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John King Jr., former Obama education secretary, enters race for governor of Maryland

Former U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr., a Democrat, is launching a campaign for governor of Maryland, joining a nascent but growing field of candidates vying to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the 2022 election.

King, who served as education secretary during former President Barack Obama’s second term, said he would run as a progressive candidate for the governorship focused on expanding state investment in education, doing more to combat climate change, spurring growth and addressing racial inequities.

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King, 46, is the president and CEO of The Education Trust, a nonprofit aimed at closing achievement gaps for low-income and minority students. Last October, King also launched a political advocacy group — Strong Future Maryland — to back progressive policies and press state lawmakers on many of the same issues.

“I am a progressive problem solver who has been in government roles doing the work to expand opportunity for folks,” King said Monday in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.

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He said his upbringing — both of his parents died by the time King was 12 and he was later kicked out of high school before eventually earning degrees from Harvard, Yale and Columbia — shaped his view of government and politics.

“I was a kid whose life was saved by public schools — by high-functioning public institutions — that made all the difference in my life when my parents passed away when I was a kid,” King said. “I believe that, as governor, I can ensure that state government is a force for good in people’s lives and creating opportunity to all Marylanders and giving all people the kinds of chance that I got.”

Before joining the Obama administration, King served as New York’s state commissioner of education from 2011 to 2015. He began his career as a civics and history teacher in New York City, Puerto Rico and Boston, and also worked as a principal and school administrator.

King, who lives in Silver Spring, said he and his family chose to settle in Maryland and pointed to his public policy advocacy work as evidence of his commitment to the state. He also noted older family connections to the state: His great-grandfather, King said, was enslaved in Maryland less than 25 miles from his current home, and his grandmother was among the early graduates of what is now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in the 1890s.

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King joins several other Democrats who have publicly announced their candidacy to replace Hogan.

Democratic State Comptroller Peter Franchot of Montgomery County was the first to jump into the race, declaring his intentions in January 2020. Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who was runner-up for the Democratic nomination in 2018 to Ben Jealous, said earlier this month that he will make another run.

Democrat Ashwani Jain of Montgomery County, who held several positions in the Obama White House, announced a run in January. And Jon Baron of Montgomery County, who works in public policy with a philanthropic organization, added his name last month to the list of Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls.

Several other prominent Democrats are also weighing campaigns, including current Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler of Montgomery County and former Democratic National Committee chair and U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, also of Montgomery County. So too are author Wes Moore of Baltimore and current U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, who lost to Hogan in 2014 and now represents parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties in Congress.

Republican Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, who lives in Frederick County, announced her candidacy last week. Republican Michael Steele of Prince George’s County, who served as lieutenant governor under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and also led the Republican National Committee, told The Sun last week that he’s “taking a hard, serious look” at a run himself.

Maryland voters skew overwhelmingly Democratic, with Democrats regularly dominating national elections in the state — President Joe Biden carried the state by 33 points last November — and holding supermajorities in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly. But Democrats have stumbled in the race for the governor’s mansion in the state, losing three of the past five elections.

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