Credit: Photo by James Kegley

Wes Moore cares less about being remembered as the first Black governor of Maryland and more about being remembered for doing something that made your life better.
That’s why, he says, people voted for him.

 “[Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller’s] and my portraits are going to look a little different from the ones we’ve always seen in the Capitol. But that’s not the point. This journey has never been about making history. It is about marching forward,” Moore said during his inaugural address in January. 

Nevertheless, the Democrat’s election was certainly historic. He is one of only three Black people ever elected governor in the United States. Miller, his choice for lieutenant governor, is the first Asian American and first South Asian woman ever elected to that office in the U.S. Moore says his diverse cabinet was composed to reflect what Maryland looks like.

The 44-year-old governor was born in Takoma Park. While he still feels strong ties to Montgomery County, he notes that some of his “earliest and most traumatic memories” happened here. When he was 3, Moore watched his father die in front of him from a rare but treatable condition, acute epiglottitis—because, Moore says now, his dad hadn’t gotten the health care he needed. His mother, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, moved the family to the Bronx, New York, so his grandparents could help raise Moore and his two sisters. When Moore started skipping school and getting involved in crime as a teenager, his mother sent him to military school, which changed the course of his life. 

Fast forward a few years, and Moore was graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University. He was activated in the Army after 9/11 and later deployed to Afghanistan. Following his military career, Moore served a stint as a White House fellow for then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, then as an investment banker. In 2010, Moore started his own television production company that created programming for the Oprah Winfrey Network, PBS, HBO and NBC. That same year, his first book, The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, was published, about a Baltimore man of the same name and race whose life went in a very different direction.

 Moore recently relocated his family from Baltimore to the Governor’s Mansion in Annapolis. And—as promised to his children—they adopted a puppy. 


We spoke to Moore just weeks after his inauguration, where Winfrey and Chelsea Clinton joined him on stage, and Grammy Award-winning artist Maxwell serenaded the crowd during the inaugural ball. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Credit: Getty Images

You’re the first Black governor of Maryland; you’re one of only three Black governors ever elected in the country. What’s that like?

Right before I was inaugurated, we started the morning off at the Annapolis docks, one of the oldest and largest slave ports in this country. For so many people who came to this country, that was the first image that they saw. I was later inaugurated in front of a building that was built by the hands of enslaved people. When you look at our victory and you look at the margin of victory, we ended up getting more individual votes than any person who’s ever run for governor in the history of the state of Maryland. You don’t get to those numbers—1.3 million people—by simply getting the Black vote. We were able to win that way because we were able to win the veteran community, independents, people who said crime was their No. 1 issue, people who said the economy was their No. 1 issue. We were able to win Marylanders all over the state; 1.3 million people did not vote for me because they wanted me to make history. They voted for me because they thought I was the person that could make their lives better. 


The history-making nature of it all is powerful; it’s very, very humbling, particularly because I know the people and the sacrifices they made for me to get here. But I just want people to remember the work that we get done.

In your book The Other Wes Moore, you’re open about your troubled teen years. You have the story of someone who went through a lot of hardship, but then you came out of it, and now you’re the governor of Maryland. In office, how do you want to make that kind of journey possible for other Marylanders?

There’s no doubt that this journey has been improbable. The thing that I am so proud of is the fact that I do believe that our story really is indicative of so many Marylanders. And my family’s journey is indicative of so many Marylanders. I want for all Marylanders to understand that there is never a room that they don’t belong in. One of my favorite poems is by Rudyard Kipling, and there’s a line, ‘Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.’ And I want Marylanders to feel that way. 


I also want to make sure that we’re putting together policies that can make that real. We are asking people to continue to work way too hard for way too little. That’s not how the state is going to advance. I just want for us to be a state that is going to create real pathways for people to be able to grow and advance, so that no matter where they start, no matter what their origin is, that this is a place where they can grow and succeed, and this is going to be a state that’s going to cheer for their success.

You’ve tapped several Montgomery County-based politicians to be part of your team. Sometimes there’s this thought that a lot of political power is concentrated in the Baltimore region. Would you say there’s been a shift, or a greater Montgomery County influence?

