Elijah Cummings’ death left a hole difficult to fill. From impeachment to racial justice and the future of America, we explore with the candidates for Maryland’s 7th District seat.


Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us.

Here in Maryland where we broadcast from, there’s a special election tomorrow for Elijah Cummings’ seat in the 7th Congressional District. He’s a hard man to replace. He sat and fought for his constituency in this country for a long time and was signing subpoenas against Donald Trump 45 minutes before he passed away.

We’re now about to talk to Jill Carter, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2002 here in Maryland, served on the House Judiciary Committee until 2016, was Director of Baltimore Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, and then was elected State Senator in District 41 and is currently a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Jill, welcome, good to have you with us here.

JILL CARTER: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: So let’s talk about this race you’re in. But let me start with Donald Trump and this race against Donald Trump and what’s happening. How do you think that plays into what may have motivated you to run and why you chose to run, and what we’re facing in this country?

JILL CARTER: The only tie-in is really that we lack good leadership at the local and national levels in my opinion. Donald Trump’s Presidency has sparked some sentiments in this country that I wouldn’t have been able to imagine that we would be at in 2020. Growing up as a child of the 60s I would say I was born into the belly of the civil rights movement.

MARC STEINER: Yes, you were.

JILL CARTER: I certainly thought we would always be making progress and I think this is the first time when it’s been so glaring that when it comes to racism and classism and Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments that we have someone at the top that is so vocal and so overtly, I would say, somewhat anti-American to the extent that we believe that America stands for the inclusion of people and the diversity of people.

MARC STEINER: The district group you would represent if you win the election is a very strange and diverse district. We have this thing in Maryland where we kind of gerrymandered these districts that really make no sense in many ways. That’s real. But your district comprises of black middle class, black working class poor in Baltimore City, the suburbs, a middle class and working classes of Howard County, the mostly white part of the district in the Northern part of the district, which is in Baltimore County that for all intents and purposes is Trump country; whether it’s working class, middle class, or upper class, it’s Trump country.

So talk about that. And this is almost like a microcosm of America in this district that you would represent if you win the election tomorrow. So talk a bit about that and your campaign.

JILL CARTER: So I want to say that it is a much larger district than what I represent now just within Baltimore city, which is the 41st. But I do feel that the 41st is not all that different. The 41st goes from the tip of Roland Park down through the Glen Area, Park Heights, Pimlico; and then over to where I grew up, Ashburton, Forest Park and then over to Edmondson village. And then beneath Edmondson.

MARC STEINER: My old neighborhood of Windsor Hill.

JILL CARTER: Yes; Windsor Hill, Beachville, Irvington.

MARC STEINER: Right.

JILL CARTER: And so you have an incredible diversity of a class divide, an economic divide, race divide, and religious divide because the district, 41st, also encompasses the largest concentration of Orthodox Jewish people except for further North around New York in this area, in the Eastern seaboard.

MARC STEINER: But what does that say about where we are politically and what you have to represent and where this country has to go? Some people have looked at you if you win this is a special election, then you have to face the election again April 28 where you’re running against a Republican who wins in this primary and then you would have to face the people who run against you to actually take over Elijah Cummings’ seat, so it’s a crazy election, but let’s talk a bit about that and what that means in terms of what are you going to fight for? Some people look at you and say, “You could become the fifth member of the squad.”

JILL CARTER: Some people say that, right? I say I was the squad before this squad because I was always sort of an independent person that found myself pushing up against powerful political leadership even here in Maryland and in the State House. So basically, I just want to represent the district well. There are issues and people always say this where there’s more that brings us together than separates us. But I can tell you a few things that mean a lot to me that that do bring this district together and from door knocking in West Baltimore as well as in Northern Baltimore County, the same thing I hear is that people are losing faith in elected officials, that they want someone they can trust. They are demoralized by a lot of what has happened here locally and nationally with elected officials.

And so I think that what I offer and what I talk about is that first I say, “I’ve been in office for about 16 years total and I don’t have any major scandals or indictments, which puts me above a lot of the fray. And then secondly, I’ve now been touted the “anti-corruption legislator” because of the University of Maryland Medical System Bill that I sponsored last year. And so what people want in all of the areas is good government that works for the people. What people want everywhere is no corruption and representation that puts people’s needs first before their own political interest. And people are kind of tired of feeling like there’s this disconnect between what their needs are and what happens when someone goes, whether it’s to the State House in Annapolis or in Washington, what the differences are. And another thing that’s very similar is our infrastructure needs are universally bad throughout the district. Our infrastructure is antiquated and we have a real opportunity to fix that.

And with the ideas, the concepts, of current infrastructure, resourcing, and the Green New Deal, we have a chance to change that and also clean up our environment and fuel our economy in the future too. But the roads are bad everywhere. The infrastructure is bad all across. Public transportation is abysmal in just about every area of this district, and so that’s another common thing. And then finally, education. People want schools that work and they want their children to be educated well. And even people that are outside of the city that I’ve talked to they say, “I wish you could do something in the city.” In fact, this is kind of funny, I’ve had a couple of people say, “Can you run for Mayor and Congress?” Because they feel a real fear about what’s going on in Baltimore City right now. They want the schools better, they want children educated.

