Gov. Wes Moore (at left) during his first State of the State address (Photo: Jennifer Gable/Capital News Service)

By Michael Charles and Jennifer Gable, Capital News Service

Gov. Wes Moore emphasized service and community and called for bipartisanship in achieving his vision during his first State of the State address Wednesday.

“Despite the challenges that we have seen, I know the Marylanders that I have spoken to, they’re not only fast to offer solutions, but they’ve also expressed a deep hope and a deep desire to be part of the solution,” Moore said. “We can be a state that rewards, that celebrates, that elevates a culture of service and we must do it.”

In one of his first acts as governor, Moore created the Department of Service and Civic Innovation and added a Cabinet secretary to oversee the department. Today, he underscored the new department’s’ uniqueness, both in implementation and ideology. 

“This was not a stunt. This is not because it sounds good. This is because it is a fundamental part of who I am and it is in the DNA of this state,” Moore said. “Young people should have the option to perform important service today and build a foundation for our shared future. This is the first ever (program) of its kind in the nation and Maryland will lead.”

Moore, who served as a captain with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne and battled childhood poverty as the CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, has centered service as a primary pillar of his identity, campaign and administration. 

He laid out the need for community and bipartisanship to turn his ‘bold’ ideas into Maryland’s reality. Specifically addressing issues such as education, child poverty, and public safety, the governor outlined unity as the catalyst for change. 

“Many people feel more disconnected from their neighbors than ever before. Service is the antidote to the epidemic of loneliness and otherness. Service is how we will really engage our people in the project of forming a more perfect state,” Moore said. “It is time that we confront this demagoguery of false choices. The idea that if one group of people win, that means another must lose. Or when a political party loses an election, that they are somehow excluded from the process of governing for the next four years.”

House Minority Leader Del. Jason Buckel, R-Allegany, said his side of the aisle has no disagreement with Moore’s vision or call for bipartisanship, but said his members have “growing concerns,” particularly about decisions surrounding education. Buckle cited the importance of the BOOST scholarship program, which he said has been cut by 20 percent in Moore’s budget.

He and Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll and Frederick, questioned Moore’s commitment to fighting crime, with Ready saying, “I was hoping that he would be much more specific about how we were going to fight violent crime, and real consequences for criminal activity…We really have a serious problem with violent crime, and we need enforcement, and we need quick jail time for people who repeatedly break the law, especially in very violent crime.”

Sounding much like his inaugural speech, Moore again emphasized the issues his administration will prioritize, including education, veteran affairs, and mass employment vacancies in government agencies.

“Our administration has put forth a plan to make historic investments in people and it spends $1 billion less than last fiscal year. Our plan and our budget, we made the largest investment in public education by any governor in our state’s history,” Moore said. “And (we) introduced $200 million in targeted tax relief for children in poverty with the Family Prosperity Act and veterans in retirement with Keep Our Heroes Home Act.”

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a comprehensive education reform program, was fully funded in the budget Moore released two weeks ago, just days after his inauguration.

Moore used his speech to spotlight several Marylanders who exemplify a commitment to service. Those honored included Jefferson Vasquez-Reyes, an 18-year-old son of El Salvadoran immigrants and an aspiring physician attending Montgomery College, whose experience with a Latino doctor shaped his goals. 

“I was stoked… That was the biggest point that I took home today, that the state of Maryland needs to, more than ever, be a state that is here to serve,” said Vasquez-Reyes of his attending the speech in the House of Delegates.

As a teen, Vasquez-Reyes would often relay information regarding medications and procedures from the English-speaking doctor to his Spanish-speaking mother and grandmother. He quickly realized that there were not many doctors in the emergency room that looked like him, a reality that inspired his aspirations.

“I felt that there was a gap that needed to be filled,” Vasquez-Reyes said. “So after seeing one Latino doctor do just that, I saw the impact he had on my grandmother’s health, my mother’s health, and I also understood that’s something that I could do.”

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