Governor Wes Moore sits in front of a Maryland flag

Credit: André Chung


The Governor Wes Moore

After success in finance, philanthropy, and the military, Moore tried politics and won. One year into his governorship, we sat down with the alum to talk about a life of service.

The Maryland State House is the oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use. Work began on the wooden-domed structure in 1772. The Revolutionary War delayed construction, leaving it partly unfinished when lawmakers ratified the Treaty of Paris there in 1784. Wes Moore, A&S '01, started calling this storied, colonial-era edifice "the office" last January when he became Maryland's 63rd governor. Just off his actual office, the Governor's Reception Room is where he performs ceremonial bill signings and, as it turns out, meets with writers. A business suit can't hide Moore's athletic build. Heading over for a hearty handshake, he looks like he's ready to strap on a helmet and snag long passes on the gridiron—something he did as wide receiver for the Hopkins Blue Jays before graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in international studies. His next position: Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.

This morning he's already met with a group of schoolchildren, held a Zoom meeting about a development project, and had a security briefing related to the Israel-Hamas War. "And it's just 11 o'clock," Moore says with a grin that telegraphs, 'Yeah, it's hectic, but I got this.' Watching over us is a phalanx of framed paintings of previous governors. Moore sweeps an arm toward the likenesses to say he's nothing like them.

For starters, Moore is the state's first Black governor. But what's more, the governorship is his first foray into electoral politics. Moore didn't climb the greasy political pole up from lesser offices. And unlike some of those immortalized in portraits, he's not from a dynastic political family. After a childhood lived in Maryland and the Bronx, Moore worked in investment banking and later led the Robin Hood Foundation, one of the nation's largest poverty-fighting philanthropies. His time in the Army Reserve included a combat tour in Afghanistan as a captain with the 82nd Airborne. Moore's bestselling 2010 book, The Other Wes Moore, explored inequities, the power of mentorship, and the tenuous nature of opportunity through the life of a like-named young Black man from a similar background who became not a scholar or an Army officer but a convicted murderer with a life sentence.

Moore's new job includes a new home: Government House just across the street, where Maryland governors have resided since 1870. He moved here from Baltimore with his wife, Dawn Moore, and their two school-aged children. "I have the world's greatest commute," he says. A downside to to Annapolis life? It's home to the Naval Academy, and as a proud Army vet, he's outnumbered, especially during the famed service academies' football clash. "Beat Army" signs and banners abound in town. "I am focused on figuring out why they continue to use taxpayer dollars for propaganda," he says with a laugh before settling in to answer questions about his first year in the state's big chair.

You are finishing up your first year as governor. What are you most proud of?

I think you can look at the things that this administration has accomplished in just 10 months and be pretty blown away. We had arguably the most successful legislative session, not just of any first-term administration but any governor in recent history. We introduced 10 pieces of legislation and got all 10 of our bills passed. We did everything from raising the minimum wage to $15 to making the child tax credit permanent in the state of Maryland. We made Maryland the first state that has a service year option for our high school graduates. We were the first state in the country that now has a pathway for free dental care and health care for members of the National Guard. We made historic investments in public education and at the same time still gave $200 million of tax relief to Marylanders.

"We're going to be bolder, but we're going to do it in a way that everyone feels seen and everyone feels like they're part of a solution."
Wes Moore
Governor of Maryland

But the thing I'm most proud of is that we changed the tenor of the conversation. It's not just what we got done but how we got it done. We got them all passed with bipartisan support. And if you track where our team goes, we're probably spending as much time in areas that did not vote for me as in areas that did. I think we're holding true to our ethos of "leave no one behind." We needed our state to go fast, but we also needed our state to go together. We're going to be bolder, but we're going to do it in a way that everyone feels seen and everyone feels like they're part of a solution.

You mentioned the new service initiative. How has service played a part in your life, and how do you see it playing a role in the lives of young Marylanders?

Service has been my foundation. If you look at every good thing that has transpired in my life, particularly my adult life, service was its anchor. Every blessing that I've received, it was stimulated by service—my interactions, friendships, mentorships. When I think about what service means to me, I also think about the campaign trail. I had people who I served with in Afghanistan campaign for me. Many of them were not Marylanders. They traveled here from around the country. Many of them were not Democrats, but they literally came in and knocked on doors on my behalf, simply saying, Let me tell you about the guy I served with.

We were very clear from our early days that this was going to be a state that serves because if we're going to do that, then service will save us. We have to be a state that gets to know one another again. Part of that anchoring is in the service year option for high school grads. We're not telling you how to serve, we're just asking you to serve. We're asking you to be part of something bigger. And we just want to create that kind of pathway for everybody to be able to benefit.

