How Martin O’Malley built a 2016 résumé liberals will love

Like oh so many politicians with their eyes on the White House, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has spent the last year beefing up his résumé ahead of the 2016 elections. For O'Malley, a moderate Democrat and former mayor of Baltimore, this means tacking to the left and burnishing his liberal credentials.


Is O'Malley telling Obama he wants his job? (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

And his latest move is a big one. On Monday, O'Malley signed a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

As polling has shown, decriminalization of marijuana has a lot of popular support. According to NORML, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws decriminalizing marijuana, treating carrying the drug like a traffic infraction. One of those states is Colorado, which, along with Washington, legalized marijuana earlier this year.

While other potential 2016 candidates on both sides of the aisle have voiced their support for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana (we're looking at you, Rand Paul), O'Malley is the first who has actually taken any action. This is significant because it is sure to do two things: win him pro-marijuana fans and give opponents something to seize on should he run in 2016.

For the past year or so, O'Malley has been pivoting toward the left. Why? For one, look at who his opponents might be. The most obvious one would be the decidedly liberal Hillary Rodham Clinton. Others being bandied about are New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Vice President Biden. Liberal and liberal.

Second, O'Malley must prove his liberal bona fides to the base of the Democratic Party. Issues such as gun control, same-sex marriage and raising the minimum wage are all important toward galvanizing the base, and O'Malley has scored victories on all three within the past year.

Earlier this month, Maryland raised its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, implementing a plan President Obama has been pushing hard for at both the state and federal levels. The bill was O'Malley's top priority during the 2014 legislative session.

In November 2012, voters upheld Maryland's law legalizing same-sex marriage, which O'Malley had championed.

Last year was O'Malley's biggest for legislative victories, as he pushed through a suite of liberal bills, some of which had failed in the past.

Maryland legalized medical marijuana and hiked the gas tax. He championed climate change legislation and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Spurred by O'Malley, the state passed some of the nation's toughest gun laws. Maryland reclassified and banned more than 45 types of semiautomatic rifles as assault weapons, banned magazines that hold more than 10 bullets and required people who buy most types of guns to obtain a license.

A Roman Catholic who opposes the death penalty, O'Malley repealed the state's use of capital punishment last year, calling it "a policy that is proven not to work." In 2012, Maryland voters approved another liberal O'Malley initiative: the state's Dream Act, which grants in-state tuition to undocumented students. While O'Malley's calculus should help him if he runs in 2016, he is governor of a state that is also turning to the left.

“Are we the Southern state that we used to be? No, we're not,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) told reporters last year. “The state has become more progressive, there’s no doubt about it. Maryland does look liberal.  . . . That’s good news to some, bad news to others.”

Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said most think O'Malley is trying to appeal to liberals ahead of 2016.

"I think everybody in Maryland who pays any attention to politics has come to that conclusion," Norris said.

O'Malley hasn't limited his push to Maryland.  He's been traipsing around the country raising money for candidates. He headlined the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner in New Hampshire (wonder why he went there?) last year and jabbed at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan — also floated as potential 2016 contenders — on a trip to Milwaukee this weekend.

Despite his busy schedule, O'Malley appears to be keeping up the hobby he's best known for — playing in O'Malley's March, a Celtic folk rock band. They're playing a gig in June in Baltimore. No word if it will be a "wild nite," as the St. Patrick's Day gig the "artist formerly known as the Mayor" headlined last St. Patrick's day was advertised. In the meantime, O'Malley is giving out driving lessons.

Must-reads 

"Social Security stops trying to collect on old debts by seizing tax refunds"  — Marc Fisher, The Washington Post

"Political Rifts Slow U.S. Effort on Climate Laws" — Coral Davenport, the New York Times

Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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