Alec Ross helped work on Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign administration, served as a senior adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and released last year a New York Times bestselling book, “The Industries of the Future.”
Now the 46-year-old technology entrepreneur must try to convince Democrat voters in Maryland he’s the top choice among seven other gubernatorial challengers in the June 26 primary election.
His website touts various proposals that include more investments into child care, require all Maryland schools to offer computer science courses by 2022 and automatic voter registration.
A native of Charleston, West Virginia, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He touts as one of his proudest professional achievements his work as a sixth-grade teacher at Booker T. Washington Middle School, which is located in a Black neighborhood in West Baltimore.
It’s also personal because that’s where he met his future wife, Felicity, who taught in a classroom across the hall and remains a teacher in the city’s public schools’ system. All three of their children are enrolled in public schools.
Ross, the first person to declare his candidacy in April, works as a visiting fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
His impressive resume, wide-ranging ideas for Maryland and media savvy, with catchphrases such as “The rise of the rest” and “Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not,” creates interest as an outsider to Maryland politics, said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College in Towson.
However, Kromer said it is too early in the race to determine who is and isn’t a viable candidate. Campaign finance reports are due next month, which she said will allow voters to see who’s supporting each candidate.
“We are going to really see if these larger, broad visions translate into nuts-and-bolts policy,” she said. “That remains to be seen.”
The other candidates that seek to challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan are Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County, attorney James Shea and Krishanti Vignarajah, former policy director for former first lady Michelle Obama.
Ross spoke on several topics during a Dec. 13 interview in Northwest. Here are some of this thoughts, in his own words:
STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is important, but where it’s more important is when STEM education is combined with other fields like art, like music, like physical education. We have to recommit to interdisciplinary learning. We should not just be programming robots for the future. Our children are not robots and we ought not train them that way. I know for a fact that the sixth graders I taught at Booker T. Washington Middle School in West Baltimore have the same God-given talent as the people who sat across the table from me in the White House situation room. I know it. The entire school had over 800 students and not a single non-African-American student. One hundred percent African-American and 100 percent free and reduced lunch. I would have classes of 37, 38 students come in, in a tiny little classroom. The kids only get the textbook for 45 minutes a day. You can’t ask them to do homework. They couldn’t do homework. They couldn’t study. They couldn’t do anything because they only had a single set of textbooks. Now, who is going to be better prepared for tomorrow’s economy? A sixth-grader in that classroom, or a sixth-grader in a wealthier school district that has about 28 students, not 38 students? Not only are they able to take the textbooks home, but, oh, by the way, they’ve got a laptop they can do research on. The science lab actually has lab equipment. The science teacher actually understands science. There is not going to be opportunity for Black students in urban communities as long as the schools underperform. I don’t think any one thing is entirely deterministic of future success and well-being. But the thing that comes closes is education. If you have an incredible education, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be successful, but, boy, it sure does help. If you have a lousy education, it makes it really, really, really, really hard to make it. The path up begins with education.
I think the way medical marijuana was done [in Maryland] was insane. Think about the disproportionate impact of the criminalization marijuana has had on communities of color. Then look at who the license holders are for medical marijuana. People are going to make hundreds of millions of dollars and you want to know who they are going to be? Rich white guys. That’s wrong. Rich white guys are going to become richer white guys by virtue of how the licensing was done for medical marijuana. We need to go beyond the legalizing of medical marijuana and we need to legalize recreational marijuana. This was not my view a few years ago. It’s a product of my having followed the lead of people who have educated me about this. Take the $800 million a year in the marijuana market in Maryland. You take that from the gangs and you can bring it into the mainstream. You tax it [and] you regulate it. That would be an estimated $300 million a year in taxes that we could put in. Tide is turning and part of that is because of culture. The idea that marijuana would be legal 10 years ago was like, ‘What? That’s impossible.’ Now, look what’s happening. Anybody who meets the regulatory hurdle, can get a franchise. If you are African-American, if you’re Latino and you can meet the requirements, you get a franchise. The same way in which you do your liquor sales, a part of why I’m not in favor of government being in charge of having beer and liquor sales where you can have only government-controlled stores. As long as everybody follows the rules, then you are allowed to sell Budweiser. So, go ahead and sell marijuana. As long as you meet the regulations put in place for it. We can’t arrest our way out of this. We’ve got to give up on the [idea] we build jails up with young, African-Americans who have used or sold marijuana. It doesn’t work.
Criminal justice reform
One of the first things we have to do is treat the problems that we have with drugs in the state of Maryland more as a medical crisis than as a public safety or law enforcement crisis. We’ve filled up our jails with people who have substance abuse problems. We need to look at the composition of our police force. Who is on the force? The high school that my son goes to is [at least 83] percent African-American. The police don’t recruit from it. It seems to me like there is more recruitment coming from southern Pennsylvania and some of the rural counties further north [of Baltimore]. People will drive into Baltimore and do policing in Baltimore [versus] recruiting from the community. When you’ve grown up in the community, you know how to walk around the community. You know how to communicate with people. It might seem like a small thing, but I think it would make a big difference. We need to do a better job of recruiting people from the communities that they police. If you want to make war, you recruit soldiers. If you want to achieve peace, you hire peacemakers. We are hiring too many soldiers and not enough peacemakers. I’m all in favor of law enforcement officers being able to do their job. There are people who need to be arrested and go to jail. Ultimately, poverty and economic stagnation are those things which principally drive crime. Not every criminal grew up poor. Not everybody who is engaged in illicit activity lives in an environment of economic stagnation. But the very simple fact of the matter is that most do. People who are being involved in law enforcement issues tend to come from environments of hopelessness and desperation. You deal with the hopelessness and the desperation, you know what is going to follow? A decrease in crime. A job is the best social program.