Former Maryland Lt. Gov. and former Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele said Monday that while he is strongly considering running for governor in 2022 he does not feel pressured to make a final decision on that front anytime soon.
Below is an edited excerpt of an interview Steele did with MarylandReporter.com. Steele also discussed national politics, the recent passage of landmark police reform bills in Maryland, and how to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in minority communities.
It appears that the departure of House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (Wyo.) is imminent now that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) has said that he favors Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) for that position. What does that say about the current state of affairs of the national GOP and former President Donald Trump’s influence over the party?
Steele: It means a lot. It is sad that someone would get pushed out of leadership because they will not tell a lie to the American people. They will not perpetuate a lie. The lie is that Donald Trump won the election. That there was fraud in this election. And it speaks to the very sad state of where the party has fallen. That we have, as Liz Cheney has said: a party that is nothing more than a ‘cult of personality.’
They (Republican members of Congress) are afraid of being primaried by someone who supports Trump or they are afraid of Trump saying something bad about them. They are trying to make political calculations to win the next election. It says a lot. And it is unfortunate and sad. It is going to be a reckoning for the party because it is such a fall away from where we have been.
Switching now to state politics, the General Assembly last month passed a series of police reform bills. Some of the bills have already been enacted into law over Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto. Do you think that these measures will help improve public safety?
Steele: To the extent that the people can begin to re-engage around policing solutions-that the police themselves understand why these types of reforms are very very important. At the end of the day, in the Black community-as in any community-no one is buying into this: ‘Oh, let’s defund the police.’ That is just a load of crock! That is not realistic. It is not going to happen. But there has to be some level of re-evaluation of how we are policing, particularly in communities of color. And not just where we are seeing top-level problems. But also more systemic problems.
You also have a process in which you need to re-evaluate how we spend and what we spend our policing dollars on. And how best to maximize that for both the police and the community. So that there is a better combination of resources that allow for situations where the police have a direct role in responding to crime. And then there are other situations where communities of interest can step in for something where the policeman’s role is not the best use of the police in that situation. These are the types of things that any legislation should look at.
The House and Senate legislators believe that these bills will start that process. The governor disagreed. And I think now that they have overridden it we will have to see if the legislature was right. And if it does not begin to address those systemic issues then clearly they will have to go back and get it right with the people of Maryland.
Both state and federal data continue to show that vaccine hesitancy is prevalent in the African-American community as well as in other minority communities. What additional steps can be taken to help instill confidence in the vaccine in those communities?
Steele: There is a lot of history behind that hesitancy. There is a lot of reticence. And what has sprung up is that common belief that in the Black community you do not get the right kind of dose for these things. And that is borne out of what we have seen happen in the community when these types of programs have sprung up in the past. I think that it requires a lot of time and work. And we have to be patient in the process.
It is about getting community leaders, church leaders, and political leaders to demonstrate to the broader community the efficacy of this vaccine and why it is important for them to get it. And that not getting it actually becomes a self-fulling prophecy of the concerns that they have around experimentation and getting sick. You will get sick if you do not get it. And you have got to help yourself as much as you can. Individuals that are trusted in the community need to be at the forefront of advocacy and education.
It is nice to a see a politician get the shot. But I think that it is more important if you see a respected elder or social worker or community activist or leader-not just getting the shot but advocating for the importance of it and why it will save lives in our community. And why we will become less dependent from a health perspective on accessing the system.
You have said that you are taking a hard look at running for governor next year. Can you provide an update that?
Steele: The process is going along. I am just talking to people and getting a lot of information and getting a lot of very honest responses. There is no rush in my timeline. It is a lot. It is a lot. And right now I am just taking my time with it.
Thus far the only Republican who has entered the governor’s race is state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz. What are your thoughts on her candidacy?
Steele: Good luck. That is her choice and her decision. And she will pull together her team and do her thing. And if I get in then we will have a primary. If I do not then she will probably be the nominee. Good luck.