Three Democrats are hoping to win their party’s nomination for Governor of Maryland. We spoke to each one, at length, to see what he thinks are the biggest challenges facing the state and how he plans to address them should he make it into office.

Tom Perez

Tom Perez describes himself as a “dreamer and a doer” who wants to change the direction of Maryland as its next governor. And with gridlock in Washington, he says, states are “where the action’s at.”

“I want Maryland to be that example of a state where everybody has a fair shake, everybody’s got access to healthcare and we are a model for other states on how to build an economy that works for everyone,” Perez explained.

Perez said Investing in education will be one of his top priorities.

“We used to be Number 1 in the state in K to 12 education and over the last eight years we’ve fallen down to like Number 13 or something like that. I want to make sure we’re Number 1 and I want to make sure zip code never determines destiny,” Perez stated.

The gubernatorial hopeful said he wants everyone who lives in Maryland to have access to health insurance, saying that 25% of COVID-19 deaths in the pandemic “were a function of the fact that we still have 375,000 uninsured Marylanders” to illustrate the importance of health insurance access.

Perez also said an emphasis on clean energy and the environment is a must.

“The next governor needs to be a leader on climate change and there have been a number of reports that show that Maryland is no longer leading,” Perez said.

“I’m a proud member of the get stuff done wing of the Democratic party and I invite voters to take a look at my long record of accomplishments at a local level, at a state level and at a federal level,” he offered.

But Perez, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee and former labor secretary for President Obama among other key posts, has struggled with name recognition in the crowded primary. Still, he thinks he will win over voters.

“This is a dead-heat right now as we lead into…Tuesday and we’ve been surging, peaking at the right time. I coached my kids in basketball for 15 years and I always taught ‘em, you’ve got to have gas in the tank in the fourth quarter so that you can sprint through the finish line and that’s exactly where we’re at,” Perez said, adding that he doesn’t see voter apathy.

“The voters that I talk to right now are very, very excited about getting engaged,” he said. “Giving voters options increases turnout, and I’m confident at the end of the day we’re going to have really solid turnout because this is a really important moment for Maryland.”

With inflation soaring and gas prices still too high, Perez said he has answers in the form of gas tax relief.

“But that’s not enough, because there a lot of people who don’t drive a car. And so, we’ve got to further relief. I would make bus service free. That’s like a stimulus check for working families,” he offered.

Perez went on to say, “I would expand the earned income tax credit to help working families put more money in their pockets.”

He said, “I want Marylanders to know that I feel their pain and I want to make sure that we can do our level best to alleviate that pain.”

To tackle crime, Perez, a former federal prosecutor, wants to see a collaborative approach with other agencies and have a criminal justice coordinator report directly to him.

“There are a lot of things we can do Day One. I’ve worked at the Department of Justice for 14 years. I know that building well. I want to form unprecedented partnerships with the department to address the gun violence epidemic,” Perez explained. “These crime spikes are not unique to Maryland…and it does start with partnerships. Mayor Scott in Baltimore hasn’t had a meaningful partner.”

Perez said, “We’ve got to be smart on crime. And smart on crime doesn’t mean…if the only tool in your tool is a hammer, pretty soon everything starts looking like a nail. We’ve got to understand there’s a disproportionate number of people who commit violent crime who are already on parole or probation. So we’ve got to work to reform parole and probation.”

And how will Perez win over skeptical Republicans who always accuse his party of being soft on crime?

“With facts.” he said. “Larry Hogan is not helping Baltimore City out by bashing it. Having someone who’s actually done it…and I’m unaware of any of the Republican candidates who’ve had any sort of prosecutorial experience or any experience in the criminal justice system.”

Perez said “I worked at the Justice Department for over a decade. And I know how to work with communities who have been experiencing crime spikes. And I’m happy to have that conversation with Republicans during the general election because they don’t want to work in partnership. And that is the most fundamental thing you have to do if you’re going to combat crime.”

Wes Moore

Wes Moore has an impeccable resume: Rhodes scholar, White House fellow, combat veteran, CEO of a nonprofit organization and best-selling author. Even Oprah Winfrey’s touting him. But governor of Maryland?

“I’ve had a chance to lead in every sector of the American economy and I know that right now we got an important…where we have to decide as a state, are we going to be bold, are we going to go about accomplishing big things again,” said Moore, “and I think that when you’re looking at the background that I’ve had, whether it was leading soldiers in combat, whether it was leading a successful small business here in Maryland or leading one of the largest poverty fighting organizations.”

