A Friday press briefing billed as focusing on Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as “a hot prospect” for Democrats in 2016 instead spent more time on a discussion of dysfunction in the governor’s party in Annapolis following the collapse of a budget deal early this month.
Most of the rest of the briefing was taken up with O’Malley’s views on Wisconsin and other states where, as head of the Democratic Governors Association, he is helping fundraise and strategize to ensure his party wins.
Still, O’Malley acknowledged that 2016 has been a topic of discussion among members of his family. O’Malley’s daughters e-mail him from college, he said, when they see his name mentioned alongside those of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as potential presidential material.
“They’ll e-mail me and say, ‘Boy, dad, it’s nice to be included.’ So, there’s that sort of talk,” O’Malley told the gathering hosted by Bill Schneider, the political analyst and longtime CNN contributor.
“But what we have to do now is what we have to do now,” O’Malley continued. “Four years is a long time and … anything that you hope to do later in public service always depends on your doing a good job at what you’re doing right now.”
And what about that problem in Annapolis?
“I’m sorry to say, I have nothing new to report,” O’Malley told reporters, adding that he continues to talk to Democratic leaders of the General Assembly about a deal that could lead to a special session and a resurrected plan to raise taxes. Without such a move, cuts totaling about $500 million, or 1 percent of the state’s general fund, would be triggered July 1.
The Democratic-controlled legislature passed a spending plan on April 9 that had been devised in tandem with another measure to raise taxes on high-income earners. But on the legislative session’s chaotic final night, the tax plan was never brought to a vote, while a deal to authorize a casino in Prince George’s County also fell apart.
The pieces of the budget that did pass left the state’s overall spending out of line with revenue, forcing cuts. O’Malley said he is working on a plan for $150 million in reductions that he will recommend on May 23.
O’Malley said he loathed the fact that disagreements between leaders of his own party accomplished what Republicans in Annapolis had been unable to accomplish for years: putting the state on a path to an austerity budget that would reduce funding for schools and colleges.
“Either we’re going to cut the very priorities and the very investments that have allowed us to weather this recession and come through it better than other states. Or, we’re going to find the consensus that we found in the prior five years to do the right thing,” O’Malley said.
He added that he viewed the gambling measure pushed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) as the issue that blew up the final night of the session.
“There’s this silly bomb that sometimes gets unleashed in the Maryland General Assembly, and when you throw the silly bomb in among the Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly, everyone starts acting silly,” he said.
Schneider asked O’Malley whether the gambling measure could be separated from negotiations to raise taxes and fix the budget.
“I believe they can. There was a time when for about four years nothing much got done in Annapolis, and it was impossible to separate the two. So difficult to separate the two, that I, myself, had to call a special session in my first year and sort them out,” O’Malley said. “I would have hoped we would have been done with the gaming issue, at least during my time at the helm.
“I’m hopeful the presiding officers will put the pin back in the silly bomb and focus on the priorities of the people of our state.”
But what about the topic du jour, O’Malley as a “hot prospect” for 2016?
“My mother called Bill and asked him to do that,” O’Malley joked.
“I haven’t, I’m focused on doing what I need to do to get my legislature back on track and to keep our track at the forefront of those states putting the recession in our rear-view mirror.
“Maryland has been — up until this recent legislative shame — we’ve been not just a laboratory of democracy, we’ve been a lifeboat of progress. We’ve done a lot of good things that other states have not been able to do, even in easier times,” he said.
“I’m also the head of the Democratic Governors Association for the second year , and I suppose for that reason, as well as the good job we’ve done in Maryland over these last few years, people kindly mention me when they talk about what the future of our party holds, and it’s nice and it’s kind, but I don’t really spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, working on it or worrying about it,” O’Malley said.
“The future, you know, the future will be. And what I’m focused on right now is the present.”