Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous unveiled proposals Wednesday that he said would boost the state’s economy and expand job opportunities for Marylanders.
He proposed prohibiting companies from asking about applicants’ criminal histories and increasing the minimum wage. He also proposed improving public transit to shorten workers’ commutes, expanding high-speed internet and offering government jobs to people who can’t find private employment.
Jealous visited a hair salon in Baltimore’s Lauraville neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon to promote the plan.
“Our ‘Make it in Maryland’ plan is really about making it possible for our entrepreneurs and our business people to thrive and for working people to thrive,” Jealous said outside the Chop Shop. “And at the core, what makes it different than so many other plans is our conviction, our commitment to really lift everybody up.”
Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, is a front-runner in the crowded Democratic primary for governor with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III. Baker also visited Baltimore Wednesday to open an office on North Howard Street.
Early voting begins Thursday and runs through June 21. Election Day is June 26.
Chief among Jealous’ economic priorities is increasing the state’s minimum wage — which is set to go to $10.10 per hour on July 1 — to $15 per hour by 2023. He also wants to phase out the sub-minimum wage earned by tipped workers such as waiters and waitresses.
Jealous estimated that increasing the minimum wage would help nearly 600,000 Maryland workers.
The Jealous campaign erected a gold-and-purple “Fight for $15” banner outside the salon where the candidate spoke. Fight for $15 is a coalition of labor unions and other groups pushing to increase the minimum wage.
Proposals to increase the minimum wage to $15 have not advanced in the General Assembly. Jealous said he’d use his experience to sway lawmakers. He pointed to his successful efforts to repeal the state’s death penalty when he headed the NAACP.
“In Maryland, it makes a real difference to have the governor weigh in. It also makes a big difference when you organize,” Jealous said. “On this issue in particular, we are ready to organize and with a governor who is willing to get it done, we will finally be able to win.”
The Chop Shop’s owner, Lisa Hawks, said she supports an increase to the minimum wage. She said her stylists are paid on commission. The support staff — who perform tasks such as booking appointments and sweeping hair — are paid $15.
She said paying her workers a living wage results in employees who are loyal and engaged with the business.
“You have to be willing to run a business with compassion,” she said.
Jealous wrote that Maryland is “losing ground to other states” under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
“Maryland’s economy can and will do big things again, but it will take having a governor with vision and the ability to build new, transformative coalitions across our state,” Jealous wrote in the plan.
A new Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll has found that with less than three weeks until the Democratic primary election for governor, two candidates have broken away from the crowded pack, though a huge swath of voters are undecided and haven't been paying attention to the race.
A Hogan campaign spokesman said Maryland’s economy has thrived under the governor, who does not face a challenger in the GOP primary. Spokesman Scott Sloofman said many of the concepts that Jealous is proposing have already been implemented by Hogan’s administration.
“Under Governor Hogan, our economy is thriving adding nearly 100,000 new jobs and weekly wages are the highest they’ve been in recent history,” Sloofman said. “This is why Marylanders overwhelmingly agree that our state is finally on the right track, a dramatic turnaround from when the governor took office.”
Jealous proposed creating a state office to help start business from technology developed in the state, launching a statewide summer jobs program for teenagers and improving the Port of Baltimore and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Jealous did not offer a cost estimate for his proposals, but suggested many of them would pay for themselves by boosting the economy overall.