On Saturday, the African American Forum of Howard County held a forum for General Assembly and a number of County offices. Due to another campaign obligation starting at 11:00 a.m., I had to leave a little early, but enjoyed the opportunity to participate and speak before a (mostly) new audience.
Similarly to earlier recaps, I'm going to focus primarily on my responses to the questions asked, although when appropriate I will work in the responses of others. Yet again, I was struck by just how fortunate Howard County is in the caliber of candidates and the command of issues these individuals display when addressing broad questions.
The first question we were asked was how should the General Assembly address Maryland's unemployment rate, which stands at 6.7% (Howard County's is 5.2%; Ellicott City's is 4.2%).
Outside of education and infrastructure improvements, which most would agree helps create jobs, strengthen the workforce, and grow the economy, I also responded that we need to do more to remove the obstacles to employment. Sick people have a hard time finding work. Those that can't afford reliable day-care have a hard time finding work. What can we do to lift these barriers or ameliorate the burdens of those who can't afford the things we take for granted?
As I've said throughout this campaign, we also need a real expungement law in Maryland. Shielding laws are an appropriate middle-ground, but the finish line remains the same. For those with misdemeanor convictions and 20 years of lawful living, there is no reason why they should have to carry a criminal record into a job interview.
The next question related to how we would work as legislators to involve citizens in the budgetary process. This touched directly on my concern for citizen engagement and I was happy to have this as an issue for discussion.
To allow for meaningful engagement, you need two things - 1) Clarity of issues, 2) Results. If you can't explain the process and underlying factual basis for decision-making, engagement is an illusion. Any engaged citizen will quickly find that their budget request will have more shelf-life if they can recommend corresponding revenue or budget-savings to pay for it. The next, much more important, element is showing citizens that engagement works. Time is valuable and engagement can quickly turn to frustration without some evidence that time was well spent. We will not agree on every issue, but we need to show citizens how their participation affected the process.
What Keeps You Up At Night?
Fascinating question. Understanding the nature of the question, my preliminary response was flooding on Main Street. I've seen things that make any heavy downpour a serious threat. I have good friends that live very close to the rivers that flow into Main Street. I know that we haven't done enough to prevent or mitigate what is really inevitable in terms of flooding along the West End and Main Street. I also know that for the second forum in a row, I was the only candidate from 9B mentioning the fact that Ellicott City floods.
But as I was writing down my answer, I thought to myself that the honest answer to what keeps me up at night is the opportunity available in a race like this. A new district for an underrepresented area with a laundry list of needs. The hope implicit in that. I told the audience that candidates rarely start a campaign because of what scares them. They run because of what inspires them; the idea that things can be better. Political discussions far too often fall into doomsday and cyncism. If we let those ideas run the conversation, we're working towards a self-fulfilling prophesy.
That's all for today! Have a great Monday doing what you love!