Ben Jealous for governor

Maryland voters deserve a real choice in November’s election for governor, and we believe Democrat Ben Jealous provides the clearest alternative to Gov. Larry Hogan. It’s not just that the former NAACP president and CEO has the stature or political skills to run a competitive campaign against the popular and extremely well funded Republican incumbent (though he does), it’s that he presents the strongest contrast to the governor in his vision for the state. We give him our endorsement in the Democratic primary.

Voters may think of Mr. Jealous as the Bernie Sanders candidate in this race. Mr. Jealous was a prominent supporter of Senator Sanders’ presidential candidacy. He’s brought Bernie into the state, has gotten endorsements from other prominent national Democrats such as Sens. Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, and promises state versions of Senator Sanders’ best known policy proposals: a single-payer, Medicare for all health care system and free college tuition.

But that shorthand version of how he stands out from the broad and deep field of Democrats in this race belies the true nature of his campaign. Mr. Jealous did not grow up in Maryland — his parents had to leave the state because their mixed-race marriage was not legal here at the time — but he has deep roots in Baltimore and a respect for its role in the state, and his policy platform reflects that. We have a lot of questions about how Medicare for all or free tuition would work in Maryland, but on dozens of other issues, from strengthening public education to tackling the opioid crisis to reforming the criminal justice system, his proposals reflect a sophisticated understanding of the problems the state faces and the choices its leaders will have to make in the years ahead.

But being governor is about a lot more than putting out good policy papers, and it is in his leadership ability that Mr. Jealous excels. He has experience in running a large organization — he took over the NAACP at a time when its finances were in tatters and its relevance in doubt, and gave it new life and purpose. He has a proven track record of success in grassroots organizing, whether through get-out-the-vote drives in the deep South or galvanizing Marylanders around issues like the death penalty repeal, the Dream Act and marriage equality. And he has the stature and gravitas to be a leader that Marylanders turn to in difficult times.

Critics look at the seven major Democratic candidates seeking to run against Governor Hogan and conclude that the fact that none of them has emerged in the polls as a clear front-runner is indicative of a weak field. Having interviewed them all, reviewed their records and watched them in debates, we come to the opposite conclusion. There are simply too many good candidates for Democrats to choose among, and we have found much to admire about all of them.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s record of turning around his county after the scandal that sent his predecessor to prison is impressive. We have long admired state Sen. Richard Madaleno’s intellect and skills at working the levers of power in Annapolis. Attorney Jim Shea’s success in building Venable and his dedication to civic causes including education, transportation and economic opportunity are inspiring. Author/entrepreneur Alec Ross’ ability to perceive how technology and the shifting global economy will shape our future illuminates the importance of choices we make today. Former Montgomery County councilwoman Valerie Ervin, who took Kevin Kamenetz’s spot on the ballot after his sudden death, brought a fresh perspective to the race, and we wonder what she might have been able to do if given more time to develop her campaign. Former Obama administration official Krish Vignarajah — smart, charismatic and experienced — is a political star in the making. We hope and expect that we haven’t heard the last of her.

Many Democratic primary voters are probably looking at the field with an eye toward which candidate provides the party with the best chance to beat Governor Hogan. We understand that impulse, but it is not how we made our decision. Rather, we looked for the candidate who is best able to articulate a cohesive progressive vision to contrast with Mr. Hogan’s center-right policies so that voters can send a clear message in November about the direction they want the state to take, and we looked for the candidate who would best be able to govern if he or she wins. Mr. Jealous is the best choice on both counts. He has our endorsement.

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