The Democrat said, “But if we aren’t fixing the systems that continue to allow people to continue to fall between the cracks, we’re going to find ourselves cleaning up the debris that comes from broken systems.”

Moore said his experience bridging gaps on big issues has prepared him to take on this challenge despite never having held elected office.

“My experience of working across sectors, of working across parties, of working on big issues to get things done, has uniquely prepared me to be able to lead in this moment to create a measurement of generational change that we continue hearing from Marylanders that they are demanding and asking for,” Moore stated.

Although Moore thinks the educational system in Maryland is broken, he said it can be fixed.

“We need to make sure we have a 21st Century education system, an education system that’s actually preparing people for the jobs that are available now and the jobs of the future. Right now, we have two jobs in Maryland open for every person filing for unemployment. And people say well how does that make sense? It makes sense because the jobs that we have coming on board are not jobs that people are prepared for and being trained for,” said Moore.

Some might wonder why Moore is a Democrat, given his background, which could make him a recruit for the Republican Party. But the main difference is how government can help people.

“I’m a Democrat because I believe that government plays an important role not just in supporting people, but in elevating people, right, that we have to focus on issues of work, wages and wealth for all of our families,” Moore explained. “To win in November, to win in a general election, you’ve got to do two things: You need to both energize the base, but not alienate everybody else. And I think with my background of being a businessman, with my background of being a military officer and a combat veteran and with my background of running one of the largest poverty fighting organizations and my credentials of being able to be able to talk to all sides and all parties is unquestionable.”

Moore said, “I don’t plan on being the governor for Democrats. I plan on being the governor for all Marylanders.”

Moore said he wants the state to be competitive while being more equitable to its residents in order to close the racial wealth gap. And that includes increasing home ownership.

“There’s a difference between income and wealth. When you mean wealth, it means simply owning more than you owe. And right now in the state of Maryland we have an 8 to 1 racial wealth gap. That is not just impacting African Americans or people of color, that’s impacting all of us. It’s cost this country $16 trillion dollars over the past two decades,” he said. “For people who are talking about jobs and opportunity, that’s not enough. That’s an old mindset. If we’re not talking about wealth creation for all communities, then I don’t know what we’re talking about.”

Moore doesn’t come without controversy. He has taken heat for inaccuracies in what was in the opening cover flap of his book. Moore said it was the publisher’s mistake saying that he grew up in Baltimore (where he lives now) and that he was awarded a Bronze Star. He did not and he was not.

Much of the criticism directed towards Moore was because people thought he was slow to correct the record. He scoffs at people questioning his character.

“When people see that there’s nothing inside the book, anything that I’ve ever written or anything I’ve ever said has been questioned. And so that people will take my politeness in a live interview 12 years ago and use it to weaponize against me. Is that frustrating? Uh, potentially but I think it also shows who they’re worried about and who they’re concerned about.”

“Marylanders care about their lives. Marylanders care about the fact that things are more expensive and what are we doing to address inflationary pressure. What are we doing to address violence and crime inside of communities. What are we doing to make sure that people have transportation assets from where they live to where they work. And so I think to the frustration of a lot of political opponents, this stuff has not worked. The momentum of our campaign about,” he said.

Moore’s answer to why he’s never run for elected office before including to be mayor of Baltimore?

“I’m not a career bureaucrat. I haven’t run for office for the past 40 years. Honestly, I think that the thing we’re seeing from Marylanders, that’s not what they’re looking for. They’re not looking for a career bureaucrat. They’re looking for someone that actually has a history and experience of working across sectors, working with the private sector, the non-profit sector, philanthropy, the people, to be able to get big things done,” he said, adding that he will put his executive experience “against anybody else inside this field.”

Moore said he speaks the language of business leaders and that the state has to be more competitive and that too many are living below the poverty line.

“The data continues to show we’ve got to raise this minimum wage, we’ve got to get it to $15 an hour and not wait until 2025,” explained Moore.

When it comes to addressing crime, he said the state needs to be a better partner and that Maryland has hundreds of vacancies in the state parole and probation system.

“It’s not just a local issue. And specifically when you consider the fact that a third of all violent crimes are being done by people on violation of parole and probation. No mayor or county executive or city council person is responsible for that. The governor needs to take a leadership role,” he stated.

