GREENBELT – When Mckayla Wilkes was little, her grandparents lived in the apartments behind the Roosevelt Center in Old Greenbelt.
On July 28, Wilkes returned to the shopping center – this time as a Democratic candidate for Maryland’s 5th District.
Wilkes, the 29-year-old student who is mounting a progressive primary challenge to unseat U.S. Representative Steny Hoyer for the post he’s held since 1981, shared her vision of how the Green New Deal would affect Maryland with about three dozen supporters at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt.
The Green New Deal, Wilkes said, is about providing the framework to address climate change and economic inequality simultaneously. Supporters of the legislation argue that millions of jobs can be created through the transition to sustainable infrastructure, and clean, renewable energy.
“This is something that we need to enact now,” Wilkes said. “We cannot reverse the damage that we have already done, but we can mitigate it and stop contributing to it, and we can also tailor it to fit our district.”
The coastal communities of the 5th District – which encompasses parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties as well as all of Charles, St. Mary’s and Calvert Counties – are especially susceptible to the effects of climate change, she said.
As part of her proposed A Green New Deal for Maryland vision, Wilkes said high-wage union jobs would be created locally as workers are trained to build and install offshore wind and wave energy technology.
She said her plan would include restoring wetlands and marshes and a renewed focus on cleaning, farming and maintaining the Chesapeake Bay.
“This is about us, and we need to be at the forefront of the conversation,” she said.
Katie Brown, a volunteer on the campaign who also grew up in the district, said Wilkes’ proposed plan could help change the mindset and career trajectory of many of the area’s younger residents – many of whom who enter other industries because of a lack of options in the area.
She said the plan would provide opportunities for young people to have an impact on saving the environment, such as rebuilding the wetlands. Change, she said, is going to have to come from a desire for a better future, not just policy.
“We’re a perfect example of a district that is primed to have that sort of changeover,” Brown said. “It’s going to require all of us to have a grasp on the actual problem and go beyond just waiting for a politician to implement some policy.”
Although critics have accused Hoyer of helping to stall Green New Deal legislation, the incumbent has consistently supported major environmental legislation throughout his career.
According to The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) website, Hoyer has a lifetime score of 81% on its National Environmental Scorecard, a tool it uses to document how often a politician votes for pro-environment issues.
Annaliese Davis, a spokesperson for Hoyer’s campaign, defended his record.
“Throughout his career, he has worked hard to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries including the Potomac, Anacostia and Patuxent Rivers; protect our public lands including Piscataway Park; replenish the oyster population in our waterways and improve the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink,” Davis wrote in the statement.
“Additionally, Mr. Hoyer worked for years to ensure Mallows Bay in Charles County received the designation of National Marine Sanctuary. Earlier this year, he brought H.R. 9, the Climate Action Now Act, to the House Floor to take action to address climate change.
“Every policy decision he makes is based on what is in the best interest of his constituents and the country, and he will continue to work hard to put the needs of families in the Fifth District first.”
Wilkes said she thinks Hoyer should be doing more, pointing out that his top campaign contributor is an electric utility company.
“He’s not doing enough, and I feel like the things that he has voted on are kind of safe for his pocket,” Wilkes said before the event. “As long as they don’t affect those who contribute to his campaign, then that’s okay,” she said.