FROSTBURG — When Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jon Baron traveled to Frostburg last week for a dinner, he took some time to discuss some of his ideas and what made him decide to run for governor.
“Statewide, the poverty rate in Maryland is 9 percent,” he said. “You know what it was in 1995? It was 9 percent. … In education, more than a quarter of middle school students in Maryland can’t read at a basic level. More than a third can’t do basic math. You know what those numbers were 20 years ago? They were the same.”
Baron also spoke of the worst drug abuse epidemic in Maryland history, with the fourth-highest overdose death rate in the country.
“It seems like for these longstanding problems, everybody’s had a new plan to solve them. But it’s decades later, and we’re still mired in the same problems that are harming the lives of millions of people in the state,” he said. “Clearly, we need a very different approach, and … that’s what I’m offering.”
Baron said he’s been on a mission throughout his career to find effective new ways to solve the country’s toughest challenges.
He served in the Clinton administration, but then left government and founded a nonprofit that he says “pioneered a different way forward, rigorously testing many different solutions and then expanding those that were most effective.”
Baron noted that his nonprofit worked with the Bush and Obama administrations on a bipartisan basis to get major reforms enacted into law that produced big gains in education, earnings and healthcare.
“Most recently, I headed the largest philanthropic initiative in the country that identifies and expands proven, effective social programs in education and other areas,” he said. “So now it’s time to bring this evidence-based approach that I’ve spearheaded to Maryland. When I’m governor, we will do what’s proven to work.”
One example that Baron outlined involves providing high-quality tutoring to every struggling first- and second-grader in the entire state of Maryland. He said it’s been shown that prevention is very effective early in school before problems become serious in later grades.
“We will do it by recruiting and training people in the community, including retirees and recent college graduates, who become tutors for a modest stipend as a public service,” he said.
Another example that he marked as of particular relevance to Western Maryland and Garrett County involves a partnership with businesses across the state to provide effective job training to every young adult in Maryland who wants to advance.
“Studies show many job training programs, including the largest one in Maryland currently, are not effective,” he said. “But certain types of programs really are. They can increase earnings as much as 40 percent.”
Baron said the key is to focus the training on fast-growing industries like information technology or healthcare and to work very closely with local businesses to design the training. The businesses then provide paid internships to the trainees.
“So under my plan, the state pays for the training, the businesses pay for the internships, the economy gets skilled workers — everybody benefits,” he said.
He noted that this could be an important tool for economic development in Western Maryland.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Baron said. “If we simply continue on our current course, we’ll be here in another 20 years and nothing will have changed. To make progress, we have to zero in on solutions like the ones I’ve described that are tested and proven. That’s why I’m running for governor.”
He noted that the tagline of his campaign is “Let’s do what works.”
Baron stated that he is campaigning in all 23 counties and Baltimore City, including Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties.
“All parts of the state are important to me,” he said.
Baron said he also understands that broadband is extremely important and critical to job training and many other things, so it would be a priority in his administration.
“All the candidates want to improve education and wages and healthcare and the rest,” he said. “The way that I’m different is that I recognize that to achieve those goals, it’s not enough to roll out yet another unproven plan. … So to make progress, we have to focus like a laser beam on programs that have been tested in the real world and shown effective, like the ones I’ve described, but there are other examples.”
Baron is from Montgomery County and has been married to his wife, Jessica, for 26 years. They have two sons, Nathan and Nick.