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: Kelly Schulz, former secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce
Running mate: Jeff Woolford, Air Force veteran and assistant secretary and chief medical officer at the Maryland Department of Health
Kelly Schulz served for seven years in the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan, including most recently three years as secretary of the Department of Commerce, where she was tasked with helping businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic. A former state delegate, Schulz also served as the secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland, but Schulz has been endorsed by Hogan, the popular Republican incumbent governor, who has said, “If you approve of how we have led Maryland, then Kelly Schulz is your choice for governor.”
But first she’ll have to win the GOP nomination contest, where she is facing a fierce battle with Del. Dan Cox for the GOP nomination. Cox has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Schulz touts her record leading two important state agencies, but also points to humbler experiences in her life. At 19, she dropped out of college to begin raising a family and, in her words, waited a lot of tables, tended a lot of bar. She eventually completed her degree at 36, started her own business, became a member of the House of Delegates and served in the Hogan administration.
“I would say, even, because I was that waitress that worked so hard, I’m uniquely qualified to be the next governor of the state of Maryland,” she said.
The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.
WTOP: As a result of the pandemic, everyone’s concerned about everything from the mental health of our students to learning loss. But we also have laid over this the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future that the next governor will have to implement and oversee. What are your plans for education? And how will you make sure that that implementation is a success?
Kelly Schulz: Well, first, you’re right: We have gone through a lot over the course of the last couple of years, and I think what we learned is that schools need to be open, and masks need to be off for those kids that feel safe doing that. I don’t believe in mask mandates, and I think that parents have the opportunity to keep their children safe.
But also with the educational system: You know, Maryland is one of the highest academically achieving states in the nation. We have more Ph.D.s in the state than any other state. We want to be able to make sure that every child, regardless of the ZIP code that they live in, has the opportunity to excel. And that’s why we introduced our Parental Bill of Rights a couple of months ago. What that does is. it provides empowerment to parents over their children’s education, to be able to make sure that the children learn things — the real things that children are supposed to learn in school, like how to read, write, do arithmetic, learn science, and — I always like to say as a workforce development professional — learn a skill so that they have something to do after graduation. And I feel very, very strongly about that.
And if those schools are failing, it’s very important for parents to know that they should have a choice in where their children go to school and to be able to increase public charter schools, and P-TECH schools, and those types of opportunities, so that kids do not have to be in a failing school.
But in addition to that, I also wanted to be able to make sure that there’s accountability within the school system. Yes, more competition is going to help with that. Well, we want to make sure that those school systems are accountable to the taxpayers that are providing record amounts of funding to every school system in the state every single year.
WTOP: How does that accountability work? What mechanism?
Schulz: Well, I think that No. 1 it starts with — you know, we’ve heard some reports recently about some schools not reporting the correct number of students. We need to have a better reporting mechanism for the schools to be able to report the number of students that are enrolled in their classrooms every day. We need to be able to make sure that what’s being taught in the classroom is what’s been taught as far as the metrics that’s important for our students and for the parents that are putting their children into these public schools. And I think that we can do that, and I think we can do it well. Our children deserve it.
WTOP: Police accountability boards are now being formulated in each of the jurisdictions according to state law. What are your concerns there? And how do you balance that with the need to recruit and retain police in each jurisdiction?
Schulz: Over the course of the last couple of years, the people that have dedicated their lives to serving and protecting each and every Marylander, every single day, have been a part of a conversation to defund their organizations, which means it’s been a part of devaluing their service to the community. And what we have to do is we have to start continuing to not only re-fund those systems within the state, but we also have to be able to continue to revalue, really look at what their positions are, and thank them for their service. And I like to say, quite frankly, it’s time that we start treating criminals like criminals and police officers like heroes.
And there will be a retention issue. Systems across the state are seeing it right now. We have to be able to provide those opportunities and a meaning for them to come back to the state and to be able to recruit more people, because attrition will happen within those offices, and we want to be able to make sure that we have new recruits in order to be able to take their place.
WTOP: What would that look like, again? What would be done in order to make both the profession more attractive and to keep them?
Schulz: Well, I mean, I think it probably should be pretty simple. We have to start valuing them; we have to start talking about them as if they are a part of the solution with this — the major part of the solution — when it comes to the record crime in many different jurisdictions in the state. They are a part of the solution. We have to start talking about them as if they are part of the solution. Nobody wants to go to work every day and have the rest of the world think that they’re the problem. They are a part of the solution. We start valuing them as elected officials and communities and in our society, to be able to make sure that they know what they are — they are the heroes in our community.
And sure, does there need to be some type of reform? You know, possibly so. But what we need to do is, we need to look at that in a way where it respects the occupation, where it respects those that are doing a wonderful job. And in doing so, then we have a much, much higher chance of being able to recruit those new police officers, those new heroes of the future.
Jobs, economy, transportation
WTOP: Inflation is a big concern. People are concerned about jobs coming in. And we all know that when employers look at Maryland, they look at our transportation system. On transportation, the two issues I’ll ask about are I-270 and the Beltway, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I know I’ve asked a lot.
Schulz: There’s a lot there, so let me start to unpack it. You know, one of the greatest things that I am very proud of, is that when I left the Department of Commerce in January of this year, Maryland was named the most improved state in the nation for business. And that didn’t happen accidentally. That happened because there’s been a strong seven-year push in order to be able to increase our business environment, to be able to make sure that businesses knew that they were the customer, that we were there to serve them, because they are the job creators in Maryland. We have many, many jobs that are available now. We have many businesses that are looking. We have plans in order to be able to help them to recruit more people into their businesses.
