“The only way things improve,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore told a crowd of several hundred at the Eisenhower Institute’s 22nd Annual Blavatt Lecture, “is when the younger generation pushes us to improve.” Speaking on the topic, “More than Waving a Flag: Redefining American Democracy in a Gen-Z World,” Moore advised younger people, “We can scream into the wind or we can figure out how to change the temperature.”
Moore characterized himself as perhaps the unlikeliest of governors. “It’s not lost on me that I’m the son of an immigrant, single mother who got her first job with benefits when I was 14 years old. I felt handcuffs on my wrists when I was 11 because I lived in a neighborhood that was over-policed. I’m a graduate of a two-year college. There’s nothing about my younger years that says this is where I was destined to go.”
Nevertheless, he decided to work within “a system that, in many ways left me as frustrated as anyone else.” And he urged others to do likewise. “Instead of screaming about our institutions’ brokenness, let’s decide to leave them a little less broken.”
Moore noted with pride some accomplishments as governor. “We decided not to choose between business and workers. We got a $15 minimum wage because it’s wrong that people are working, sometimes multiple jobs, and still in poverty. But we can reduce regulations so business can thrive. And we now have the lowest unemployment of any state in the country.”
He also noted that Maryland is the first state with a “one year service option for every high school graduate.” He said the program will provide a “pathway for young people to discover what they want to do” as well as helping them earn a financial cushion. But most important, he said, “in this time of political divisiveness, we believe deeply that service will save us.” He noted that his administration introduced 10 major pieces of legislation “and we went 10 for 10, and all 10 were bipartisan.”
He urged people to promote civil discourse. “You need to give other people space and grace … to learn and to grow. You have to be willing to go have those conversations. Too many people are fine sitting in their echo chamber.”
Discussing his military experience, he noted, “You know one question I never asked my soldiers and they never asked me? ‘What’s your political party?’ it never came up; it wasn’t relevant.” Asked what he considered the country’s greatest threat, he commented that the world was full of dangers but “I don’t think it’s an external threat. It’s a system so broken we can’t pick a Speaker of the House. Do you have any idea how many hours in my day I spend meeting with my department heads preparing for a government shutdown? We have to be able to get things done.”
Discussing patriotism, he said, “Patriotism isn’t about waving the flag. Loving your country doesn’t mean lying about it. You can understand that your country has flaws and still is worth fighting for.”
When asked what issue he found most difficult to correct, he said “Two words: ‘Guns’ and ‘violence.’ We have too many guns, it’s too easy to get your hands on them, and things that used to end in fistfights now end in gunfire. I’ve been to far too many funerals.” But he noted signs of progress. “The homicide rate in Baltimore will decline after eight years of increases”, he said.
In answer to a final, urgent question, he assured the audience that “the Orioles will be in town for 30 years.” He emphasized three points, characteristic of his governing approach, that he had made to the team, the Stadium Authority, and the city and state. “First, it can’t be a short term lease. Second, we must be responsible stewards of the public’s money. Finally, we want the team to win, but the important thing is to create an environment where everyone can win, not just the team. Are the local bars and restaurants thriving? Are we creating a walkable environment? Do visitors to the ballpark feel safe and welcome?”
The Blavatt speaker series was inaugurated in 1996 and was endowed by Ronald and Sudan Blavatt. Past speakers have included TV anchors, members of Congress, ambassadors, and a member of the Little Rock Nine.
Gettysburg College’s Eisenhower Institute prepares young people for a life of service in the public, private, or nonprofit sectors. It connects aspiring young leaders with public policy experts to help prepare them to address society’s most pressing issues. The annual Blavatt Lecture “brings individuals … whose professional experiences provide first-hand perspectives of the American political system.”
Featured image caption: Moore (left) with Eisenhower Institute Executive Director Tracie Potts.
Leon Reed, freelance reporter, is a former US Senate staff member, defense consultant, and history teacher. He is a seven year resident of Gettysburg, where he writes military history and explores the park and the Adams County countryside. He is the publisher at Little Falls Books, chaired the Adams County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee and is on the board of SCCAP and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. He and his wife, Lois, have 3 children, 3 cats, and 5 grandchildren.