One-on-One With Kelly Schulz: Commerce Secretary Brings Business Focus to Gubernatorial Bid

Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, a Republican candidate for governor, talks with Sen. J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore and Harford counties) at an Ocean City reception hosted by Jennings. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Editor’s note: Maryland Matters reporters sat down with some of the candidates for governor at the recent Maryland Association of Counties conference. Interviews with these candidates will appear over the next few days. And we will bring you interviews with other gubernatorial contenders as the campaign unfolds. 

Like many of Maryland’s 2022 political candidates, Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz was in Ocean City last week, catching up with public officials at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference, raising campaign cash and meeting voters in the beach town.

“Hi, I’m Kelly Schulz, and I’m going to be your next governor of the state of Maryland,” she uses as the opening line when approaching voters.

And her pitch, if voters want to learn more?

“I believe in them,” Schulz said. “I believe in their future.”

Schulz — who resigned her seat as a delegate representing Frederick County in 2015 to join the Hogan administration, first as secretary of Labor — is the establishment favorite in the Republican primary so far.

And, after being part of an unlikely eight-year Republican administration, Schulz seems content to continue strategies that have served Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) well, including monitoring public opinion.

Schulz, 52, said she will always have “an open office” and an “ear to the ground on what people want to have accomplished.”

She lists the items that she thinks voters want their leaders to tackle: meaningful employment and a lower cost of living so that generations of Marylanders can continue to afford to live here.

“I want to be able to make sure that I plan my life and the state doesn’t plan my life for me so that I can’t afford to live in Maryland after I retire,” Schulz said, mentioning her 3-week-old grandson. “…I want to be able to keep my family together. And I would imagine that most Marylanders want to keep their families and their communities together.”

Marylanders know the state is “one of the most beautiful” in the nation and want to live their golden years here, “without having retirement taxes, estate taxes and every other type of tax that’s going to bleed into their sense of livability.”

Asked how she might direct the deluge of federal stimulus funding headed for Maryland if elected, Schulz deferred in part to the administration she’s currently a part of.

She said the Hogan administration is looking for strategic, longer-term investments instead of short-term spending.

“We’re looking at very long-term opportunities so that we can capitalize on infrastructure in general.”

Asked about a top priority outside of responding to the COVID pandemic, Schulz gives three:

  • Education: “[Holding] school systems accountable in order to be able to produce the best students that we possibly can.”
  • Confronting violent crime: “Being able to make sure that we’re safe walking through parking lots, going to the grocery store, late in the evening” and “understanding the importance of funding the police, funding them well … and providing them resources for training and other opportunities.”
  • Economic development: “Everything from workforce development, to … incentives, being able to attract businesses to our communities, provide more jobs and opportunities for everybody in the state.”

Schulz also said state leaders “need to be able to identify with” the small business community.

“We have to look at those small businesses and see how we can help them to flourish … because they are the majority of the employers of our state,” she said.

Asked about how she will handle the multi-billion-dollar education reform plan enacted by legislators over Hogan’s veto, Schulz responded that she’s not a big fan of mandates generally, because “I think that they pigeonhole us from looking at a lot of different types of opportunities that might come along.”

Schulz said she did look forward to advancing conversations about workforce development and apprenticeships.

“I think it’s important to be able to look at those individualized types of programs, and how they help to bring prosperity to the individuals, and how we can bring those opportunities to the business world,” Schulz said.

On marijuana legalization, Schulz said she doesn’t yet have a policy position, but mentioned that hemp development for farmers is an important economic development opportunity.

At the end of a brief sit-down interview in Ocean City, Schulz offered no hint at who her running mate might be.

“Our campaign has been working really hard, moving across the state talking about issues and delivering our message,” Schulz said. “…The more we move across the state and listen to more individuals about what their priorities are, that might help us to determine what our priorities are going to be for running mate.”

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