And then I said, finally, but that wasn’t true, I think the other thing that’s universally needed everywhere is universal healthcare. Because poor people and people that don’t have good jobs, that don’t have inadequate insurance, and even older people that may even be people of means still endure difficulties with insurance companies. And so I do believe that universal healthcare is a predictive inevitability. Whether it happens this year or it takes 7, 10 years, I do think that’s where we’re going to go. And so these are the issues I think that bring people together.

MARC STEINER: So let’s talk a bit about some of these issues, the national issues you’re going to face if you go to Congress, and this is about healthcare, Medicare For All, and where you stand on that. Most of the people running in this race are for a public option or for Medicare For All, some kind of universal healthcare. How do you see that happening in a country where the difficulties it will face for at least two and a half million people who work in the private healthcare industry with other people in the hospitals that I’ve encountered in that number who are involved because of the plethora of forms that have to be filled out in every doctor’s office has to hire seven people to just do all the insurance? So how do you make that transition? How do you see Medicare For All coming to reality?

JILL CARTER: I do see having to go through a transition until we get there, but my fundamental belief is that what ever the administrative difficulties are, even when it comes to jobs, we can figure out how to still have people maintain jobs that work in the insurance industry. Now, they can work for the government entity in some way. So I don’t look at it just like, “Oh, what do we do with the jobs?” But I think that we’ve made a terrible mistake by commodifying healthcare and by favoring this idea, first of all, the one thing, and you know we hear it all the time, people say, “I like my insurance,” but even the idea that you would favor an insurance that you like versus the idea that you could have complete coverage. And so the proposal that I support most that’s now before Congress that is gaining ground, it’s had four substantive hearings in the House so far at 1384, which is sponsored by Rep. Jayapal, it’s not the Medicare that we know that’s limited right now that only older people have.

MARC STEINER: Right.

JILL CARTER: It’s a much broader idea of Medicare and it would encompass vision, hearing, longterm care, which is very important for older adults, and it will just be more encompassing, including what people really are concerned about too, is mental health care. So I think we moved there in steps and I think it’s possible to do. But, of course, like most things that we plan to do, it’s going to really depend on who becomes the next President. Just about every President on the Democrat side except one is saying they favor moving toward universal healthcare.

MARC STEINER: So other issues facing … Well, before we go back to Congress here, I want to talk about Congress in, let’s say, places like Baltimore City and what you fight for as a Congresswoman in this city. People are talking about all these law and order kind of resolutions to what we face. People are terrified of violence and crime in the city, there’s no question about it, but there’s also where it comes from, which is the embedded poverty out of racism and people losing their jobs and being stuck in dystopian worlds so people don’t even stand if you don’t live in them and walk through them or spend time with them. So what would you say to that if you were in U.S. Congress?

JILL CARTER: So part of why we have the difficulty that we have and really the horrific divide we have in Baltimore which is a root cause of the crime is because of the bad decisions that were made in the past. And so I do know, I fully understand, that most people’s knee jerk reaction is, let’s resource law enforcement, let’s improve law enforcement. I don’t believe that that is the number one solution or even the first priority. I think the first priority is to work toward bringing more equity. And I also think that violence prevention programs that work are important and I do understand that people initially when they hear that they’re like, “Oh, programs, programs.”

But no, the truth is there are really evidence tested programs that work that are violence intervention and they’ve never been adequately funded and resourced. And so one of the things I’m even doing right now this year in the State along with the delegate Brooke Lierman is we are sponsoring an expansion of money for violence intervention programs in Baltimore City. That’s one thing. But the other thing is everything is interrelated and we live in intersectionality, and so we’re talking about the disinvestment in communities where for at least 20 if not 30 years the illegal drug trade has been the economic engine of many neighborhoods and we’re talking about inadequate schools.

When I first came into Legislature, the legislative body had just passed a Thornton, you may recall, and it stemmed from a case, Bradford versus State, which exposed the inequitable unconstitutional underfunding of Baltimore City public schools. Yet the solution for the legislature was to pass Thornton, which dealt with all jurisdictions but still continued to underfund Baltimore City. I say that to say that we’ve never been, I would say, honestly taking on these issues of inequity. And I think that I’m not here to say, “Well, when I get to the Congress I’m going to force that to happen,” but I do think I continue to move the needle a little bit further in dealing with these issues.

Another thing that I see as an option or a possibility as a Congresswoman is for the entire time that I’ve been in the State Legislature, I’ve noticed that our congressional delegation has a lot of leverage. We give them a lot of deference when it comes to guiding us in a certain direction. And so I think that to the extent I could have influence on our local and state leaders when it comes to how to prioritize the resources that are directed from the Congress, I think that’s something that I look very much forward to. And I’ve been touted as a more progressive candidate than many of the others and so my drives, my guidance, and my pushes are going to be in a more progressive direction than probably what we’ve had in the past.