Peter Franchot

Peter Franchot has spent decades in elected office, the last several as state comptroller. And voters know him and his gimmicky ads and calming style. Now, he wants to be Maryland’s next governor.

“I think the reason I’m popular with the voters is that they see me as someone who has the vision of an outsider like they,” Franchot said. “That’s how they view me, an outsider perspective but I have these insider skills.”

He said that’s because he’s spent 20 years in the state legislature and 16 years as comptroller, Maryland’s fiscal watchdog.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been oriented to them, giving them a voice. I think that’s what results in the fact that I lead the polls, at least every poll I’ve seen. I have produced. The distinction between me and my opponents who have lots of ideas is that I’ve actually done things in Maryland year after year,” Franchot offered.

He said that just because he is a Democrat, that doesn’t mean he adheres to the party line.

“I think people appreciate the fact that yes, I’m a Democrat, yes, I like the values and principles of the party but, no, I’m not a robot. And I’m not going to…just because something is supported by Democratic leaders automatically go along. I’m going to take a look at it. If it’s not good for the state of Maryland, I’m not going to be for it.”

But Franchot has been under some fire for his friendly relationship with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, whom he has dined and with whom he has found common ground over the years. It’s likely the reason his gubernatorial aspirations were put on hold until now.

“I find that Hogan is a rational, functioning, somewhat moderate, mature individual that I can communicate with. From time to time, I have been aligned with him. But many times I’ve been opposed to him and the key is that we agree to disagree without being disagreeable. We’re not trying to demonize each other.”

Francho said, “Some of the leadership constantly come to me and say, ‘Can’t you be more hostile to Gov. Hogan?’”

Hogan, Franchot said, is polling well over 70% favorable among Democrats.

“I’m not interested in a food fight. I’m not interested in demonizing anybody. I’m interested in getting the job done. And I have this independent view from my background of issues. I’m oriented towards, is it a good idea, will it help the state of Maryland? If it does and it came from a Democrat, terrific. If it came from a Republican, that’s OK, too. We want to do what’s good for the state.”

Franchot, who is in his mid-70s, is known as a workhorse. He said age shouldn’t play a role in how people view him.

“I think I’m young in spirit, young in ideas, young in energy, young in accomplishments and I just offer myself to people and say, look, in 16 years, I’ve produced things and done things on a monthly basis that everybody reflects on and says, you’ve done a great job.”

Connecting with the little people, Franchot said, is important, whether it’s through gimmicks or results.

“Gimmicks are good because it can give people a sense that they’re government can be trusted, that they can have confidence in government, that government is competent. So I spend a lot of time with my own agency making sure that the R’s I call it: Respect, respond and then get results for the taxpayer. Same thing needs to be done in all of state government,” he stated.

When it comes to the issues, Franchot promises a lot.

“In the first three months as governor, I’m going to say we’re going to fix every pothole on state roads, we’re going to pick up all the trash along state roads, we’re going to have every state agency do what my agency does which is answer the telephone promptly with live, friendly, helpful employee.”

While admitting that it may not all happen in three months, Franchot said he is trying to forge trust and confidence. He also wants to create 300,000 new homeowners and double the state’s gross domestic product without raising taxes.

“I believe in the private sector. I believe in the free enterprise system. I believe in capitalism, even with all of its flaws,” Franchot said. “So I see the state of Maryland partnering on this concept of doubling the GDP. It’s very aspirational. It’s very aggressive.”

Franchot promised to make health care more accessible and take on educational issues to bring the joy of teaching back to teachers.

“The concept here is, once we prove ourselves and show that we’re actually going to represent everyone, not just the people that may agree with us 100 percent of the time, I think people will say the same thing they say to me now: You’re a straight shooter. We can trust you. Maybe we don’t agree with everything you’re saying but we’re going to give you our confidence and trust enough that you can go and accomplish it.”

With Maryland experiencing spikes in crime, Franchot said it’s a key issue to address.

“I actually saw part of my plan implemented. Gov. Hogan took a hot spot up in Baltimore and he put a whole bunch of state police or elite law enforcement in there to bring down the temperature. The problem is he only left them there for a month,” said Franchot, explaining he wants to see that type of initiative on a sustained basis for at least six month.

“But, then, we have to couple it with some form of community policing because that obviously is the ultimate answer. Everyone in every community deserves to be safe,” Franchot said.