Obviously, K-12 education is a huge issue. We're still dealing with COVID disruptions, there's a teacher shortage, and some substandard school buildings need renovations or replacement. What's your vision here?

We need to treat education like the foundational imperative that it is. And I don't think we always have. When we came in and we said that we are going to invest in education, we meant it. In our first budget, we put $8.7 billion into education, and that's just K-12. We introduced and passed the Educator Shortage Reduction Act. It is focused on making sure that we can get high-quality educators inside the classroom by coming up with different ways to recruit and retain teachers.

"The fundamentals of reading and mathematics are the two core pillars of our educational function, so we've got to make sure we're centering on that."
Wes Moore
Governor of Maryland

We also know we have a lot more to do. We know that the COVID disruptions are real and that we still have an education system that is not getting the fundamentals right for enough of our students. The fundamentals of reading and mathematics are the two core pillars of our educational function, so we've got to make sure we're centering on that.

And we want an education system that is teaching our students how not just to be employees but how to be employers. And it is not necessarily saying that every student should go into a four-year college, because they shouldn't. Every kid should have the pathway for that, but every kid doesn't need to take advantage of that. Doing a better job with career technical education is the reason that we put significant investments in apprenticeship programs and trade programs. In our time here, we want to be clear that we're going to end the myth that every student must attend a four-year institution. It's just not true. It goes back to the old quote, "If you teach a fish that the definition of genius is climbing a tree, then that fish will always think it's insufficient." And we repeatedly are doing that to our young people by telling them that there's only one category of success.

That said, we do have some excellent colleges and universities, not just Hopkins but the state universities as well. What is their role?

We have some of the best four-year institutions in the country, both public and private. I'm a very proud Hopkins alum. Another piece of legislation we signed was the Innovation Economy Infrastructure Act of 2023. And that really involves the identification of the core industries where we think Maryland has a competitive advantage to be able to move faster than other states and be able to gain significant market share. So that includes cybersecurity, AI, life sciences, and biopharma. If you look at these various industries, the one thing that all of them have in common is that there are institutions of higher education that are the national leaders here in Maryland. We have Johns Hopkins University, we have the University of Maryland, we have Morgan State University. We have institutions that are creating true pipelines for national leaders. But if we don't leverage that as a state, then we are going to fall behind.

Who are and who have been your role models?

I have so many. There are a few from Hopkins who to this day are very important to me. Like Paul White, who at that time was the director of [undergraduate] admissions at Johns Hopkins. I was just finishing a two-year school, and I was trying to figure out where I wanted to transfer. And frankly, Hopkins was not on my list. And I remember having lunch with Paul White and that lunch literally changed my life. I think about Bill Brody, a former president of Hopkins, who to this day gave me some of the best advice I've gotten about making a career move. I told him I was going into the world of finance, and he was not happy. He was like, listen, I will never criticize something that you're doing, particularly if you think you're doing it because you're investing in your family. But he said, as soon as you accomplish what it is you have to accomplish, leave. Because every day you spend doing something that does not make your heart beat a little bit faster, you'll start to become extraordinarily ordinary. And his counsel has been a guide to me to this day. I also think about people like Chris Ogeneski, who was my wide receiver coach at Johns Hopkins. Not just an amazing coach but someone who first introduced me to the world of finance because he used to work in finance during the day and come coach college kids during his time off in the evenings.

I think about people like Lieutenant General Michael Fenzel, a Hopkins grad and now a three-star general in the Army and who was a groomsman in my wedding. For probably the past 25 years, he's been an unbelievable mentor and role model and definition of a public servant and good friend. I'm thankful that I've got a lot of folks in my life who I call mentors, and a lot of them have the Hopkins connection.

Unpack your decision to go into politics. Did you figure you needed to learn from your previous roles before seeking elected office?

"No one could have predicted two and a half years ago, except for maybe a small group of believers, that we'd be here right now."
Wes Moore
Governor of Maryland

I never looked at those other experiences as proving grounds because I didn't think about politics. I'm probably the most improbable governor in the country. If you look at all these other governors, none of them has a background like mine. I didn't come from a political family. I wasn't a congressman. I wasn't a county executive. I wasn't a mayor. I was a private sector guy living a private life. And one day I decided that if we're not fixing the systems that continue to create the challenges that I had devoted my life to addressing, then we will just repeatedly find ourselves cleaning up the debris that comes from these broken systems. And I knew going into this race, it was a long shot, right? I was nobody's favorite. No one could have predicted two and a half years ago, except for maybe a small group of believers, that we'd be here right now. But I knew that we were very clear on our why. We were very clear that we were going to outwork everybody. We were very clear on what it was going to take in order to be successful, and we were very clear that we were going to stand our ground and stay there, that I wasn't going to become one of these people that kind of bends to political winds—because I don't come from that system. I don't come from that background.

