Ben Jealous takes viewer questions and discusses what his primary win means for the future of the Democratic Party
JAISAL NOOR: I’m Jaisal Noor for the Real News Network. In a moment we’ll be joined by Ben Jealous live in our studio. But first, this quick report.
Progressives have been winning big races across the country, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeating longtime incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley in New York, to former NAACP head Ben Jealous emerging from a crowded field of gubernatorial candidates in the state of Maryland to secure the Democratic nomination. Jealous promises Medicare for All, taxing the rich to cover social programs, and legalizing pot to pay for universal Pre-K. And a program that would offer public sector jobs to people the private sector won’t hire. He’ll face a formidable opponent in incumbent Larry Hogan in November.
During the primary, Hogan out-fundraised all of his Democratic opponents combined, and enjoys high favorability ratings even among Democrats. In response to Jealous’ win, the Republican Governors Association released a statement calling him a, quote, “radical activist,” whose views make him unfit to serve as governor. They also said Jealous is priming to systematically undo all of the progress Maryland has made over the past four years by hiking taxes to never seen before levels in order to fund his radical pie-in-the-sky spending plans.
So we’re joined by Ben Jealous. You just won the Democratic nomination for governor last week. Congratulations on the win. And right after your victory, the Republicans have come out swinging.
BEN JEALOUS: They’re scared.
JAISAL NOOR: Some might question using the words ‘radical activist’ to describe the former head of the NAACP. But you know-.
BEN JEALOUS: Usually radical activists who would question that.
JAISAL NOOR: They’re arguing that things are going well under Larry Hogan.
BEN JEALOUS: And far as they’re concerned the NAACP is the establishment.
We’ve said from the beginning, we’re not running to the left, we’re not running towards the right. I’m running to the people the state. I started off this campaign just listening to working families across the state, including folks who voted for Trump. And what you heard- and voted for Hogan. And what you heard again and again was that about 85 percent of the big kitchen table issues facing any family are the same as every other working family. Kids are coming out of college deep in debt. Health care costs keep skyrocketing. Under Larry Hogan they’re up more than 10 percent every year. Schools have fallen from first to sixth. But there’s a sense of underlying fragility, that they’re just not as well funded. A lot of frustration that the casino revenues weren’t used, for instance, to significantly increase funding for the schools. The opiate crisis, here in Baltimore City killing more people than bullets by a long shot, and across the state. Terrifying.
And so what I’ve done in the beginning of this campaign is just simply have the courage to level with the people and say this is what it takes. I’m a lifelong community organizer, I’m a civil rights leader. I teach public policy. And I was trained by my grandma, who also helped train Barbara Mikulski. My grandma is a 101-year-old retired Maryland social worker. And she woudl always say you can’t half-solve a problem. You still got a problem. So I’m committed to giving the people of Maryland whole solutions to the real problems that face their families. Things we can do in real time to improve lives.
JAISAL NOOR: Now it’s going to be an uphill battle against Governor Hogan. He’s the incumbent in this state. He said he’s created 100,000 jobs. He says he’s gotten the government off the backs and out of the pockets of people, you know, of residents across Maryland. Things are going well. That’s his argument. You know, he even recently changed his Facebook page, his campaign Facebook profile, to say Democrats for Hogan. That’s his argument. He’s going for the Democratic votes.
BEN JEALOUS: He’s scared. What he knows is this. The only way he got into office is we had the lowest Democratic turnout since 1942. And if we simply turn out Democrats to the level we did at 2010, there’s virtually no way for him to win. Well he also knows is that’s what I specialize in. I was the youngest president in the history of the NAACP. I was called the unsung hero of Obama’s re-election by Van Jones on CNN. So we turned out 1.2 million unlikely voters. So we turn out those 2010 voters, we win. We turn out unlikely voters, we wallop them.
And I showed the ability to compete in every corner of the state. I won in 22 out of 24 counties. I was leading in the rural parts of the state for months. And so he knows that my brand of kitchen table politics, focusing on fully funding education, getting health care costs truly under control by taking on every pharmaceutical company, by moving to state-based Medicare for All, ending mass incarceration and using the money to bring down the cost of public higher education, he knows that there’s a lot of people who want that. They’re not just Democrats. They’re independents. And they’re even some of the folks who voted for him. And so I’ll bring the fight to him, and we’ll win.
