Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alec Ross visited the University of Maryland on Tuesday, National Voter Registration Day, to help register voters.
"We just want to give the opportunity to more students, and for me, it's an important day, just because of my history doing voter registration in communities of color," the tech entrepreneur said. "Without voting, people are going to be disempowered, so you have to vote. It's not enough to post on social media, it's not enough to march. You have to vote."
Ross stood with Students for Alec Ross outside Stamp Student Union, and asked passersby whether they were registered to vote in Maryland. The group registered about eight students to vote during the event, club president Evan McLaughlin said.
Students for Alec Ross finalized its registration as a club close to the first day of the semester, and with nine members, is still working on recruitment, McLaughlin said. But McLaughlin, a junior public policy major, called Ross's campaign "an easy one to sell."
"[The] two things I liked about Alec that I didn't find in other candidates were his resume and his ideas and policies moving forward," McLaughlin said. "He is very well-rounded and [has] well-grounded views on a lot of topics from his past experiences, and all of his policies so far that he's rolled out, they've been forward-looking and future-focused and extremely innovative."
In announcing his campaign in April, Ross said he would "use what I know about entrepreneurship and innovation to open up high-paying jobs to Marylanders with and without a college degree."
"Ask anybody, and they'll tell you I'm the education candidate," Ross said. "This run for governor is as animated by my having been a sixth grade teacher in inner-city Baltimore as by any of the things that I've done since."
Ross was a middle school teacher in West Baltimore through Teach for America after graduating from Northwestern University in 1994, and the experience taught him that "talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not," he said.
"There are absolute geniuses among the students that I taught, but that genius was really buried," he said. "It was buried by poverty, it was buried by a dysfunctional school, it was buried by a very violent community."
If elected, Ross hopes to institute an opt-in income share agreement to ease "soul-crushing" student debt. Under this program, a student would agree to pay a certain percentage of his or her income for a certain number of years, he said.
"It's capped, so if you start the next the Google, you don't have to hand over your billions," Ross said.
Ross said he also believes he has a connection to younger voters. He steered technology policy for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and was later appointed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's senior innovation advisor.
His technological experience is part of what drew junior government and politics major Devin Conroy to support him.
"He is focused on what I feel passionate about [in] politics, so that's pretty much why I came here today," Conroy said. "Innovation and technology, technology in schools, pretty much just advancing our state as a whole."
The Chesapeake Bay is one of Ross's big-ticket issues, and he considers himself "pretty far left" on environmental issues, despite having grown up in what he called "coal country."
"Democrat and Republican governors alike, I think, have been really weak on confronting a lot of the farm interests [that pollute the bay]," he said. "I'm the first candidate … to have a fight with these constituencies that a lot of people are scared to fight."
Those who say stopping the runoff from farms — major sources of pollution — would be bad for economic development are wrong, he said. The Chesapeake Bay is better for the environment and could allow other industries, including organic farming, to flourish, Ross added.
Ross is the third Democratic gubernatorial candidate who has visited this university in the last week. Krish Vignarajah, a former policy advisor for Michelle Obama, visited a College Democrats meeting on Sept. 19 during her campaign kickoff tour, and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker came to the campus Sunday to speak at an immigration forum.
Millennials have a set of "core values," which Ross said are sometimes lost in older generations.
"We're all interested in politics, we're all interested in public policy and the best way to get people excited about those things is to have people vote [and] have people come out for elections," McLaughlin said.