Gov. O’Malley ponders big question: What next?


Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, center, speaks at a news conference in Annapolis on March 15 after the Maryland General Assembly approved a measure to ban capital punishment. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
April 21, 2013

After an extraordinarily productive two years in which Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley muscled through legislation on several top priorities — including same-sex marriage,gun control, transportation funding and repealing the death penalty — the question is: What, if anything, is there left for him to do before leaving office?

In an interview, O’Malley (D), who is weighing a 2016 presidential bid, said he has spent little time thinking about “lame-duck considerations” in Maryland and that there is plenty he would like to accomplish before his second term ends in January 2015.

“I intend to run through this finish line and do everything I can to make these final 19, 20 months as effective as possible for the people I serve,” he said.

But asked if there’s anything he feels compelled to take to the legislature next year — in his eighth and final 90-day session — O’Malley said the question was premature.

“Off the top of my head, no, but give me a little time to rest,” he said, noting this year’s session ended barely two weeks ago. “Give me a little time to rest.”

The governor and his aides said much of his focus will now be on governing — work that doesn’t directly involve the legislature — including more direct engagement in StateStat, a program he pioneered that uses statistics to gauge the performance of state agencies. His implementation of a similar program while mayor of Baltimore was responsible for some of the first national attention O’Malley received.

Besides thinking about what’s best for Maryland, O’Malley said he will spend substantial time in coming months thinking more seriously about his future.

He said he plans to talk to “insightful people” and think more deeply about what issues are important to the country — a process that could result in a campaign agenda if he moves forward with a bid for the presidency.

“I’m pulling together the sort of policy framework that I think a campaign of any integrity would have in order to be worthy of the effort and ultimately successful at governing,” O’Malley said. He cited Bill Clinton’s efforts prior to his 1992 campaign as a model.

From a political standpoint, O’Malley already has plenty of accomplishments in Maryland to tout for Democratic primary voters if he chooses to move forward with a presidential bid, said Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic strategist who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign.

In November, just two months before this year’s General Assembly session began, O’Malley successfully defended two high-
profile measures that opponents had petitioned to the ballot box: the legalization of same-sex marriage and the extension of in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrants.

Several of his initiatives this year passed after falling short in previous years, including the death penalty repeal, the first increase in the state’s gas tax since 1992 and a bill intended to boost the state’s use of renewable energy by providing subsidies for an offshore wind farm.

“This last session in particular gave O’Malley plenty of accomplishments on top of what he already has,” Trippi said. “At some point, it becomes more important who you’re meeting in Iowa or New Hampshire than what one last thing you get done in Maryland.”

The race to succeed O’Malley in Maryland is also likely to take shape around him, and he plans to be involved. Just as the legislative session ended, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) put out word that he would formally announce his bid for governor early next month.

Brown, whom O’Malley is backing, is expected to be part of a crowded field of Democrats and Republicans competing for their party’s nominations in June 2014. That’s three months earlier than past gubernatorial primaries in Maryland.

O’Malley said he plans to do “everything I can” to help Brown, a commitment that will involve helping raise money, among other things, aides say.

The timing of next year’s primaries will leave lawmakers little time to campaign after the legislative session, which ends in April, likely making the session more political than it would be otherwise.

“A lot of the individual legislators are going to want to focus their energies on their agendas, not the governor’s,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who helped shepherd O’Malley’s legislative agenda through his chamber this year. “The governor is smart enough to understand that. . . . Will his last year be as packed with issues and drama as this year? No, probably not.”

That still leaves plenty to do, O’Malley and his aides say.

The governor, who left Saturday on a trade mission to Israel and Jordan, said job creation will remain a priority.

He also remains focused on reaching 16 wide-ranging strategic goals he has laid out for his administration. They are as varied as increasing mass transit ridership, eliminating childhood hunger and increasing renewable energy generation.

An aide said there also are plans for a series of visits to communities around the state to seek input on how state government can better serve them.

And during the interview, O’Malley mentioned a number of lower-profile initiatives that will get his attention, including plans for a “town hall” for science teachers to coordinate strategies on teaching and projects related to the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Much of his work, he said, takes place outside the 90 days law­makers are in town.

“The other three-quarters of the year is driving down violent crime, driving up student achievement, building an innovation economy through all the various things our state government and its executive branches do,” O’Malley said.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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