LARGO – Last Wednesday, County Executive Rushern Baker, III made it official: he’s running for governor.
Baker was long rumored to be considering a run, even acknowledging the speculation at events such as the State of the Economy Breakfast. On June 21, his campaign sent a video to supporters and media outlets officially announcing his candidacy.
“I’m Rushern Baker, and I’m running for governor to build a future that works for all of us. Maryland must be a barrier against hate and a beacon for hope and opportunity,” he said in the video. “These fights are personal. But this campaign is about all of us. And what we can do, together.”
Among Baker’s priorities as governor are improving public education, making healthcare more affordable, and raising wages for working families, he said. He also mentioned the environment, transportation and job creation. Baker hopes to make the case that the policies he’s enacted in Prince George’s County have improved all of those areas.
“I had spent a year travelling around the state just to try and see if the things that we had done in Prince George’s County could be done elsewhere,” he said. “I was very pleased to find when I went to western Maryland or the Eastern Shore or Southern Maryland, a lot of the same issues we face in Prince George’s County, they’re facing.”
Baker credits his Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) with reducing crime to 30-year lows and his Economic Development Incentive Fund and streamlined permitting process for contributing to more than $12 billion of economic development projects in the county. The campaign announcement also points to highest-ever graduation rates in county schools, first-in-the-state rankings for recycling and waste diversion and job creation and a 61 percent jump in property values since Baker took office.
Baker also says Marylanders deserve a governor who will take the lead on national issues. Gov. Larry Hogan has been hesitant to either support or criticize President Donald Trump and his policies, and Baker sees that as another area in which he can distinguish himself.
“Leadership comes from the top, at the executive level. It’s the same way in the governor’s office. It’s about leadership in moving this state forward,” he said. “With the federal government pushing back on us, we need a governor that understands you have to lead. That’s what I haven’t seen and that’s what I hope to do.”
Some party activists also say they want someone who will “stand up and do what’s needed,” according to Jennifer Dwyer, Prince George’s County organizer with the statewide group Progressive Maryland.
“This is a very blue state and a blue county. Eighty-nine percent of residents in Prince George’s voted for Hillary Clinton,” she said. “We don’t want someone who’s going to apologize for being progressive.”
She added that education, good jobs and thriving neighborhoods are what she sees as the voters’ priorities.
“I think, in choosing from one candidate to another it will be who is staying true to what the community needs,” Dwyer said.
However, the road ahead for Baker is not necessarily an easy one. He is the third candidate to officially campaign for the Democratic nomination, behind Alec Ross, an author, founder of technology non-profit One Economy and former Obama Administration staffer, and Ben Jealous, former president of the National NAACP. Lawyer Jim Shea declared his candidacy right after Baker did. And Montgomery County Sen. Richard Madaleno has indicated he will run as well, but has not officially declared.
There is also Hogan, the current governor and a Republican, who in April was named the second most popular governor in the nation by The Morning Consult. Their poll data showed an approval rating of 73 percent, with only 16 percent disapproving.
Baker said it will be up to Hogan to show residents that his record over the past four years warrants their continued support.
“That’s why they have campaigns. That’s why they have elections. You have to make your case. And so what I think the governor’s going to have to go out and make the case to voters why he should be re-elected, what he’s done,” he said. “That’s going to be his case to make. And mine is actually going out to voters and telling them why I think I would make a good governor. ‘Here are the things I care about, here are the things that I’ve accomplished.’”
He spent his first day as an official candidate splitting his time between Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, which Baker says is a sign of his commitment to residents here.
“Prince George’s County, even if I was not from here, is too important not to pay attention to,” he said. “I will never forget that the voters of Prince George’s County elected me to be county executive. They didn’t elect me to run for governor. So my job first and foremost is to make sure that the issues and concerns of the people of Prince George’s County are taken care of.”
He pledged to remain “full throttle” on securing the FBI headquarters and Purple Line, as well as the regional hospital, moving the county administration building to Largo and TNI.
“I have great men and women that work for the resident of Prince George’s County, running our departments and serving,” he said.