JAISAL NOOR: A lot’s been made across the country with wins like yours. We saw it happen in New York and in other states, of progressive challengers taking on the establishment within the Democratic Party. So far the majority of the Democratic Party of the state, that didn’t back you in the primary, has come around, and they’ve-.
BEN JEALOUS: Everybody’s on board. You know, Franchot, quite frankly, our concern was going to run in support of Hogan. And so the fact that he’s staying neutral I see is an improvement based on what our concern was. Everybody else is in support. Senator Cardin, Senator Van Hollen, all the congresspeople who are Democrats, all but one. The major county execs, past Governor O’Malley. I’ve worked with all these folks, and worked well with them. I led the effort to abolish the death penalty, but also cochaired the effort to pass the DREAM Act, help pass marriage equality, and a number of smaller civil rights victories and some county-level victories around getting money out of politics brought John Sarbanes and I together, for example.
And so we have a long series of relationships. And quite frankly, they also saw me win by a 10 percent margin, 22 out of 24 counties. So they know that my campaign has the energy to increase the vote, and that benefits all of us.
JAISAL NOOR: And your plans for places like Baltimore City, where you’ve seen endemic poverty for generations, that have been controlled by Democrats for generations. Those plans to revitalize those areas have not gotten much attention in the press. Talk about what your vision is, and how it’s going to be different than what’s been happening for the last several decades, which doesn’t seem like it’s improving conditions very much.
BEN JEALOUS: It’s not. And you know, Larry Hogan has been a real disappointment in that respect. Under him, schools are down, health care costs are up, violence is up in Baltimore City, for example. Opiate deaths are up. The economy is stuck. People’s incomes literally have gone up, risen by thousands in surrounding states in the last few years. But in Maryland just by hundreds.
And one of the things that’s, that’s different about me that doesn’t usually make the sound bite is I’m a tech investor. That’s what I’ve done for the last five years. I’ve invested in social impact tech companies, double bottom line. Example, Pigeonly, cofounded by a graduate of Morgan State. It’s cut the cost of your loved one calling home from prison by 80 percent. Serves about 30 percent of federal inmates, now expanding into state facilities. And 68 percent of our companies have a black, Latino, or female founder. In fact, the fastest growing one, a woman named Ana Roca-Castro, she’s all of the above, she’s Afro Dominicana.
And so what I know is that Maryland can build a much more robust economy. It means we’re going to have to have a plan. Terry McAuliffe somewhat surprisingly attracted a bunch of cybersecurity headquarters to Virginia. People expected it to be Maryland because we have NSA and Cyber Command. And I said, you know, how did you do that? He said, a plan beats no plan. Your guys didn’t have a plan. We have four- Larry Hogan said that he would keep every Fortune 500 company here. And they thought magically, becaues maybe he’s a Republican, he would do that. Well, he’s already lost one. And what I know is that the bedrock of our economy are small businesses, including our startups. And we can keep a lot more of them here. We can grow more than we are. And we can become a leader, make Baltimore the capital of the green technology economy. We can make Maryland once again number three in health sciences while even, you know, building on some strengths like cybersecurity. And in the process expand our economy in ways that Hogan has failed to do.
You look at medical cannabis. A $200 million industry. Blacks and Latinos completely locked out of the 24 licenses. When I’m governor, I will lead us in making cannabis legal for adult use, period. We’ll regulate it, we’ll tax it, but we’ll also make sure that the entrepreneurs reflect the state.
JAISAL NOOR: Would you support something like what they’re doing in Oakland, where former victims of mass incarceration are sort of first in line to get those licenses?