I take pride in the fact that I’m Montgomery County-born. When you look at the selection of people like Aruna Miller as our lieutenant governor, people like Eric Luedtke, who is our chief legislative officer—the thing that I love is that it’s not just that they are from Montgomery County. This state is so blessed to have Aruna Miller. …We’re talking about somebody who in addition to having a remarkable life story, she’s a transportation engineer by training and was one of the most respected members of the legislature. There’s so much talent here in Montgomery County. And I’m really proud that the team that we’re building is so Montgomery County strong, not just because it’s a tip of the hat to my birthplace, and not just because Montgomery County is important politically, it’s because they’re the best at what they do. 

Credit: Courtesy Wes Moore

You’ve had an eclectic career. Does that experience inform how you work with lots of different types of people?

I never realized when I was doing those other things how much it was preparing me for this. When I was leading soldiers in combat, I never said to myself, This is going to be so helpful [in the future], because I never thought that way. I think, though, my experiences gave me the ability to see the world from a diverse set of lenses, the ability to be comfortable, no matter what room you’re in. I think all of those things have prepared me for this role, the ability to build world-class teams, and know how to manage world-class teams. These are all things that have prepared me for the job of governor

A big part of your platform is your proposed service year option for high school graduates, which would give graduates the option to work for a nonprofit for a year. What do you think the impact of this program would be, if the Serve Act is passed, and how would we pay for it? 


When I say service will save us, I mean that from a variety of different perspectives. It’s going to save us money. If you look at how we move now, and how we focus on the basic social fabric of the state, we are incredibly ineffective and inefficient with our resources. We literally have hundreds of millions of dollars that we spend every single year on basic functions and basic structures, and using that money so inefficiently is not the way you’re supposed to run a government. It’s lazy. And there’s a better way to do it. The amount of vacancies that we have within the state government is so damaging. We need people to go be our nurses, our police officers and our firefighters, and it would fill these massive vacancies in our state government.

Now how we’re going to pay for it—we’ve allocated $18 million into our budget. One of the first things I did in office was, by executive order, create the department and put $18 million of capital into that department. We could actually build out something that I think is going to have long-term durable impacts and also be able to leverage both private dollars and federal dollars. It’s a more targeted government, a more effective government. The budget that I proposed is actually a billion dollars less than the budget of my predecessor.

We’re able to show that you can be bold, you can be ambitious, and Maryland can lead. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be reckless. It means we’re going to be smart.


Several state and county leaders have been critical of how the Purple Line expansion has been handled. What can your administration do to ensure that this project gets back on the rails?

This project has been horribly mismanaged. We have not hit any of the targets, either on time or on budget. We’ve blown through both. But this is an administration who cares about mass transit, an administration that actually cares about investing in transportation in a way that can move more people around in a sound, safe and environmentally friendly way. So we’re not going to have a combative relationship with our partners in this. We’re gonna have one that moves and works in partnership. 

The second thing is we believe in putting real professionals in the right seats, and I think people can see by even the selections that we’ve made thus far, like appointing [former Metro general manager and CEO] Paul Wiedefeld. He’s a true transportation professional. Aruna Miller has serious background as a transportation engineer. We’ve got the pros. Now we’ve got to focus on being able to get the Purple Line to completion on time and on budget. It’s a priority. 


You’ve talked a lot about fixing I-270 and not agreeing with [former Republican Gov.] Larry Hogan’s approach to the project, but you haven’t necessarily shared your solution. What do you specifically want to do to address congestion on that highway?

We have to deal with the issue of congestion. It’s not just environmentally dangerous. It’s psychologically dangerous. And it’s not making us competitive. The challenges that I’ve had to [the Hogan plan] have been that three lenses have not been considered—the equity lens, the environmental lens and the local engagement lens. We have to be able to address these issues, and we’re going to be able to look at a whole collection of different things that we think can potentially work. How do you use the existing footprint? What is the role of reversible lanes? How do you potentially look at a mass transit option? How are we factoring in the completion of the American Legion bridge? We need to address all those things that are not part of the current plan. I’m not OK with having something that only portions of a population can benefit from

[Ed. note: Transurban, the contractor for the project, announced in March that it was withdrawing.]


Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Maryland leaders such as Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich have talked about ensuring Maryland remains a sanctuary for people seeking abortions and reproductive health care. What do you think Maryland’s role is in ensuring abortion access?

As long as I am governor, it will be [a sanctuary]. What we want to work on is making sure that it will be even when I’m no longer governor. That’s where the constitutional amendment comes in. There’s a whole lot that I can do as governor—on my first day, we released $3.5 million in previously withheld funding that went to abortion providers. That was important because those funds were crucial, but also I wanted to help set the tone for people that I take this issue seriously.

