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‘We have a structural problem in the Democratic Party’: Maya Rockeymoore Cummings takes helm of Maryland party

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, new head of the Maryland Democratic Party,  talks about her plans for the party's future. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)

Maryland Democrats had a largely successful election performance this November, gaining seats in the state House of Delegates and upsetting some prominent Republican county executives.

But the Democratic Party got shellacked in the competition for the state’s top prize: the race for governor in which Republican Larry Hogan easily cruised to re-election.

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In the wake of Hogan’s victory, Democrats ousted state party Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews on Dec. 1 and elected Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, a public policy consultant, to lead them as they attempt to take back the governorship in four years.

Cummings is the founder and CEO of the firm Global Policy Solutions. She is married to U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.

The Baltimore Sun interviewed Rockeymoore Cummings last week in her office in North Baltimore’s Old Goucher neighborhood. These questions and answers have been edited for space and clarity.

Q: Tell us about your vision for the Democratic Party in Maryland.

A: It’s to go deep. We’re going to build an infrastructure that will help Democrats win the future. It’s important that Maryland families are protected and their well-being expanded. I happen to believe Democratic policies are an important part of assuring that.

Under your leadership, what will be different in the Democratic Party in Maryland from the way the party operated in the past?

There will be more on-ramps into participation. Currently, a lot of people don’t know how to participate in the Democratic Party. And yet we’ve got enough work to go around for everybody to be involved. … We’re looking to be a broad, inclusive party.

What made you decide to run for party chairwoman?

I felt very strongly that I was the right person at the right moment at the right time in the history of this party. I think we’re at a critical moment. The party needs somebody like me who has worked with the progressive wing of the party, who has worked with the traditional wing of the party, who knows the policy issues on multiple fronts.

Let’s talk about the last election. It was a pretty good election for Democrats in Maryland — except for one, very big race. What do you think went wrong in the governor’s race, and what would you have done differently?

There was so much that went wrong that there’s enough blame to go around. I’m not pointing fingers at any individual or institution. What I am saying is that we have a structural problem in the Democratic Party. We have an increasingly diverse primary electorate. The kinds of candidates they’re sending out to the general are not traditional to Maryland. And what we’ve seen over the course of three of the last five elections is those candidates get nullified by a significant chunk of the Democratic electorate voting for a Republican. … It’s a hurdle I strongly believe we can overcome.

There was so much that went wrong that there’s enough blame to go around.


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How do you convince those Democrats who voted for Hogan to come back to the party?

Larry Hogan is probably a decent gentleman. However, Republican policies and the policies he has stood for are undermining the city of Baltimore, the region and the state. To go from No. 1 to No. 5 or 6 in education? We’re all losing. … To say we can’t make sure all people are covered with health insurance? We can do better. It might not be single-payer at the state level, but certainly we can get to universal coverage in this state. (Amelia Chassé, a spokeswoman for Hogan, responded, “Marylanders are sick and tired of divisive, partisan rhetoric. The voters made it clear they want to see common-sense, bipartisan solutions, which is how Governor Hogan has and will continue to lead.”)

About 94 percent of Marylanders currently have health care coverage. Is the party going to be advocating for any specific policy to cover those last 6 percent?

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We’re going to be developing a party platform. We’ll work out the details.

Does the party have a platform right now?

No.

So, it’s just been functioning as a support system for incumbent or prospective lawmakers and their individual ideas?

I’m not even sure it’s done that. If you ask legislators if they’ve been served by the party, I think you’ll get a variety of responses. My goal is to strengthen the party apparatus in a way where all stakeholders feel supported.

Will the platform need to be somewhat vague in order to be a “big-tent party?”

Platforms tend to be that. I am sure in the process we’ll have people advocating for every kind of policy. Just looking at health care, you’ve got a whole range of policy options there. There will be a robust debate. While we might differ on the substance of the policy options, we all share the same common values.

When should we expect this platform to be finalized?

It’s going to take about a year. We’re going to do listening tours around the state. We’ll have surveys. We’ll have webinars. We’ll have a negotiated final product.

What can the party do to stop a governor, though, if he’s going to do something like, say, kill the Red Line light rail project in Baltimore?

The party can educate, educate, educate. When you ask people why they like Gov. Hogan and they point to a toll reduction on a bridge? C’mon now. The party can be very aggressive about filing that gap, so nobody is ever fooled again.

I understand you and Kathleen Matthews are friends. Was it awkward to run against your friend?

We’re over it. We hugged immediately. Since we’re talking about families, all families have spats. Kathleen and I have been friends for 10 years. I highly respect her. I fully expect to ask her to take a real role in the party moving forward.

You ran for governor briefly. Is that something you might want to do again? What do you see for yourself after this role?

This will be one of the greatest and most important roles I will have in my career. Service will be the North Star that guides me. I can’t predict what will happen in the future.

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