Washington’s two neighboring governors, term-limited and harboring national ambitions, had another thing in common last week, with ends to similarly rocky General Assembly sessions in Annapolis and Richmond.
Midway through their respective tenures, O’Malley (D) and McDonnell (R) — both national spokesmen for Democrats and Republicans — scuffed the boundaries of their parties as much as defined them.
“Both men will be remembered for this; it’s going to become part of the narrative for each of them, but for very different reasons,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report. For O’Malley, the tax increase has pushed him left of left, she said. For McDonnell, on the right he will long be tied to conservative ideologues, on topics ranging from gay judges to vaginal ultrasounds that elicit visceral reactions among voters.
“McDonnell was sort of the leader of the party when it began to do some of these things that were out of the mainstream for Virginia. It may be part of his narrative if he is not chosen as [Mitt] Romney’s running mate, could this be part of the reason?” Duffy said. “For O’Malley, if he is as serious as his actions seem to suggest in running for president in 2016, this is one of those things that may not be a deal-killer in a primary, but my guess is his opponents would bring it up as evidence that he’s unelectable in a general election.”
For O’Malley and McDonnell, their rough-and-tumble legislative sessions, however, diverged in how willingly the two used the platform to push the envelope of their parties’ political mainstreams. While McDonnell seemed to struggle to moderate the most partisan efforts of his fellow Republicans, O’Malley more readily embraced a role as Democratic agitator.
Eyes on revenue
Already a proxy for President Obama in an election year, O’Malley’s legislative agenda began in January not only with a plan to make wealthy Marylanders pay more. He also proposed a progressive levy on residents’ water consumption; a near 20-cents-per-gallon increase in taxes on gasoline to expand road and transit construction; and a surcharge on electricity bills to subsidize development of offshore wind power.
Democrats overwhelmingly control Maryland’s General Assembly, but many of the governor’s plans went too far even for members of his own party. Neither chamber ever warmed to O’Malley’s gas-tax proposal, and a trio of African American lawmakers in the Senate quashed his offshore wind plan, saying it would cost residents too much.