Ben Jealous served as the former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and is in the running to become the next governor of Maryland. Jealous spoke to EBONY about the importance of getting health care to every Marylander, and why he plans to take on the president.
Why did you decide to run for governor?
I went in for the governorship to make our state a model for moving forward in the days of President Donald Trump. Under [Gov. Larry Hogan], we’re going backward. Schools [have] fallen in the national ranking every year he’s been in office, health care costs have surged 120 percent, the economy is stuck. I am running for governor to fully fund our schools, pass Medicare for all and build a robust and inclusive economy, the sort of economy I built every day as an investor in Tech for Good. We’ve invested in 150 startups and 68 percent of them have a Black, Latino or female founder.
I believe that we can do the same thing in Maryland. Our state is one of the most diverse states in the country, but when you look at which companies get government contracts, it does not reflect the gender or ethnic diversity of the state. Part of why I am running for governor is to open up our economy and get more [fairness] to it, [one in which] all of our business leaders have the opportunity to compete.
What other issues are you running on? What issues do you hear the most during your campaign?
Education and health care. My mother was 12 when she sued the local high school so she [could] desegregate it when she was 15. We’ve known since then that ZIP codes have influence over whether children get a good education. I am duly focused on finishing the work my mom and so many young people started decades ago. Ensuring every child in Maryland gets a good education these days means fully funding our schools. I’ve been endorsed by teachers all across our state; they have confidence that I will lead the state to fully fund education and stopping the massive underfunding of our schools.
The surprise on our campaign trail is the deep support for moving to Medicare for all. The folks are just tired of being overcharged in their pharmaceuticals, having family members die because they can’t afford the health care that they need. We have built a movement all across our state of [citizens] who are eager to see us take on the pharmaceutical companies, take on the health insurance companies, leverage our buying power and get a better deal for people in [Maryland].
You mentioned Medicare for all, and some reports say the cost would be $32 trillion over 10 years. What can you tell people about what that cost means, and if it is too high, then how can we lower it?
Every other major nation figured out how to make it work. . . . We have two health systems in our country: a corporate health system and Medicare. Medicare costs are stable. The management costs are much lower. And the corporate health care system … the big question is, how can we afford the status quo? The most expensive option by far is the status quo. When you actually look at how the systems operate, what you find is that the current corporate system is massively inefficient. We’re paying [more] for pharmaceuticals than what Canada pays.
The cost of managing the corporate system is astronomically high. When you look at Medicare, what you see is that we created a system that’s much more efficient [and] the costs are much more stable for covering the most expensive population in the country. Given that every other major nation has succeeded, given the success of the Veterans Administration and Medicare, we should have the confidence that we can do the same here. Similarly, reports have shown that we will also save money by shifting to a Medicare for all system.
Do you feel that people in Maryland are energized to vote?
We’re already seeing an uptick in requests for vote-by-mail ballots. I had several young men come up to me and say they’re about to vote in the midterm elections for the first time. Some of them were in their 30s. They [told me, “I’m voting this year”]. I’m very very optimistic.
Why is it important to vote in the midterm elections?
This may be the most important elections of our lives. Donald Trump is attempting to take our country backward, and his strategy for doing so is to put neighbor against neighbor and play a game of divide and conquer. This is our first opportunity since he was elected to stand up and make it clear that we intend to move forward. We have the opportunity . . . to make our states a model for how we move forward together toward a more prosperous future for all of us, no matter who’s in the White House. This is a time to turn out, show up and ensure we are electing leaders who will pass policies that will better educate our children, better care for the health of our family members and who will stand up to Trump every time he attacks our values.