People ask me all the time, what was it like to run for governor? The answer is mostly a ton of fun. How often do you get to meet lots of people you might not have met otherwise, and to do something so much different from the day-to-day of your professional life?
But it is hard! Especially when our political system is designed to discourage our elected leaders from taking on our toughest challenges. I ended my run to replace Gov. Larry Hogan last year after it became clear that there was no path forward for me in this election. Unfortunately, too many Marylanders feel that way every day.
I grew up in Montgomery County, but almost 25 years ago I moved to Baltimore, where I started a company called Catalyte. Far too often, I saw people given opportunities because of who they know or where they were born, not because of their talent and worth. I knew that there were millions of Americans who could thrive in better careers, but they had never been given a chance. I knew with the right training and connections, every one of us could flourish.
That went a lot better than my race for governor. Catalyte enabled thousands in Maryland and 41 other states to move from an average income of $25,000 to an average income of $98,000 five years later because they were given a chance. Between Catalyte — and the second company I started to reduce bias in health care hiring and promotion, Arena Analytics — hundreds of thousands of people in Maryland and across the U.S. have moved into and grown in careers that provide security and dignity.
I ran for governor because the private sector alone cannot solve the problem; we need our public sector, those who represent all of us, to change how we think about the role and responsibility of the government to enable the creation of jobs and pathways into those jobs. Today, most Marylanders — and Americans — would change careers if provided the opportunity. And yet most of us cannot afford to pay for rent and food while developing new skills, let alone pay the educational costs to build those skills.
The state can make this possible. The state can afford to pay each person $15 per hour full time to learn — to go to nursing school, to learn a trade, to learn the machines and programming required for modern manufacturing or to learn to build software. Not only can the state afford to pay each person to learn, the state can also afford to pay 100% of child care, transportation and tuition where needed — and provide $2,000 forgivable loans to cover the upfront costs of clothing and gas while developing those skills.
By breaking down the barriers for each of us to let our individual talents thrive, we can enable everyone to have a pathway to an income of at least $65,000 — the minimum necessary in Maryland to have basic dignity. If we do that, we will unlock economic growth that will generate billions of dollars each year in state and local budgets, and in local economies, that will in turn enable us to do all of the other things we want to do.
I dropped out of the race at the end of November when I realized that persuading our state that a larger change in how we operate as a region would take longer than the duration of a campaign. And yet today, while most of us would agree that despite decades of good intentions among our leadership and numerous capable leaders in our state and region, we are in many ways worse off than we were decades ago. The question is: why?
One reason lies in what was one of the most difficult parts of running for office for me personally. I am used to developing visions for how to solve a problem; building and leading organizations to make that vision a reality; and persuading potential investors, customers, employees and others that they should join that effort.
In politics, however, the candidate is the product. It took many months into my campaign to find a way to talk about myself in a way that felt authentic and honest to me. Our political system encourages those who are most comfortable talking about themselves to step into that fray, but is that the personality profile we seek in our leadership?
Even more relevantly, our political system encourages big talk and small actions. First, many in the political system aspire to reelection, or the next elected position. Second, because a part of our state focuses as much on national affairs as on local and regional affairs, very few pay close attention to what our regional elected officials are doing — and this issue has only gotten worse as local journalism has shrunk in recent decades. And third, after many decades of increasing dysfunction in our political system, a growing percentage of our fellow citizens believe that no matter who wins each office, nothing will change, and the large structural issues will remain unaddressed.
Because of these three dynamics, our political system creates incentives for even our most capable leaders to do lots of very small things. That may help in small ways that create good talking points, but do little to confront our largest challenges.
I plan to dedicate my next chapter to transforming our political and economic systems in ways I will discuss in the months and years to come. We must create a world where every person has a pathway to dignity. Only then can we confront the big, knotty, seemingly intractable issues we face — whether that’s climate change, misinformation, public safety or the numerous other challenges created by the changes in our world over the last half century. It is the key to saving our democracy, and even more importantly, it is the key to living in the just and peaceful world we all seek.
Mike Rosenbaum is a Baltimore-based entrepreneur who is the founder and executive chair of Catalyte and Arena Analytics. He ran in the Democratic primary for governor, before ending his bid in November 2021.