Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pretty much announced he was running for president on ABC News’ This Week, saying “Let's be honest here, the presidency is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people.” He also said we needed new perspectives and new leadership, leaving host George Stephanopoulos commenting if this was his 2016 announcement.
Right now, O’Malley has zero percent of the vote in Iowa. Yet, if you look at his record, he’s someone who can potentially siphon votes from Hillary, specifically from the progressive wing. Some say he should be taken seriously, though it’s unknown if he has the political infrastructure and fundraising capability to stay competitive with the Clintons. Yet, his middle class upbringing could resonate with Democratic voters turned off by Hillary’s perceived limousine liberal personality. In 2013, the National Journal wrote that he wanted to be part of the “2016 conversation;” his interview on ABC News this morning confirms that:
He was a middle-class, suburban Washington kid who chose to build a political career in one of the grittiest, most troubled cities in America, with all the challenges and risks that entailed. He spent eight years on the Baltimore City Council and seven as mayor before moving to Annapolis to begin two terms as governor in January 2007. O’Malley has been closely identified with statistics-based governing in both of his executive positions: CitiStat to improve management and services in Baltimore; StateStat to do the same across Maryland; even BayStat to revive the Chesapeake Bay. Fusing passion with dispassion, he has deployed numbers to fight crime and pollution, to win approval for gambling casinos and gun restrictions, to pass tuition breaks for illegal immigrant students, and even to repeal the death penalty.
At the same time, over the past few years, he has steadily ascended in national politics—as a key supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton and later Barack Obama in 2008, as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association in 2011 and 2012, and as a prominent media spokesman for Obama and Democrats during the 2012 presidential campaign. He continues in a DGA leadership role as finance chairman, an ideal job for someone who might need to raise a lot of money for a presidential campaign in a year or two.
Whether O’Malley has the charisma and fundraising prowess to make a serious bid is unclear at this point. He does have some noteworthy assets. Maryland is at the top of numerous lists rating metrics such as education and innovation. O’Malley has been on many lists of rising stars over the past decade. In 2009, Governing magazine cited his data-based management style in naming him a public official of the year. This year, in its May/June issue, Washington Monthly called him “arguably the best manager in government today.”
Over at the Daily Beast, Jonathan Miller also touted O’Malley’s record of accomplishment:
O’Malley’s record as governor of Maryland, and before that mayor of Baltimore, provides plenty of manna to nourish starving progressives. Long before his immigration comments, the Governor punched through a succession of liberal hot-buttons: Marriage equality? Check. Gun control? Check. Death penalty repeal? Check. Decriminalizing pot and legalizing medical marijuana? Check and check. Some might argue that he’s even been too liberal for solid blue Maryland. In fact, some do, and vociferously: Discontented residents of four western counties have been pushing an initiative for months to secede from the rest of the state.
O’Malley has ticked off plenty of liberals as well. Inheriting a $1.7 billion structural deficit and then plunging into the headwinds of the Great Recession, the Governor pushed through more than $9.5 billion in budget cuts, requiring sizable state employee layoffs, and the downsizing of critical health and transportation programs. And the state’s largest public employee unions expressed considerable displeasure with O’Malley’s signature pension reform efforts
Overall, however, O’Malley can point to a fiscal track record that most progressives would embrace: investing record sums in education to produce the nation’s top ranked public schools five years in a row and lowest college tuition hikes since 2007; expanding the earned income tax credit and increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour; and recovering all of the jobs lost in the national recession.
He also has been known to criticize his own party. O’Malley has been hailed as one of immigration’s biggest allies by Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a vocal supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. He disagreed with the Obama White House’s decision to fast track the deportation process for unaccompanied minors that arrived in droves at the U.S. border last year.
Yet, while O’Malley might sound good with Democrats souring on Clinton and how feel the administration hasn’t delivered on immigration, the general electorate might be weary of a hard core liberal record dotted with higher taxes. Oh, and a plurality of Americans felt that those unaccompanied minors should be deported as soon as possible.
Yet, O’Malley could pivot by citing that he’s shrunk the state government workforce to its lowest levels (per capita) since 1973. Still, O’Malley, like Hillary, is a polarizing figure when it comes to his record. As the Baltimore Sun wrote, “O'Malley has either been a charismatic, national leader who pulled Maryland through an economic recession or a tax-and-spend liberal who went too far.”
The latter seems to have been on the minds of Maryland voters last year when they decided to elect Republican Larry Hogan as O’Malley’s successor, who has begun, according to Alec MacGillis of Slate, to dismantle the governor’s legacy:
Hogan is now hard at work seeking to undermine O’Malley’s legacy on any number of fronts—reversing his cleanup policies for the Chesapeake Bay, steering transportation money into highways instead of public transit, and, most of all, proposing deep cuts to the state’s K–12 schools, whose high performance O’Malley invoked in the very first line of his lackluster speech at the 2012 Democratic convention.
O’Malley’s legacy is also at risk in Baltimore in a more particular way. His proudest accomplishment there was the implementation of “CitiStat,” an attempt to bring to all municipal services the kind of data-heavy accountability that transformed policing in New York City and other cities, including Baltimore.
As the Baltimore Sun reported last weekend, CitiStat has seriously atrophied under the city’s current mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She has had her own successes as mayor, and Baltimore is by many measures doing even better than it was under O’Malley, but CitiStat has not been a priority for her as it was under him—while he may have raised expectations for city services in a lasting way, his institutional transformation has been less durable.
O’Malley is hardly the first person to run for president when the state or city he once led is under a regime that is leading it in a different direction (Gov. Deval Patrick was running Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was on the ballot in 2012; Gov. Rick Scott, while of the same party as Jeb Bush, is challenging his legacy in Florida.) But the cost of the dismantled legacy is potentially greater for O’Malley, precisely because he is planning to run almost exclusively as a manager-who-gets-results. He won’t be pointing national campaign reporters to his dazzling speeches, his vision for the country, or his inspiring life story (he comes from a solidly middle-class background in the Washington suburbs); rather, he’ll be pointing them to his managerial legacy in the city and state that he led. And if those legacies take a hit—if, say, there is no bona fide CitiStat meeting for the national media to attend in Baltimore—that is a problem.
We shall see what happens, but delivering “dazzling speeches” surely isn’t one of Mr. O’Malley strengths.
10 more minutes of O'Malley and I'll vote for Romney #dnc2012— Peter Beinart (@PeterBeinart) September 5, 2012
Nevertheless, decision time for O'Malley is coming soon.