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John B. King, former Obama education secretary, running for Maryland governor

John B. King Jr., announced on April 20 he is seeking the Democratic nomination to be Maryland’s next governor. (Video: John King for Governor)

John B. King Jr., a former education secretary under President Barack Obama, is seeking the Democratic nomination to be Maryland’s next governor, his campaign announced Tuesday.

King, 46, has spent his career in top education and government roles but has never sought public office before.

In launching his first campaign, he said he would focus on inequity, emphasizing that he would be the first Black governor of Maryland, where his great-grandfather was enslaved.

“If you look at the issues that we are facing today . . . they are all very much tied to the state’s history around the institution of slavery, around segregation and discrimination,” King said in an interview ahead of his announcement. “I think it’s important for us as a state to sort of grapple with those issues of racial equity and to build a future that provides opportunity for all.”

He said he planned to focus on expanding education access beyond the state’s sweeping new program known as Kirwan, seeking universal preschool statewide and saying “we have no future” unless Maryland’s public school system provides a high-quality education to all students. He described the tenure of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) as a series of “missed opportunities” to be aggressive on climate change and keep up with Northern Virginia’s aggressive job growth.

King is the second high-profile Democrat to formally launch a bid in the wide-open 2022 governor’s race to succeed the term-limited Hogan, who won two terms despite Democrats’ 2-to-1 voter registration advantage in the state. Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) launched his campaign last year, and more than half a dozen other Democrats are also weighing bids.

King grew up in New York and was orphaned by age 12, losing his mother to a heart attack and his father to Alzheimer’s. He credits public school teachers for preventing his life from going off the rails, even after he was expelled from high school.

He earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard University, a law degree from Yale and a doctorate in education administration from Columbia. King worked as a high school social studies teacher and a middle school principal, launched a charter school in Boston, and spent three contentious years as the top education official in New York state. He left that job to join the Obama Education Department in 2015, later becoming education secretary.

King lives with his wife and two daughters in Silver Spring, less than 25 miles from where his ancestors were enslaved on a plantation in Gaithersburg. Last fall, he launched a political nonprofit to address systemic racism in Maryland’s education, economic and climate policies.

Former Montgomery council candidate Ashwani Jain has also announced plans to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year. Author and activist Wes Moore, former Prince George’s County executive Rushern L. Baker III and Jon Baron, a former nonprofit executive from Montgomery County, have all said they are considering bids.

Other potential Democratic contenders include former state attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, Baltimore County Executive John A. “Johnny” Olszewski, Prince George’s Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks, U.S. Reps. Anthony G. Brown and David Trone, and former Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez.

In the Republican contest, Kelly Schulz, commerce secretary in the Hogan administration, is the only contender to declare her candidacy so far.

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