Gov. Wes Moore speaks at a press event Jan. 19. (Executive Office of the Governor photo)

I was prepared to be unimpressed with Wes Moore before we were scheduled to meet for an interview at the Dough Roller restaurant in Ocean City during the annual Maryland Association of Counties conference Aug. 20, 2021.

He had an impressive resume — bestselling author, Rhodes scholar, 82nd Airborne captain in Afghanistan, investment banker, nonprofit executive. But as I quizzed him that morning, he had zero experience in state government, yet he was running for governor.

He had solid answers to that question — referencing all the government programs he had worked with and helped implement. He had a surprising knowledge of state issues. We were sharing a corner booth at this noisy restaurant with editors from Maryland Matters, the other nonprofit news site on state government and politics. All three of us were State House veterans with wonky knowledge of the nooks and crannies of Maryland issues.

Moore handled our questions with considerable finesse and more than superficial detail that, as he put it that morning, made him “not just uniquely capable but qualified” to get things done at the state level. I came away unexpectedly impressed. 

Most endorsements

There were lots of Democrats running for governor last year, some with far more government and political experience than Moore. Clearly, he left the same positive impression on a host of elected officials at the highest levels of Maryland politics as he did with me, amassing more weighty endorsements than anyone in the race.

I left out a little detail that sticks with me to this day.

As I was coming out of the restaurant restroom well before our appointment, I was passing a table where Moore was eating with a former Maryland secretary of state. We had never met that I can recall, but as I passed behind him, Moore turned and called out my name, noting that we would be meeting shortly. I’ve been kicking around state political circles for four decades now, but I have to introduce myself to people all the time and tell them about, the news site I founded 13 years ago. 

Whether through good staff work — Moore’s communications staff was sharp — or just good homework, Moore knew who I was and what I did. First impressions are often lasting. My first impression of Moore has stuck. He is smart, he is charming, he has a flair for communicating his goals and visions. And he works hard.

Many who attended Wes Moore’s inauguration could only see him on big screens. (Len Lazarick / Maryland Reporter)

He must deliver

Now he must deliver on his plans and promises.

If you cared at all, you could not have missed all the historic aspects of his swearing in as Maryland’s first Black governor — a state with a higher percentage of Blacks (31%) than Alabama and only the third ever elected in U.S. history. 

And for doubters about what Moore will do, it is a testament to Moore’s political instincts and maybe that he has lived in Baltimore that the first issue he tackled in his first full day in office was public safety. It is an issue he dealt with at length in his inaugural, but it came after he talked about business and the economy.

But I’d like to highlight some of his inaugural address directly related to business that might have gotten lost in all the uplifting hoopla, such as Oprah Winfrey’s introduction as she recalled her move in 1976 into an apartment on Windstream Drive in Columbia’s first village.

Here is some of Moore’s speech. 

“We do not have to choose between a competitive economy and an equitable one. Maryland should not be 43rd in unemployment, or 44th in the cost of doing business. We should not tolerate an 8-to-1 racial wealth gap, not because it hurts certain groups, but because it prevents all of us from reaching our full potential. We can attract and retain top industries, like aerospace, clean energy, and cybersecurity … and raise our minimum wage to $15 an hour to help folks feed their families.

“Maryland can reward entrepreneurs who take bold risks … and provide stability for families in need.

“This can be the best state in America to be an employer and an employee.

“It shouldn’t be a choice — and it isn’t a choice. The path forward requires us to do these things together.” 

Try to recall the last time you heard a Democrat decrying the state’s high cost of doing business. But then couple that with urging a speedier increase in the minimum wage. Good luck on that. False choice or magical thinking?

Minimum wages are not a problem in the high-profile industries that Moore mentioned — the market has taken care of them and others. The problem with the minimum wage is the grunt jobs that require minimal education and skills — landscaping, housekeeping, fast food.

Hey, Len, give the guy a break. I’ve been writing about Maryland’s high taxes and burdensome regulations for decades without much effect. 

I absolutely wish we could improve our business climate and give everybody a living wage.

Can we really do these things? Wes Moore thinks so. Is it realistic?

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