Former NAACP President Ben Jealous entered the race for governor of Maryland with an honest complaint and an audacious promise. In an era when Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, and Paul Ryan are working feverishly to reverse the progress of the past century, Jealous argues that progressive states are positioned to build the framework for the progress of the coming century.
Decrying the failure of Republican Governor Larry Hogan and his statehouse allies to resist the new administration in Washington, Jealous declared in his announcement this week that “The current leadership has missed every opportunity to stand up to Donald Trump. They have let him trample over the progress our state strived to usher in. We have a rare opportunity right now and hidden inside of it, an obligation. We must bring people together across all lines, and make all forms of difference less important: whether it be race, class, region or religion.”
In that unity, argues Jealous, there is the power not just to thwart Trump and Trumpism but to shape an alternative vision for the next American politics.
Jealous faces Democratic primary competition and, if he gets the nomination, a challenging political fight with a well-financed Republican incumbent. But he enters the race with a striking résumé and an inspired agenda that is all but certain to make the Maryland contest a key measure of the national mood in 2018.
With deep roots in Maryland—his parents were Baltimore educators and civil-rights activists—Jealous speaks of uniting the state around an economic- and social-justice agenda that extends from his groundbreaking work as executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (the federation of African-American community newspapers), as director of the US Human Rights Program at Amnesty International, and as the youngest president in the history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Jealous has for years earned high praise for his organizing and coalition-building skills, which he put to work as he steered the NAACP into fights for abolition of the death penalty and an end to mass incarceration, for environmental justice and marriage equality. But the Rhodes Scholar has, as well, been a visionary advocate for a bolder and more inclusive American democracy.
With the NAACP, which he led from 2008 to 2013, Jealous was ahead of the curve in recognizing the threat posed by right-wing groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council to progress in the states. In particular, he focused on the rising tide of voter-suppression legislation, writing years ago about “the voter suppression we ignore at democracy’s peril.”