On the first day of interviews with Maryland gubernatorial candidates, former state senator Bobby Zirkin sat down with Democratic candidate Jon Baron, a nonprofit executive, former congressional staffer, and former federal appointee with experience under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The hour-long interview, which took place on December 6th at the Inscape Theater at the Stevenson University Greenspring Valley Campus in Baltimore County, was live-streamed, recorded, and is widely available to MSBA members and Marylanders across the state looking to learn more about the candidates’ vision and platform. During his time with Zirkin, Baron, a lifelong Montgomery County resident, gave his take on a number of hot topics and policy proposals at the center of his campaign.  

Among other things, Baron noted that his evidence-based policy approach is what the state needs “to make progress” on issues like stagnant wages, poverty, education, and public safety. On the topic of education, Zirkin asked whether the candidate agreed or disagreed with any of the legislature’s Blueprint education reform recommendations, and while Baron expressed general support for the Blueprint framework, including an increase in education spending, he also noted that an evidence-based approach was critical to ensuring the effective implementation of the Blueprint reforms. Recounting prior education reforms that called for an increase in education spending during the 2000s, Baron noted that those efforts “did not result in improved outcomes for students and so this time . . . it really is absolutely critical that we focus like a laser beam on programs and policies that have been tested and shown [to be] effective.”

Without commenting on specific recommendations from the Blueprint study, Baron pointed to tutoring, career academies, and certain charter schools as effective means for addressing shortfalls in the education system and increasing college attendance. On the effectiveness of charter schools, Baron explained that “there are certain types of charter schools that have been shown to be very effective.” For example “KIPP charter schools in particular . . . have been shown to increase, for minority students in very low income areas, reading and math achievement, school-wide by about 5 to 10 percentile points and have long-term effects like increasing college attendance by about 6 percentage points.”

Turning the conversation to criminal justice reform and public safety, Zirkin asked about the stubbornly high murder rate in Baltimore City and what should be done to address the issue in the long term and short term. Baron noted his general support for Baltimore City’s focused deterrence strategy, which aims to reduce crime by conveying incentives for avoiding violence and deterrents for engaging in violence. Baron said that as governor his administration would “help provide the resources to ensure [the strategy’s] success,” in Baltimore City and surrounding areas. Baron also highlighted his support for drug treatment courts as an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders and functional family therapy to reduce criminal activity by youths in the community. 

On the issue of evictions during the pandemic, Baron acknowledged his general support for the right to counsel for renters in eviction cases and the use of federal money to fund a right to counsel program in Maryland. He also expressed the “need for balance” to ensure landlords continue participating in the state’s economy. 

Baron wrapped up the conversation by indicating that a more targeted approach to policy is what the state of Maryland needs to “zero in on solutions that are tested and shown [to be] effective” in addressing issues like stagnant wages, poverty, education, and public safety among others. He also noted that without an evidenced-based approach, there runs a risk of funding too many “well-meaning programs . . . that unfortunately don’t deliver” meaningful results for Marylanders.   

You can view Jon Baron’s entire interview here