“I’m the only millennial in the race,” says Will Jawando, Democratic Primary candidate in Maryland’s 8th District, “and along with that comes student debt.”
In his campaign, Jawando has focused heavily on his personal life, arguing that his professional and personal experiences make him uniquely suited to represent the district in the House of Representatives.
“When I was twelve years old, I had a seminal moment in my life,” Jawando states “I got a scholarship to a private high school, St. John’s College High School in DC, but also lost one of my friends to gun violence, and the dichotomy of those two outcomes was a lot for me to handle.”
From that point onward Jawando has been heavily involved in the political sphere. During his time at Catholic University, he helped form a NAACP chapter, and then worked on Capitol Hill for Nancy Pelosi, Sherrod Brown and then Senator Barack Obama.
Jawando faces steep competition in what is being called one of the costliest primary races in the country. Competitors such as state senator Jamie Raskin, former news anchor Kathleen Matthews, and businessman David Trone have been putting millions of dollars into the district, all hoping to secure the coveted Democratic Party nomination.
Jawando has, however, scored some key endorsements during this primary.
“I haven’t been elected before, so the fact that someone like (Civil Rights Leader and Congressman) John Lewis, who I consider the top tier of the congress and a civil rights icon who’s been on the forefront of so many issues…the fact that he would endorse me two weeks ago, and has only endorsed two people this election cycle, Hillary Clinton and me, is a really big deal.”
Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, and Congresspeople GK Butterfield, Hank Johnson, Gregory Meeks and Robin Kelley have also endorsed Jawando.
“I think we need people in Congress now more than ever that actually know what working people are going through, but also that know how Congress works,” said Jawando, “and you know, I have both of those being an attorney, working in the House and Senate and the White House.”
Nowhere is this sentiment more echoed than in his thoughts on the issue of student debt.
“I worked on the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee under Senator Sherrod Brown and Obama,” says Jawando, “and student debt issues were something I worked a lot on.”
Jawando supports both President Obama’s plans for free community college and a more Bernie Sanders-esque plan for free public, state colleges. He also supports more robust student debt refinancing plans that can help students and former students pay off their debts more affordably.
However, Jawando also sees the need for more pragmatic negotiation with private institutions, in order to help stem the flow of tuition increases.
“We need to incentivize these institutions to lower their tuition,” says Jawando, “because you won’t be able to just raise loans and Pell Grants and get to the whole problem. I think we need to create incentives for institutions of higher educations, like McDaniel and like others, to actually find ways to lower their costs.”
As for the issues of campaign finance reform, which have heavily impacted both this race and the ongoing presidential race, Jawando stands fairly firmly in the progressive camp.
“Citizens United is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions we’ve seen,” said Jawando, “because money is not speech, and corporations are not people.”
As opposed to the Super-PAC, Citizens United model, Jawando is a proponent of a public funding based model for campaigns. He feels that whether money to fund campaigns is coming from PACs or self-funding, as his opponent David Trone has been engaging in, it has a corrosive impact on politics.
“Money in politics and gerrymandering are the two most corrosive forces in politics today,” said Jawando, pivoting to the issue of partisan gerrymandering, “I’m very disappointed in the way our state has gerrymandered in the past several years, and you know, two of the folks in my race voted for that gerrymandering map, Senator Raskin and Delegate Barve.”
He notes that not only does gerrymandering hurt the political process and competition, but that it dilutes the political power and efficacy of communities of color.
In the end, Jawando has no delusions that he is not facing a tough primary, and is going up against some powerful opponents. However, he feels that his policies, his experience, and his collection of powerful endorsements will help him succeed.
With the primary elections quickly coming up on April 26, it remains to be seen which of many candidates will snag the Democratic Party nomination.