What I Heard from Voters in Frederick County

After seeing how dedicated the Frederick County Democrats are, it’s no surprise the percentage of registered Democrats there has increased in recent years. My wife, Jessica, and I had a wonderful time at the party’s office on Saturday after its Central Committee chair, Deborah Carter, invited me to meet with voters about the issues that are important to them. What a thoughtful, committed group. They’re proud Democrats with strong opinions and enormous interest in the upcoming election for Maryland’s next governor. We covered a range of topics during our two-hour conversation.

Economic issues are particularly important to a number of people. They’re concerned about the big box stores taking away business from smaller, local retailers. This was a challenge before the pandemic, but Covid has made things even worse, they said, creating downward pressure on wages. One person told me there are very few people who both live and work in Frederick, and the lack of affordable housing leads to traffic congestion as people commute to and from work. Some would like the D.C. Metro to run to Frederick and say the next governor should approve policies that spur more local jobs and make it possible for people to work close to where they live.

Another person stressed the importance of campaign finance reform and tax equity, saying that Maryland’s graduated income tax isn’t nearly as graduated as it should be. I absolutely agree we need a tax system where the wealthy pay their fair share. I also told the group I support generous relief aid for small businesses as they recover from the losses of the pandemic and explained that we should provide other types of assistance to help these businesses grow. As one example, I pointed to a program that I helped get enacted into law when I worked for the House Small Business Committee. It provides funding to small technology companies so they can create new jobs and products. The program has brought roughly $200 million to Maryland alone.

Education was also a big topic of conversation, particularly high-stakes, standardized testing and what one person called Frederick County’s “obsession” with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). That person told me, kids will go “three years through English classes, and they will not be assigned a single novel because [novels are not] on the test.” Instead, classes focus on reading “non-fiction because that is STEM.” Another person put it this way: “We’ve certainly become overdependent on testing and teaching to the test…. But you do need some overall assessment of student performance as a county or as a school; you need some way to measure that.” I agree about the overreliance on tests, and think we need to focus more effort on programs and practices that ensure all kids get a well-rounded education and the help they need to succeed. See this post in which I briefly describe a few proven, effective programs that would make a real difference for students.

I also heard from a person who came to ask questions on behalf of the immigrant community. In particular, they wanted to know how I would support immigrants who, as this person said, are often excluded from policies and programs. Hardworking immigrants contribute to our communities in so many ways. On the person’s specific question of stimulus funding for immigrants, I believe that if they pay taxes and meet the other eligibility criteria, they should get a direct payment — just like anyone else.

Like most of the people in the room on Saturday, I’m a lifelong Democrat. In fact, one person told me he remembers me from our college days, when I was signing people up on campus for the Rice University Democratic Caucus! I’m grateful to all those who came out to speak with me and to the Frederick County Democrats for hosting the get-together. I hope I gave everyone a sense of where I stand on the issues they care about, and I certainly appreciated the opportunity to learn what’s on their minds. If you have thoughts about these issues or others, I’d love to hear them. Please visit my website at JonBaron.com, comment below or send me an email at Jon@JonBaron.com.

Dad, husband, former non-profit executive, nationally-recognized policy expert and proud Marylander.