As far as workforce development, our EARN program at the Department of Labor is a national model; our apprenticeship programs are stronger than they’ve ever been in the history of the state of Maryland. So we know that we can increase and (put) Maryland on a steady trajectory for growth, especially for opportunities for people in this state.
But there are a couple of burdens there, and there are a couple of barriers to that growth. … I live in Frederick County; I’ve been here for 20 years. There is not a place that I can go — north, south, east or west — where we’re not going to hit some sort of traffic. And many people listen to, quite frankly, WTOP, to make sure that we know what we’re heading into at any given point in time in the day with your traffic reports. We need to be able to alleviate traffic in this region. And we need to do it consistent with where we have started.
Gov. Hogan has started some major transportation programs, especially along 270 and 495, and some other parts of the state. But if we don’t do that, it will stunt our opportunity to be able to increase our economic development for the future. We have to keep things moving. We talk a lot about supply chain — think about all of those trucks that are on the road. They are stuck in the same traffic that we’re stuck in. The delays that we have — our economic engines have the same type of issues when it comes to getting anywhere expeditiously. We need to continue to move forward.
There has been record funding … into our transportation system over the course of the last seven years. And I am not going to do anything to slow that down. But I will tell you, just about every single one of my opponents on the other side of the aisle have talked about stopping the progress when it comes to alleviating our traffic congestion in this state. And we cannot go backwards; we have got to continue to move forward.
WTOP: So, tolls on 495 and 270. Is that the wisest and best course?
Schulz: You know, I think that there’s a lot of plans that are out there. What we have been able to see is there has been great strides in the traffic relief that has happened across the river in Virginia. We want to be able to do something similar to that, to be able to make sure that our traffic is alleviated here. And with all of those plans moving forward as governor, I will look at the best opportunity for Marylanders moving forward.
WTOP: I’ve heard some folks suggest adding to MARC service to get people off the roadways? Is that something you want to do?
Schulz: There’s a lot of plans for being able to decrease [traffic], and where there are opportunities in order to be able to bring in mass transit as part of the solution, and where that makes sense, we can certainly have that conversation. And in many parts of the state, that works. In other parts of the state, we have to talk about traffic congestion as what it is — people that are driving cars. And those are the people that are putting money into the Transportation Trust Fund through the gas tax, and we need to be able to manage both of those at the same time.
WTOP: And what about everyone’s least favorite crossing — the Chesapeake Bay Bridge? We all can’t wait to get to the beach. But what should happen there? A new span? In the latest study, the feds gave the go-ahead to continuing the look at a bridge that would be in a similar footprint.
Schulz: Well, first, since we’re talking about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: Let me just say that, hopefully, considering the rising gas prices right now, and the Maryland gas tax — which is outrageous, that this regressive tax is going to affect Marylanders as they want to go on a Maryland vacation during the summer — I’m just hoping that that does not impede the progress of what we’ve been able to make when it comes to bringing tourism revenues, economic dollars back to the Eastern Shore over the course of the last couple of years. So we need to be able to make sure that that’s priority No. 1.
With the amount of traffic that’s going over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, I know that there have been conversations that have happened between the adjoining local jurisdictions. I have not been involved in those conversations, but I look forward to the opportunity to talk about those best solutions for that.
WTOP: And then the last question I’m asking everyone is, what in your background uniquely qualifies you to be governor? And what would you do in the future?
Schulz: When I was almost 20 years old — I was 19 — I was going to be the first person in my family to graduate from college. And instead of that, I got pregnant in my sophomore year of college. I dropped out of school; I got married; I had my son. Very shortly after, I had my second son, and I spent the next 15 years of my life raising my two boys, and doing everything that I could to be able to support my family. Waited a lot of tables, tended a lot of bar. I had the unique opportunity when I moved to Maryland to actually become, at the age of 36, the first person in my family to graduate from college here in Frederick at Hood College.
And what that taught me at that period of time was that opportunity is everything — being able to take advantage of the opportunity. And we want to be able to make sure that every Marylander regardless of the ZIP code has the opportunity to really fulfill the things in their life and their own personal prosperity. So what I like to say is that when I was that 19-year-old girl — you know, college dropout, young mom waiting tables — I never thought that I could be running for governor. But since that time, because I was that young mom, and wife and mother and a member of the House of Delegates elected twice to represent my district in Frederick County, worked in two of the major economic development growth agencies in the state, spent seven years in the Hogan administration, started my own business — and I would say, even, because I was that waitress that worked so hard, I’m uniquely qualified to be the next governor of the state of Maryland.
WTOP: Any last thoughts?
Schulz: You know, I think as I travel across the state, there’s three things that I hear most about … The No. 1 thing is safety. Without keeping our neighborhoods safe, nothing else matters. We really will continue to push to make sure that we have record funding for our police officers and being able to attract new police officers and keeping repeat violent offenders off the streets. And to be able to make sure that those that are doing crimes with illegal weapons, they are the ones that should not be out of jail with limited or no bail. So I feel very strongly about that. Our educational system and our children — it’s a priority to be able to make sure that every kid has an opportunity to excel, because we all believe in prosperity and everybody being able to make Maryland a better state and individuals, better individuals. And that’s what I’m committed to do.
Interview conducted by Kate Ryan; editing by Jack Moore