Here come the millennial candidates – and gone is the day when they will be told to wait their turns.
31-year-old Ashwani Jain, a former Obama-Biden administration appointee who ran unsuccessfully in 2018 for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council, announced he’s running for Maryland governor.
Jain is a Democrat and cancer survivor who hails from the ultra-wealthy enclave of Potomac, Md. He is the son of Indian immigrants who own and operate a small business.
Mr. Jain’s gubernatorial website homepage points out that, if elected in 2022, he will become the nation’s “first millennial Governor” and Maryland’s “first governor of color.”
Mr. Jain has never before held elected office – but Marylanders like him “are tired of a broken system” and waiting their turn, his campaign website says.
“The world has changed and our politics needs to adapt. It’s time for (sic) to change the narrative of who deserves a seat at the table,” Jain says on his website.
Jain’s website enumerates several positions he held as a political appointee when working for former President Barack Obama’s administration, including a stint at the White House Office of Personnel and, later, then-Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr’s. Outreach Director for the Cancer Moonshot initiative. Mr. Jain, while working for Mr. Obama, also worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as an associate director of external affairs.
Mr. Jain’s website touts a previous endorsement from then-Vice President Joe Biden, becoming “the only candidate in Maryland” whom the future president endorsed that election cycle.
However, Mr. Biden, in July 2018, publicly endorsed former NAACP chief Ben Jealous’s Maryland gubernatorial race, citing his confidence in Jealous’s ability to “build an inclusive economy that works for everyone.”
Then-Vice President Biden wasn’t the only former high-ranking Obama official (and future presidential candidate) to endorse Mr. Jain’s Montgomery County Council run.
Julián Castro – President Obama’s second Housing and Urban Development Secretary – endorsed Jain’s at-large Council bid at an Oct. 2017 private campaign event held in Potomac. Mr. Jain’s professional resume also includes a stint as the deputy White House liaison at HUD, where he interfaced directly with Castro.
Mr. Castro ran unsuccessfully for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, ending his presidential campaign on Jan. 2, 2020.
Highlights from Jain’s policy platform
He says he’s running for “two main reasons,” which include making state government “more representative, transparent, and accountable” and focusing his time on a “Relief, Recovery and Reform” agenda.
Among his policy recommendations, Jain zeros in on “banning corruption” in state government.
“The Governor, Lt. Governor and agency heads from owning stocks or serving on for-profit corporate boards while in office” as well as implementing a “4-year lobbying ban for the Governor, Lt. Governor and agency heads from becoming corporate lobbyists after they leave their positions,” Jain says.
Mr. Jain says he will fund his policy proposals with short and long-term solutions.
In the short-term, he supports legalizing medicinal cannabis to “generate millions of dollars to invest in the needs” of Maryland, and he proposes legalizing “chair-store liquor sales,” which, he says, “could generate up to $200 million in direct economic benefit.”
A 2018 Friends of White Flint questionnaire asked Montgomery County Council candidates whether alcohol sales in the County should be privatized or continue to be managed by local government.
Mr. Jain’s response did not directly call for abolishing Montgomery County’s liquor monopoly; he instead questioned how to make “the DLC run better” and pondered whether Montgomery County could “create an ecosystem that benefits both our county employees, our business owners, and our residents.”
He later suggested revisiting a 2015 Council bill “that would have allowed private distributors to sell certain ‘specialty’ products such as craft beer and fine wine that the DLC does not regularly stock.”
In the long-term, Mr. Jain said his state funding proposals would include “supporting measures such as collective bargaining and paid leave.”
He recommends “investing in commerce centers, expanding public school apprenticeships,” reforming Maryland’s tax code, “and prioritizing corporate-social responsibility.”
Criminal Justice Reform
On reforming Maryland’s criminal justice system, Mr. Jain proposes banning chokeholds, ending the “money-bail system” and solitary confinement. He endeavors to end extreme criminal sentencing for children.
Jain says he would reallocate public safety funds “to expand necessary services” that would reduce the need for police officers “to respond to incidents with mentally ill individuals or incidents involving “ongoing social work issues.”
As governor, Mr. Jain would “make it a priority to prevent police departments in the state from cooperating with ICE for non-violent offenders.” He says Maryland should only deport “undocumented foreign nationals who have committed violent crimes and pose a threat to public safety.”
Jain on transportation
Mr. Jain would push a “comprehensive transit and road infrastructure plan” that reduces traffic congestion and pollution, providing, he says, “greater security, accessibility and connectivity” for all Maryland residents.
