Putting Community First: A Leader’s Highest Calling

062014_oped_ganslerJust a few nights from now I will be standing on a stage, hopefully as Maryland’s Democratic nominee for governor, in front of the hundreds of supporters who made my campaign possible. Win or lose, I will be standing tall, proud to have committed my career to public service and proud to have brought onstage with me — along with my friends and family — the same core set of values and beliefs that have always driven my desire to give back to Maryland and its people. The very foundation of those values is my Jewish identity and the guiding principles it has imparted on me.

As a teenager, I had the great fortune to work on a kibbutz in Israel. It was there that I first experienced the rewards of putting your community before yourself. In my 22 years of public service — as an assistant U.S. attorney under President Bill Clinton, as state’s attorney of the largest jurisdiction in Maryland and as attorney general — I’ve embraced putting community first, fighting for what is fair and right. Sometimes that fight is on behalf of the entire Maryland community, such as securing more than $1.5 billion in foreclosure relief from big banks to keep tens of thousands of Marylanders in their homes and going after large corporate polluters of our bay and our air and winning the largest environmental settlement in Maryland’s history. Sometimes that fight is on behalf of particular communities in Maryland, such as intervening in the anti-competitive merger of two big Jewish funeral home conglomerates to ensure the availability of reasonably priced Jewish funerals. In every case, I stand up to put people and their community ahead of powerful interests.

As I’ve taken on fights for Marylanders, I’ve stayed close to my Jewish roots, serving on the board of the JCC of Greater Washington for the past 15 years and using my role as the president of the National Association of Attorneys General to raise awareness about issues that hit close to home for the Jewish community. I brought all 50 of our country’s attorneys general on a tour of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and I also led a delegation of attorneys general to Israel, where we met with President Shimon Peres and other members of the Knesset. I also used my platform as attorney general to push states to take action on Iran, including writing an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that stressed the need for coordinated state-level sanctions against Iran. There I argued that we as states have a moral obligation to ensure that taxpayer-funded contracts are not awarded to companies that do business with a regime that consistently violates international law and threatens fellow Jews abroad.

Maryland as a state also has a moral obligation to do more for its people. Having served two terms as a defender of downtrodden Marylanders, I have seen too much evidence of ways the current approach to governing is failing them. Over the last seven years, our state’s economy has been mortgaged on the backs of the people of Maryland, thanks to 40 straight tax increases. Current leaders said these were necessary to achieve growth, but our state had literally no economic growth last year. None. If that wasn’t enough, our state continues to rank as one of the top 10 most violent states in the country, and our schools continue to exhibit some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation. We need new leadership to strengthen our economy and our communities.

As governor I will make a stronger, job-creating economy our state’s top priority. Our current administration is losing valuable jobs and businesses by refusing to be competitive. I will make Maryland competitive by offering new incentives for in-state job creation and by gradually reducing our corporate tax rate to match that of neighboring states like Virginia, starting with a .25 percent decrease in my first year in office. The common-sense steps I have proposed can grow our state’s economy, but they are steps my opponents refuse to embrace.

As governor I will also strengthen our communities. When it comes to public safety, this means building better ties with law enforcement. As state’s attorney for Montgomery County, I implemented a “community prosecution” model, assigning prosecutors to specific neighborhoods so that they could build lasting relationships with citizens and police in those areas and then work collaboratively to drive down crime. If we want to empower our communities to tackle crime, we need to implement this model statewide, so that our communities can work alongside law enforcement.

Another key to strengthening our communities is improving our schools. Although our public schools are ranked highly overall, they are also ranked second in the nation for the achievement gap between low-income students and wealthier students. This is not fair to our kids. From the beginning of my campaign I’ve called for expanding affordable access to pre-K, starting with our state’s neediest families. I’ve also proposed revamping the way our schools reward our teachers, ensuring that our most skilled and effective teachers are better supported and compensated. These reforms can go a long way toward improving opportunities for our children.

My ideas for Maryland’s future are not poll driven, they are community driven. Since my first election 16 years ago, I’ve based my leadership not on popularity or winning re-election but on the principle that putting community first, and standing up for what is fair and right, is the highest duty of a leader. It is something I have carried with me through my entire life, from growing up in the Jewish community in Montgomery County to my time on the kibbutz in Israel and now as I seek to become governor.

It is with great humility that I ask you, the members of the Jewish community, to come out and support me on June 24 to ensure you have a governor who is always on the side of you, the great people of the state of Maryland.

The writer, Maryland’s attorney general, is a Democratic candidate for governor.

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