Abortion is health care. The Supreme Court robbed millions of women of health care. That’s something that we will use everything in our power to make sure it does not stand in the state of Maryland. I just want to make sure that that is permanent. 


[Ed. note: Legislators this session established a referendum item allowing voters to decide on enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution.]

Credit: Photo by James Kegley

In other states, we’re seeing the passage of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans laws. What do you want to do to ensure the rights of LGBTQ+ Marylanders are protected?

For me, it comes back to a basic framework of what would I want for my own children. I want my children to be seen. I want them to be safe in their own skin. I want them to be respected and protected. I want that for all kids in the state. And it’s just not lost on me that when you look at the data around this issue, when you look at the level of bullying, the hate crimes—80% of trans individuals have had some form of suicidal ideation. We as a state cannot hear and see that number and be OK with this. 


When I say leave no one behind, that means being explicit about protecting populations that oftentimes have been neglected in the past, and that includes the LGBTQ community in the state. And I think we see it not just in the bills that we’re pushing forward, not just in our funding that we have allocated, but if you look at the representation of our cabinet, we have very senior members of our administration that are very, very open members of the LGBTQ community. We know that representation matters, and we want for all Marylanders to be able to see themselves in the leadership of the state of Maryland. That’s a pledge that we made during the campaign, and I think it’s a pledge that we’re keeping with our administration.

There’s been a lot of debate across the country, including in our neighbor state of Virginia, about school curriculum and whether LGBTQ and Black history should be taught in school and whether certain books should be banned. What do you think the relationship between the government and the schools should be when it comes to diversity of curriculum?

I think the state dictating to local jurisdictions about what books the student should be reading is not just wrongheaded, it’s unconstitutional. So I think when you’re watching governors who are shaking their fists about what can and will be taught, it actually shows a lack of regard for the Constitution and a lack of regard for the law. 


But I also know why it’s important that the history that we can teach is going to be diverse and honest. I’m a big believer in the idea that loving your country doesn’t mean lying about it. Learning about ourselves, learning about our culture, learning about our journeys, is not a way of minimizing our strength. It’s actually a way of celebrating just how far we’ve come as a state, as a culture, as a community, as a country. The reason that I wanted to start the inauguration at the Annapolis docks and walk to the statehouse was not to make people feel bad. It’s a celebration of how far we’ve come. 

I just think governors and lawmakers in general should be very careful—not just in terms of jurisdictional authority—about the idea of thinking that history is something that we teach to make people feel good. It’s to create critical thinkers, to add context to the world that we live in. It’s only going to make our community stronger.

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future—an education funding plan passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2021—calls for school districts to employ more teachers. Nationally, we’re already facing a teacher shortage and a mass exodus of educators. What can the state do to attract and support teachers?

Credit: Photo by James Kegley

This issue is critical because the shortage that we continue to see amongst Maryland teachers is staggering. COVID was just an accelerant for many of the challenges that we see inside the classroom. It’s part of the reason we introduced the Maryland [Educator] Shortage Act, which is allocating $15 million and is all about recruiting and retaining our educators. How can we go and make sure we’re reducing the barriers to allow people to enter into the profession, but also going in and increasing the incentives for people to want to stay? Does that mean things like salary and benefits? Yes. But what it also means is, let’s create a better work environment for them. We need to increase funding, because if we don’t get that right, nothing else is going to work. 

The reason I made the largest investment in public school education in the history of any governor in the history of the state of Maryland is because of so many things that we’re hoping to get done. They rely on us having a world-class public education system. That begins with us being able to attract and retain top talent and top-quality educators inside of the classroom.

Some people may say you’re aspirational because you have a lot of big ideas. How do you plan to put them into motion?

I think if there’s one thread that people can see about my life, it’s that I’m not just talk. We put some points on the board. We said we were going to build a cabinet that looks like the state of Maryland, and it’s going to be the most effective and competent cabinet. We said that we were going to build an administration that is going to focus not on patronage, or politics, but performance. Go person by person in our administration and tell me where I’ve missed. We said we’re going to build a legislative agenda that is going to get bipartisan support in order to get these things done, and we’ve had Republican support on multiple of our bills. 

Am I aspirational? Yeah, and I wear that with pride. 

Ginny Bixby is MoCo360’s politics reporter. A Silver Spring resident, she previously reported for the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Virginia.

This story appears in the May/June issue of Bethesda Magazine.