BEN JEALOUS: Absolutely. We have to make sure that the communities that have been most ravaged by the war on drugs benefit from shifting to saner policies, and frankly, pulling money out of the pockets of the cartels and the gangs, and putting in the pockets of farmers and businesspeople. Absolutely. It’s important to not just focus on ownership, but as you signal, to also focus on the jobs. One of the ways you can do that is called micro-zip code targeting. Your zip code, you think of it as five digits, but it’s actually nine digits. And those last four digits after the dash can take you right down to like, one part of a block. And so you can say, like, in these nine-digit zip codes, this is where the open air drug markets have been. This is where the epicenter of the war on drugs has been, and we’ve got to hire people from those areas, too.
JAISAL NOOR: So, many are expecting these midterm elections to be a referendum on Trump’s presidency. We know that with the Supreme Court possibly changing, with Trump trying to appoint a new justice to replace Kennedy in the next few months before the election, a lot of people are going to come out and vote. Hogan has gone out of his way to distance himself from President Trump, even though he’s a Republican. Do you think- do you think it’s right to sort of tie those two figures together?
BEN JEALOUS: Hogan’s tied himself to Trump’s coattails via his lieutenants. Betsy de Vos, please come into our state. And then he mimics her by by shifting tens of millions of dollars from our general fund not to the public schools that are underfunded, but to private schools in the form of vouchers. Jeff Sessions, he literally parrots him on immigration policy and on incarceration policy, calling for a return to the failed truth in sentencing policies are wildly expensive, and implementing new mandatory minimums. And then on on the Chesapeake Bay, Larry Hogan, more than any other Republican, could have blocked the appointment of Scott Pruitt. But he stood silent. All he had to do is say hey, guys, I’m governor of Maryland. I’m one of the most popular governors in the country. This dude’s from Oklahoma, and he’s already promised to destroy the Chesapeake Bay restoration plan.
Instead, Larry Hogan tries to have it both ways. He takes credit for things Obama did as far as cleaning up the Bay while literally not only being a welcome mat for Scott Pruitt, just laying down and letting him be stepped all over, but also made it easier to pollute our bay. The poultry industry invested a quarter million dollars in helping to elect him. His first day in office he cut regulations to make it easier to literally dump chicken mess straight into the Bay.
JAISAL NOOR: Finally, we’re almost out of time, but final question. We know that with the Supreme Court decision in Janus it’s going to hurt public sector unions, which backed you, you know, in a big way in the primary. We know that working people across the state in this country are struggling. At Hopkins, Johns Hopkins Hospital, there’s workers that are trying to form a union with the National Nurses and who endorsed you. And they’re saying that they’re facing unfair labor practices. The hospital is denying it. What’s your message to working people around the country and in the state of Maryland who are fighting for better working [inaudible].
BEN JEALOUS: We need labor peace. Every working person has a right to organize, and that needs to be respected. When it comes to public sector unions, I know what built my family’s good fortune. Both my grandparents were able to come state workers here in Maryland, one a probation officer, the other a social worker, and become members of AFSCME. My grandmother’s a 101-year-old retired Maryland social worker. Under Larry Hogan she’s looking at her pharmaceutical prices jumping through the roof.
I will make sure that people’s pensions are protected. They’re well treated. That we, frankly, make their jobs less risky. Hogan has allowed there to become extreme shortages, including for corrections officers. I’ve talked to corrections officers who have had their skull fractured multiple times, legs broken, and it’s because they’re understaffed. And he’s done nothing on that. So I’ll have the back of working people. I’ll have the back of people who want to organize. You know, not only am I a grandson of two proud union members, I’m a former union member myself. And I know that working people deserve the right to bargain for a better wage. A quarter of our workers in this country, similar in Maryland, have to sign noncompete agreements. I’m talking about when you’re working for a fast food restaurant. So you literally cannot say, hey, they’ll pay me 50 cents per hour more, why don’t you pay me a quarter? They can’t negotiate at all. And we’ve got to make sure that every worker has the right to advocate for themselves, and to organize to get better wages and better treatment for their family.
JAISAL NOOR: All right. Ben Jealous, thank you so much for joining us. You are the Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland. We’re going to be following this campaign really closely on TheRealNews.com, so watch all of our coverage. Check out our website, Facebook and Twitter. Thanks so much for watching.