MARC STEINER: So a couple of quick questions and we’re going to have to conclude. We just finished this impeachment process. Do you think it was a waste of time? What would you have done if you were in the U.S. Congress when this was going on, and where do you think this is going to take us?

JILL CARTER: I would have done the same thing that the other Democrats did. I would have voted, if I were in the House, I would’ve voted for the impeachment. But I have to be honest with you, this is reminds me of a lot of things that I’ve kind of deferred with the Democrat establishment here. Yeah, I would’ve gone ahead because I actually do think the situation warranted it, but what I do know is that somebody walking down Pennsylvania Avenue right now doesn’t really care about Donald Trump and the impeachment. They don’t really care.

JILL CARTER: Or let me say, walking down Hilton Street or Liberty Heights, that is not their number one concern and I don’t think they want their Congress person going to Washington and focusing solely on that. They care about what’s happening right there, as you mentioned, in their neighborhood. They care about the, the grime and the crime. They care about the lack of opportunity and options. They care about all the dilapidated housing. They want someone that’s going to use their latitude and they’re leverage in the Congress to fight to bring resources back to the district. And there is an ability to do that in Congress more so than someone can do in the State level.

MARC STEINER: So do you see the New Green Economy as part of that?

JILL CARTER: Absolutely.

MARC STEINER: You’ve mentioned that in your campaigns.

JILL CARTER: It has to be. I mean, I know that we are woefully undereducated about the climate crisis, including me. I mean, it’s taken me several years, maybe multiple years when I first heard about it. Many years ago, I too was like, “I’ve got other things to deal with.” But I do believe that we are in a crisis and that we have to do something if we want to save life on the planet. But the good news is that as we work towards fixing it, we also have a chance to rebuild our… I say infrastructure a lot. Rebuild housing, rebuild transportation, rebuild a lot of things that will give people opportunities and chances to work. So we clean up our environment and we also create a new economy too.

That’s a global view and it’s going to take a lot of filling in. It’s going to take a lot of figuring out specifically how that works, for example, for Baltimore. But we know it has to work because look at our city. I mean it’s been decades now of row after row, block after block of housing that is completely abandoned and, and it’s worthless, no value because it’s just taking up space and attracting all kinds of undesirable things. We could be putting people in homes, in clean green homes, and we could be hiring people and employing people to rebuild our city.

MARC STEINER: So finally, Jill, let’s talk a little about your closing thoughts here. Tomorrow morning, we go to the polls, we’ll be at the polls all day long in the 7th District. And we don’t know how big the turtle is going to be, but what are your final thoughts?

JILL CARTER: My final thoughts are, we don’t have a woman in our delegation and it’s 2020. And yes, we have had some before, but we need gender equity and we do know that when women are an office that we tend to tackle and take on and champion issues in a different way than men. This is scientific. It’s not me just saying it. Science has shown that when women are in office they tend to focus more on things that affect mothers, children and families, and quality of life issues, and also bring more resources to their constituencies. And so I think we need a woman because we have an all male delegation.

I also think we don’t just need any woman, but we need someone such as myself that’s rooted in the community. I was born here, raised here, educated here, and I’ve served here. But even more than that, I love the district. I love the city. I would never leave, never. Because people have asked me over the years, and this is my home. This is the home. And if I can just take the liberty of saying, this is the home where I grew up as a little girl believing that one day we would have equity and equality and that we would have a beautiful society, and I thought that because I grew up with people like my father, Walter P. Carter, that was fighting for it. I grew up with Parren J. Mitchell. I grew up with Vernon Dobson. I grew up with people that were working every day using their lives to make that happen. Now, once some of them were gone, the ball–I would say–got dropped a bit.

And it’s time that we pick it up. It’s time that we continue on. I would have never been able to believe and I don’t think they would have been able to fathom that we would be where we are right now in this area in 2020. So I’m hoping that people will vote for me because I have a strong track record of, one, being trustworthy and, one, always putting people first before even my own political interest and that’s what we need. I believe we need someone that’s going to fight and champion for people and not just be there to have a title or to go to nice perceptions or get a nice office because they’re in favor with the leadership.

MARC STEINER: So thank you, State Senator Jill Carter. Good to have you with us here. Tomorrow is election day, February the 4th; reminding all of you out there who are in Maryland who are in the 7th District, if you’re going to vote tomorrow, you can register tomorrow at the polls and vote. You don’t always already have to be registered. So get out there and vote. We’ve had a conversation with Jill Carter. It is an important election.

And I’m Marc Steiner here with The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us. Take care.


Marc Steiner

Managing Editor

Marc Steiner, interim co-Editor at TRNN, is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on issues of social justice. He walked his first picket line at age 13 and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested for Civil Rights protests, in the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught Theatre for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993 through 1997 his signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR – which Marc co-founded – and Morgan State University’s WEAA.