to lower these inflative out-of-control inflation prices and the taxation rates tied to them, including our property and our fuel taxes.
And I’d like to end the [fracking] moratorium, we can do that safely, on our natural resources with fuel. I mean, look — Pennsylvania is taking our fuel right now through underground drilling, they’re taking different fuel accesses with the gas and the other … And then they’re piping it and making money on it. We’re not getting any benefit. Our citizens’ rates are going up. We also have offshore drilling, where it’s so far out, you don’t see these oil opportunities, and it’s done safely. And we can then help the economy and lower these costs. And I will work hard to make sure that the Biden administration and whoever else … takes the White House position that we are going to be a country of releasing our energy resources. And we’re going to do that as a state. We’re going to compete with Pennsylvania. We’re going to compete with our neighboring areas to make sure that our rates go down immediately.
I sponsored a bill to end the pain at the pump by having an immediate moratorium on the gas tax for an entire year to reduce that, and thankfully, the legislature acted but they only decided to do so for 30 days. In fact, it was so incredible that it was called a holiday. But yet … the 30 days ended on Easter holiday — so talk about hurting the pocketbook, hurting the purse of many Marylanders. As governor, I would suspend the gas tax; I think it should be done right now. And I think that we can make sure that happens for our people.
And then furthermore, you mentioned about transportation issues. It’s huge … We’re using our roads like parking lots. We can change that. We’re the greatest nation on Earth; we’re near the most important city on Earth, arguably. And yet, we can’t even drive on our highways — that’s got to change. And I think we can make that happen immediately, because in the Transportation Trust Fund, we receive billions in federal funding for these road improvements. I’d like to know where the money’s going. I’d like to have that transparent. I’m going to publish it online; I’m going to create an audit of it. And we’re going to get to the bottom of this.
We’re going to expand with existing easements — expand our highways immediately. We don’t need to wait for all the different deals … We can do it now. We have the existing easements to do so. And we don’t need a P3 to do it. We do not need a public-private partnership with toll roads to get this done immediately. So I think we can act and it should be done. The transparency is lacking. When I asked about this and inquired, I was told that the Transportation Trust Fund doesn’t have enough money. So I said, “Well, let’s see the audit; where’s the money? Let’s see the fund.” And they won’t publish it. I will publish it as as your governor. We will make sure those federal dollars immediately flow to expanding our road lanes. Look, if you go to the Golden State, California, the Golden State Highway — 10 lanes minimum in each direction. And you go to Florida and I-4, we’re looking at eight lanes. But yet here going to Washington, D.C., where our seat of government exists? We have a two-laner on both ways? No. We can improve that immediately, and I intend to do that.
WTOP: So, no tolls? You don’t like the toll idea there?
Cox: Absolutely not. If they want to do a separate toll lane that apart from the existing easements that we have, and that doesn’t encumber the people’s traffic — look, the Constitution mandates free public roads, particularly to our seats of government. So if you put the only way to Washington, D.C., to go and talk to our government officials is to put a $60 toll both ways like they’re doing in Northern Virginia, that’s a rich person’s toll and the poor, the individuals that don’t have the money are not going to drive that every day; they’re still going to be sitting in traffic while they’re trying to go to their jobs. We can do this better; we need to make sure that everyone has immediate access.
And again, I’m not saying that we would never have a toll road separate and apart from the existing easements. But we have I-270; we can immediately turn that in with the existing easements to something like five lanes in each direction with no toll roads. We have the easements to do this. It’s been in the plans for years, and I think we can make that happen.
WTOP: OK, and then on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, I know there’s been a lot of discussion and there was recently the green light to go ahead with further study on another span in the shadow of the current footprint. Is that a plan that you approve of? What are your thoughts on that?
Cox: So I do think we need to expand access to the beach. We need to do so, though, in a way that’s responsible to the wonderful people of the Eastern Shore. They’re really tired of the beach traffic clogging their roads every day of the summer. When I campaign down there — and my wife is from the Eastern Shore, and so we have family on the shore — and I tell you, they would love to have greater access to that … But we need to make sure that those blueprints that are looked at now, don’t increase the flow of traffic and further jam the roads because if you add multiple new lanes of the bridge immediately without making sure there’s additional lanes and access all the way down Route 50, you’re gonna have just a greater backlog and bottleneck both at about the Chesapeake College and the Easton areas than anything. I am open to any way forward to make this happen, so that traffic flows better and easier, and that all parties involved are happy and pleased that this is actually a workable situation.