He stands opposed to the Hogan administration’s long fought-over keystone traffic relief plan – the I-495 and I-270 P3 Program – which is designed to reduce beltway congestion in the National Capital Region by enlisting the help of private contractors to “design, build, finance, operate and maintain improvements” on Interstates 270 and 495.
Mr. Jain’s website says Hogan’s P3 plan is “flawed, and it provides “no specific information” on traffic reduction.
However, a more than 18,000 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Draft Section 4(f) Evaluation for the Managed Lanes Study, prepared by the FHWA and MDOT SHA, presents significant data specifically addressing traffic mitigation solutions.
The DEIS report addresses regional economics, and it presents a startlingly bleak picture of stymied growth if regional traffic congestion remains at its current levels.
Mr. Jain is seemingly opposed to constructing an additional bridge over the Chesapeake Bay and instead suggests investing in “low-impact alternatives,” such as “ferries and designated bus lanes to quicker connect Eastern and Western Shore residents.”
Jain on education
On education, invariably a top policy issue for most Maryland gubernatorial candidates, Mr. Jain proposes using empty school buses as public hotspots as a means to expand broadband services to low-income communities.
Maryland currently has “several student loan forgiveness programs that are specific to just the State of Maryland,” according to the website The College Investor.
Mr. Jain proposes student loan forgiveness for Marylanders who pursue a teaching career, though he doesn’t provide specifics into his plan.
He proposes a statewide plan that would require teachers only to complete 60 college credits – the equivalent to an Associate’s Degree, he said – to “ease educational requirements.”
He says if elected governor, he will “fight to ensure” the Kirwan Commission recommendations “are passed and enforced;” in addition, he pledges to push for a statewide universal pre-kindergarten program.
Two of Mr. Jain’s more controversial education proposals call for eliminating all school resource officers (SROs) and opposing school privatization.
“Our schools should not feel like a prison,” Jain says, “and students should not be policed.”
He proposes replacing school resource officers with social workers and counselors – a policy change, he says, that places a “higher priority on mental health and wellness.”
Mr. Jain says he is “deeply opposed” to school privatization and fears handing over “our prestigious school system to private contractors,” which he believes could indebt teachers “to a corporation rather than the children and parents of our state.”
Though his gubernatorial platform claims to oppose school privatization, Mr. Jain holds a master’s degree in political management from The George Washington University, a private research university located in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Jain also holds a dual undergraduate degree in political science and business management from the University of Maryland, a public land grant university operated by the state.
Money in Politics
Mr. Jain is quoted on his website homepage refusing to wait his turn, ostensibly referring to launching a gubernatorial bid, when Maryland still “has not done enough to get money out of politics.”
In 2018, 57 candidates for Montgomery County executive and the Montgomery County Council opted into the public financing program. 24 candidates ultimately raised enough money to receive matching funds, and six of the nine winning candidates for county executive and county council participated in the county’s new public financing program.
Montgomery County candidates who used the public financing system in 2018 committed to only accepting contributions of $150 or less. Those that met qualifying thresholds were eligible to receive matching funds.
Mr. Jain opted to use traditional financing over Montgomery County’s new public financing system at the time, raising $233,000, of which $47,000 was a personal investment.
In traditional financing, the law allows individual candidate contributions up to $6,000 each.
At the time, Mr. Jain said he was “fortunate to have a lot of friends and family” who believed in him and supported his campaign. He said at the time that he supports the public financing system and refused to take money from corporations and developers.
Montgomery County’s public financing system was set up to enable more small-dollar donors and fewer campaign contributions from wealthy donors and corporations.
According to a Maryland Public Interest Research Group Foundation analysis, the new public financing program largely delivered on its promise, which found that small donors were empowered to donate to their candidates of choice, ultimately leveling the playing field between incumbents and new candidates.
A crowded Democratic field
Mr. Jain is now the second Democrat to announce a 2022 gubernatorial bid publicly. He joins state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) as the only other declared Democrat in the race.
Two former Obama cabinet officials ― former Labor secretary Tom Perez and former Education Secretary John B. King Jr. ― are said to be eying a gubernatorial run.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks and Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. are also considering bids. U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) and Rep. David J. Trone (D-Md.) are both looking at the race, and former Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler could launch a second gubernatorial run in 2022.
Only one Republican so far – Maryland County political activist Robin Ficker, a former state delegate – has announced his intention to succeed popular Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.
Two high-ranking Hogan officials – Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) and state Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz – are rumored to be eyeing a gubernatorial run. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said he is exploring a bid for governor, state comptroller, or Congress.