A video screen in the waiting area plays images from your inauguration, including of you and your Republican predecessor, Gov. Larry Hogan, being all smiles. Can we still take this peaceful transfer of power for granted?

It's actually sad. We made national news as one of the only states that went from red to blue, and my predecessor called to congratulate me before my opponent did. There's this larger denialism that is real and that has talons inside our national ethos in a way that is just remarkably dangerous. And especially when you know the history of Maryland. This is literally the building where George Washington resigned his commission. This is the building where Washington said the power doesn't belong to him but to the people, and he was willingly giving up power and allowing the people to decide what is going to be their destiny. I approached this work with an idea that I'm really proud to be the 63rd governor of this state, but if there's one guarantee I can give you, it's that there'll be a 64th, there'll be a 65th, there'll be a 66th.

The nation is sharply divided along partisan lines, and since they call Maryland "America in miniature," we have the same sort of red/ blue divide. What gives you hope when it comes to healing?

The thing that gives me hope is that we are going to do what we always do, which is to show up and be present. My first official trip as the governor was to Lonaconing in western Maryland because they were having a boil water advisory. They were having a water crisis there. And I remember contacting Mayor Jack Coburn, and when I went to go see him, he said, Governor, do me a favor and turn 360 degrees. And he said, There's only one guarantee I can give you: Everywhere you just looked, there is not a Democrat within 5 miles. But, he said, I tell you what, you're the first governor that's shown up here since 1996.

"I think we're holding true to our word that we're going everywhere. We're going to listen, and we're going to learn, and we're going to lead."
Wes Moore
Governor of Maryland

I think we're holding true to our word that we're going everywhere. We're going to listen, and we're going to learn, and we're going to lead. And I think people will see and appreciate this larger dynamic that if we can stick to our word, and if we can be the state that serves and really be a state where people get to know each other again, we're going to be in a much better place. And I think Maryland's going to lead the way on how the nation can heal.

You mentioned the history of this statehouse. Part of that history is that enslaved labor was almost certainly used in its construction. Is that something that you ruminate on while working here?

Deeply. We started our inauguration down on the docks. And I was very intentional about that, and not just because the docks are beautiful but because that was one of the earliest and largest slave ports in this country. To your point, this building that I was inaugurated in front of was one that was built by the hands of enslaved people. We did a relaying ceremony from the docks to here. And I remember telling people about these plans and they would say, Why are you starting your administration on something that's divisive? But I was like, it's not divisive. It's history. And I didn't do it to divide. I did it to empower—and empower all of us. Because when we understand our journey, when we understand our history, when we understand the sacrifices of those who came before us, I think we're going to have a better appreciation of where we are.

What keeps you grounded with your hectic schedule?

I work out in Annapolis every morning at 6 a.m. I work out with my trainer and I love it. It's one of the quiet moments that I have with no phones. It's a chance to just grind for an hour and feel the ramifications of the grind all day long, which I'm feeling right now. This morning we started with a 3-mile run, and then we did two different circuit sets of everything from pull-ups to incline dumbbells to the bench press.

Maryland's not on the frontlines of the migrant crisis, but with your familial connection to immigrants, do you have any thoughts on the issue?

I'm the son of an immigrant single mom, and my lieutenant governor is the first immigrant ever elected to statewide office in Maryland. And our state is powered by immigration. There are a few things that I think about when it comes to the migrant crisis. One is, I think we too often get into this binary in politics where politicians say things that don't really relate to people's experiences. For some politicians, it's like, well, we have to secure the borders. For others, it's like, we need to be humane and create pathways. And for most people who live in impacted communities, the answer is both. Yes, you have to secure the borders. And at the same time, you've got to make sure you're creating pathways for individuals who are here. What's challenging is that it is very much a federal issue when it comes to the laws, but it's very much a local issue when it comes to how it's being materialized. For all of us governors and mayors, this is a very real challenge that we've got to navigate in partnership with the federal government.

On a lighter note, you were in the ballpark when the Baltimore Orioles clinched their first division title in a decade. So, your time in the Bronx didn't turn you into a Yankees fan?

Oh, absolutely not. In fact, interestingly enough, my grandfather, who I lived with in the Bronx, was a Mets fan. Now, part of that, I think, was that he was a natural contrarian. He liked to do things differently. That was just his personality. So, he was probably the only Mets fan in the Bronx. But the first baseball game I ever went to was a New York Mets game, and I did not grow up a Yankees fan, even during my time in the Bronx.

And the good news about the Orioles is that they're young. We've got some of the best young talent in baseball. It was a very special year. It is still a little bit disappointing because I really believed that we were going to have World Series baseball in Baltimore this year, but it's OK. We'll get it in very short order.

Brennen Jensen is a senior staff writer for Johns Hopkins Magazine.

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