Part of the problem is, though, there’s a dispute, I think, as to where this particular bridge should go. I think now they’re focusing in on the current location. And the danger of that, like I said, is just simply getting people across the Bay quickly, but then everybody’s going to sit on the other side. So we need to make sure we’re smart about this, that we think carefully through it. I know there’s proposals about other locations going across. I’m not an expert on this, so I would listen to all the experts and all the stakeholders involved to make sure that this would happen in an appropriate manner that would make sure everyone gets to the beach in a timely way, like we all want to do — like my family, with my 10 children; we want to go to the beach and not sit in traffic for the entire vacation. So I think we’re all on board to make this happen in a way that actually works.
WTOP: Any element of mass transit in your plans as governor?
Cox: Well, I support the Maglev if we can make sure that it’s funded by itself. It needs to be self-funded; we don’t need to be paying as a state for these international corporations who are going to end up making a lot of money. And I’ve heard that the Maglev is actually becoming old technology; I don’t know. But it’s something I think would be very good to have if it can be a self-funded business venture. Look, I mean, some of the other nations on Earth that have these, it’s working well for them. Japan and Europe have some of these options. I think it’d be great to have in Maryland. I’m very much supportive of those options, so long as it doesn’t increase our tax burden, or come out of the Maryland treasury. We’re in a position where we need to make sure that people have their money back.
One of the things that saddens me is that right now we have a $7 billion budget — according to the comptroller, who I’m running against — and instead of returning the Trump tax cuts — I’m so proud to be endorsed by President Trump — and one of the things that I’m telling everyone is do they know that Marylanders are one of the few people in the United States that are not receiving the $2.5 billion Trump tax cuts from two years ago? This is an outrage. It’s sitting in the treasury of Maryland; we have the money to give it back to the people. And yet they want to hold on to it and spend it on pet projects. And I don’t want to do that. I want to make sure, and we will make sure, that the people have their tax refunds. We need to lower our taxes, not increase them, and public transit needs to pay for itself. And it can. We see this in other countries. If there’s a public-private partnership that works, we can look at that. I’m happy to review it and examine it so long as taxes don’t go up and that we can make sure that it’s ultimately funded.
WTOP: It’s a challenge for any Republican to win statewide in Maryland. Gov. Hogan has done it twice. He’s been very critical of you. How do you respond to his criticisms and assess his job performance?
Cox: Well, I just simply ignore them because the governor is on his way out. He’s doesn’t have a voice in our party. I think 26% right now have a favorable consideration of him, because they’re very disappointed that he did some things that went against the party. The Republicans were very shocked when he voted for people that were deceased rather than our own Republican nominee for president. They’ve been very concerned about the lockdowns and the overreaches and the oppression. I mean, over 300 people arrested in Maryland for not wearing a mask or not following some executive order that wasn’t law, and shutting down 50% of our businesses where so many people were in the middle of not being able to get their unemployment insurance because the person I’m running against, my opponent, left the DLLR without the ability to even answer the phones. On a $30 million unemployment insurance office budget, that office couldn’t answer the phones to actually get unemployment insurance to people while they were being told they would be arrested if they literally went to try to make a living to pay and to feed themselves. I mean, this is ridiculous what happened.
It’s not the way of the Republican future. We see that, you know, President Trump led the way with a very careful approach. Republican Gov. DeSantis (of Florida) and Gov. Kristi Noem (of North Dakota) — these are the Republicans of the future. And that’s the way we’re going to govern. And so it’s resonating across party lines in Maryland. We have a large number of Democrats supporting our campaign because we’re the only campaign that is promising to give you your freedom back. You’re gonna have your bodily integrity: no more jabs for jobs, no more forced masking; like my opponent said, “Wear the damn mask,” and now we have kids with 34% suicidal ideation. We’ve had children that committed suicide over these oppressive mandates. That’s going to end on Day One on my watch, and the Maryland voter loves it, across all party lines. We’re going to restore our freedom. People are once again going to enjoy Maryland, and we’re going to be a leader in the country for our freedoms and our opportunities, from the ocean to the bay to the mountains.
Interview conducted by Kate Ryan; edited by Jack Moore