Interlaced among his policy initiatives, Gov. Wes Moore wove the stories of six Marylanders through his first State of the State address to demonstrate his concept of service.
Moore delivered the address, which in part fused his resume and his winning campaign message with his policy agenda, before the Maryland General Assembly Wednesday, two weeks after his inauguration.
“Service, public service, is what will help our state reach its full potential,“ Moore said, underlining what’s become something of a mission statement for the new administration.
And in noting the word service’s Latin etymology, servitium, means slavery, he added another stitch into the fabric of Maryland’s history: His service as the state’s first Black governor.
”It is fitting as the first African American to deliver this speech, in a building that was built by the hands of enslaved people, that we are now putting ‘service’ towards the good of all,” Moore said. “The irony is that it is service that will help save us.”
The former executive, U.S. Army captain and Rhodes scholar invited six guests from across the state. As he tied each person’s history to his administration’s plans, he asked legislators and dignitaries to recognize each Marylander’s accomplishments.
Moore’s guest Judy Roopnaraine exemplified a state employee who was working “without a full team beside them; the team they need and deserve,” he said.
Roopnaraine, a Department of General Services employee, has cleaned the hallways of the State House for eight years, Moore said. On Wednesday, she saw her first State of the State address.
”Her strong work ethic, infectious personality, and willingness to go the extra mile make her a beloved part of the team,” Moore said.
One of the Moore administration’s top priorities is to rebuild a depleted state government. By mid 2024, Moore plans to cut the executive branch’s vacancy rate in half, raise wages and add new jobs.
“Patchwork politics is not the way to run a government,” Moore said, a nod at his predecessor’s intermingling of public and private sector resources.
In a nod to one of his most recent policy rollouts, a tax exemption for military pensions, Moore introduced Angela McCullough, a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, CEO and founder of a Maryland-based business services company.
“With my budget’s $40,000 exemption on military retirement, she will be able to put that money back into her business, hire more people and grow our economy,” he said.
Moore called honored guest Marsha Briley “a guide, a mentor and a friend” to those formerly incarcerated at Anne Arundel County’s detention center. Briley connects returning citizens with critical resources, such as housing, clothing or learning how to drive, Moore said.
“Her impact is measured by the people she helps get back on their feet, and frankly, that’s an untold amount of good, for them and for us all,” he said.
His administration’s budget will spend $30 million on juvenile resident advisors and staff, he said.
The stories of Jefferson Vasquez-Reyes and Ronnie Beard were examples of state programs working for Marylanders.
Beard, an Oakdale High School teacher in Frederick County, received partial tuition the University of Maryland Eastern Shore from the state’s “Grow Your Own” program, the initiatives of which boost the teacher pipeline. And combined with scholarships, the state will partially fund Vasquez-Reyes’s education. His parents fled war and poverty in El Salvador to come to the United States, and the young man aims to become a doctor.
Ahead of introducing the teacher and student, Moore explained his Maryland Educator Shortage Act, which he said will bolster the state’s teacher workforce depleted during the pandemic.
The pinnacle of Moore’s campaign pledges resurfaced during his speech — ending child poverty in Maryland. “We can, and we will, end child poverty in the state of Maryland,” he said.
Moore told the story of tech company executive Ryan Hemminger, who grew up in poverty, to reveal the potential of investing in positive outcomes for poor children.
“The challenge of stories like Ryan’s childhood are far too common. The promise of his adulthood is far too uncommon,” the governor said.
A group of teachers who noticed Hemminger’s dire circumstances took turns caring for him, tutoring him and feeding him.
“His community stepped in, he stepped up, and now he serves our state with grace and humility,” Moore said.
Hemminger, who now lives in Baltimore, attended the Naval Academy and, in addition to his regular job, founded a social enterprise that helps disadvantaged youths overcome obstacles.
“There is no partisanship when it comes to a child in need,” Moore said. “So let’s not allow us to fall into our traditional corners on the issue.”
Moore ended his speech with a call to action for the state to invest in itself and its people, and remarked that so far over 2,800 people have applied to join his administration.
“If we are going to execute on this vision, if we are going to make this state work again,” he said, “we need people willing to serve.”