Valerie Ervin, who was tapped to be Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's gubernatorial running mate last month, spoke at Tydings Hall at the University of Maryland on Monday night about free community college plans, marijuana legalization and universal health care.
Ervin sat in for Kamenetz, who was originally supposed to speak but couldn't for scheduling reasons. She was a guest in a speaker series hosted by this university's College Democrats. Previous guests have included other gubernatorial hopefuls Maryland Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery) and former NAACP president Ben Jealous.
Ervin addressed the education gap that she said is holding back some students across the state.
"Every day across Maryland, students are deemed learners and non-learners," Ervin said to a group of 17 attendees.
After Ervin was elected to the Montgomery County Board of Education in 2004 she worked to provide free breakfast and lunch for school children.
"Children can't learn if they are hungry," Ervin said.
Ervin became the first African-American woman to serve on the Montgomery County Council in 2006 and served for seven years. She served on the Education Committee, and was elected council president in 2011.
Ervin said she supports free community college and would consider eventually expanding it to four-year institutions.
"I think we're going to have to experiment to see what works and what doesn't," Ervin said. "Nothing happens overnight, but I think students are going to have to play a big role in advocating and speaking out on it."
Junior Cliff Green said he was happy with Ervin's stance on free community college but called for a "full measure" proposal.
"The current policy she has for free community college for the first two years, that's a great starting point, but I think what young people really want is college for all," the government and politics major said. "You don't win people over with half measures, you win people over with bold progressive policies."
Ervin is the former executive director of the Center for Working Families, an education and issue advocacy organization for low-income families. She always worked on the Working Families Party, a small progressive political party that advocates for raising the minimum wage, paid sick leave and increased access to jobs.
The Working Families Maryland chapter worked to help pass the paid sick leave bill, which took effect in Maryland starting Feb. 11, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Ervin also expressed her support for marijuana legalization.
"What breaks my heart is how many lives have been ruined and how many people have been incarcerated for doing nothing other than getting high," Ervin said, adding she supported record expungement for those already convicted of a drug felony. "For those who don't know, once you're identified as a felon — you can't rent an apartment, you can't get a job. There are a lot of 'can'ts' that you can't do once you're identified."
Freshman government and politics major Jake Meisel applauded Ervin's support of marijuana legalization.
"I think it's really great that she supports [legalization]," Meisel said. "She's taking it on as a social justice issue because she's right: Tt has affected far too many people who have gone to jail for it."
When asked about universal health care, Ervin said the state should already have it.
"People are really suffering" Ervin said. "We're putting people's lives in jeopardy."
The promises of health care reform struck a similar chord with Green.
"If you're fighting to change the whole college tuition system, why not fight to change the whole health care system, too?" Green said. "It shows that you are sticking to your word and showing your gut."