By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former NAACP President Ben Jealous said on Wednesday he would seek the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor next year, charging that the Republican incumbent lacked the courage to stand up to President Donald Trump.
Jealous, an ally of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during his 2016 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, said incumbent Larry Hogan had failed to oppose Trump policies that would weaken healthcare and education as well as environmental protection of the Chesapeake Bay.
Jealous, making his first bid for elected office, is the latest Democrat to try to link an opponent to the Republican president. Approval ratings have sagged for Trump, who has been embroiled in controversy since his May 9 firing of FBI Director James Comey who was overseeing an investigation into possible collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.
"It seems like every week our governor becomes a little more like the lion in 'The Wizard of Oz,' all strength and no political courage," Jealous, 44, said as he declared his candidacy outside a cousin's flower shop in Baltimore.
Hogan, who did not endorse Trump in the 2016 election, has not said if he will seek re-election. A spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won Maryland by 26 percentage points in last November's election.
Jealous led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the biggest U.S. civil rights group, from 2008 to 2013. He is the second Democrat to announce his candidacy ahead of Maryland's June 2018 primary, joining entrepreneur and author Alec Ross. Jealous, if elected, would be Maryland's first black governor.
Jealous, who spearheaded the NAACP's successful campaign to overturn Maryland's death penalty in 2012, said he backed raising the minimum wage to $15 a hour from the current $8.75, improving teacher quality, expanding mass transit and improving training for police officers.
Hogan has followed a moderate agenda focused on economic growth and cutting regulations and fees. He also has banned fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into shale to release natural gas and oil, thus aligning himself with Maryland's heavily Democratic voter base.
He held a 65 percent approval rating among registered voters in a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll in March, but only 41 percent backed him for a second term.
Hogan, 61, scored an upset victory in 2014 over Democratic Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)