The upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 6 are serving as a rallying cry across the political spectrum as voters see the election as crucially important. A Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests 77 percent of registered voters plan to cast ballots this year, as opposed to 65 percent in the 2014 midterms.
In the Baltimore Jewish community, policies regarding immigration, adequate funding for schools and security funding for Jewish institutions are high-priority issues. Some voters will likely be affected by presidential politics.
“We hear from some Jewish voters who are driven to vote because of the actions of the president,” said Howard Libit, the executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “I do hear that conversation among some, but I don’t know that that carries down the ballot to all the other Republican candidates.”
In fact, in historically blue Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to be reelected. For many in the Jewish community, Hogan has proven to be a friend of Israel who champions local Jewish interests.
“Gov. Hogan has made a lot of commitments to the Jewish community and delivered on them,” Libit said. He cited Hogan’s trade mission to Israel, the creation of the school security grant programs and funding of the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program among Hogan’s accomplishments. BOOST has provided nearly 3,000 low-income students with scholarships to attend private schools — including Jewish day schools.
In an email to the JT, Hogan said his anti-BDS executive order and his support for BOOST funding are proof of his commitment to the well-being of the Jewish community. The governor’s anti-BDS order, signed just over a year ago, prohibits the state from contracting with companies and organizations that participate in the BDS movement.
“There is no place in Maryland for the BDS movement. The goals of this movement run counter to — not just the strong economic relationship Maryland has with our friends in Israel — but with our core beliefs,” Hogan said. “I pledge that the anti-BDS executive order will remain in place during my second term.”
In addition to a pledge to “broaden and deepen the economic partnerships between Israel and Maryland,” Hogan said he will continue to allocate $1 million of the state budget to help fund a new building for Hillel at University of Maryland, College Park.
Others in the community feel differently about Hogan’s possible reelection. The Jews United for Justice Campaign Fund has endorsed Democrat Ben Jealous for governor. They’ve also hosted several events in Pikesville and Montgomery County called “Schmoozin’ with Susan” — opportunities to meet Jealous’ running mate, Susan Turnbull. In those sessions, JUFJ invites voters who are either leaning toward Hogan or are undecided to converse with the candidate. Molly Amster, Baltimore director of the JUFJ Campaign Fund, has seen discussions about judicial appointments sway voters from Hogan to Jealous.
“In the next four years, whoever is governor will be appointing five new judges to the Maryland Court of Appeals,” said Amster. “With the Kavanaugh appointment and how many people are upset about that, that is resonant for people. Imagining a court with a majority of people appointed by Gov. Hogan is not a particularly appealing possibility.”
Concern over the Maryland Court of Appeals dates back to June 2016, when Hogan appointed Joseph M. Getty, his chief legislative officer and former Republican state senator, to the court. For Amster, this, along with the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, endangers women’s rights.
“Gov. Hogan vetoed a bill that would have guaranteed funding to Planned Parenthood if the federal government cut that funding,” said Amster. “If the new judges on the Maryland Court of Appeals are anything like the person Hogan already appointed, then we’re talking about a court that is staffed with people that are Republican Party operatives rather than independent, impartial arbiters of justice. And that is of great concern to people.”
Amster believes the policies enacted by the president, immigration among them, will drive Jewish voters to the polls. She said people are “extremely concerned about the inhumanity of the policies” at the border and are skeptical of Hogan’s track record when it comes to immigrant communities in Maryland.
In an email to the JT, Jealous asserted that his goals of improving schools and making health care more affordable speak to all Marylanders, regardless of race or religion. He also stated that he has “absolutely no plans to rescind Maryland’s anti-BDS executive order, so long as a review from the attorney general and our legal system confirms such an executive order withstands First Amendment concerns and constitutional scrutiny.” If the order is found to be constitutional, he “would also support legislation that puts this into state law.”
Citing a Maryland public school system that is underfunded annually by $2.9 billion, Jealous believes “public taxpayer money should be used for public services that all of us can utilize.” As such, he plans to phase out funding for the BOOST program and redirect that money to public education.
“I would do this compassionately,” Jealous said, “making sure that every current recipient of a BOOST scholarship can continue to receive the same award amount until they finish the level of schooling they are currently in. Families who rely on BOOST need the stability of knowing the state will make good on its promise, but we will not fund new vouchers moving forward.”
While Hogan is favored to beat his challenger on Nov. 6, recent polling suggests that Jewish voters nationwide tend to skew left. On Oct. 16, the Jewish Electorate Institute published a poll by the Washington, D.C.-based Mellman Group that found that 68 percent of Jewish voters in the U.S. identify as Democrats and 64 percent identify as liberal. The report also states that a strong majority of Jewish voters — 76 percent — have an unfavorable view of the president, as opposed 42 percent of voters in the general population. But some say those numbers may not reflect the situation in Baltimore.
“On the conservative side in the Jewish community, the number of people that are represented there is still appreciably smaller than the liberal Jewish community,” said Bill Fox, a Pikesville resident who is active in a number of Jewish organizations. He added that despite the larger number of registered Democrats, he’s heard from many self-identified liberal Jews that they support Hogan.
“There’s one reason for that. That’s because of the job he’s done for four years,” Fox said. “In its purest form, political support is deserved when the politicians who were elected do good work.”
Hogan is popular in Baltimore’s Orthodox community, but according to Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, founder and director of Agudath Israel of Maryland, that’s not because of party loyalty.
“The Orthodox community is nonpartisan,” said Sadwin, whose organization advocates in Annapolis and Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Jewish community. “Our community, generally, when there’s an incumbent running, there’s always a natural connection to the incumbent, regardless of the party. There’s an existing relationship. In the instance of Gov. Hogan, there’s been a strong relationship with him and the community, and with a lot of the community leaders and institutions regardless of anything else. There is always a feeling of loyalty towards an incumbent when there’s been a positive relationship.”
Sadwin, like Libit and Amster, says school and security funding are of utmost importance to his community. Immigration, however, does not come up in conversation as often.
“I definitely wouldn’t say that immigration and sanctuary cities are an issue for most people in our community,” said Sadwin. “We’re dealing with the security within our community and the ability for us to lives our lives and send kids to school. Those things are more under our focus than the global policy.”
Both Sadwin and Fox expressed concern over the widening partisan divide in Maryland and the country. For Sadwin, the Orthodox community plays a unique role “because we refuse to get down in the mud of partisanship.”
“The last thing we want is for the security of Israel and the security of our own communities to become partisan,” he said. “We’ve engaged with all the candidates. We’re going to work with whoever is in office.”