Gov. O'Malley focused on creating jobs

The emphasis was on jobs when Gov. Martin O'Malley went to the Port of Baltimore to announce an agreement with a private port operator.
The emphasis was on jobs when Gov. Martin O'Malley went to the Port of Baltimore to announce an agreement with a private port operator. "This deal is all about job creation in Maryland," he said. (Jed Kirschbaum/baltimore Sun)
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By John Wagner
Thursday, December 24, 2009

When Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks these days, the three words most likely to come out of his mouth are "jobs," "jobs" and "jobs."

As he heads into an election year, O'Malley (D) is ratcheting up his rhetoric and policy proposals concerning employment, an area in which Democratic governors seeking reelection could be most vulnerable.

In short order, O'Malley has stitched together a 10-point plan, made up of relatively modest initiatives, to help small businesses. He has put forward a three-part legislative proposal that includes a tax credit for companies that hire the unemployed. He has launched a traveling "university" to promote minority business opportunities. And just recently, O'Malley unveiled a plan to provide short-term relief for companies facing a threefold increase next year in unemployment insurance taxes.

The burst of activity, which has drawn mixed reviews for substance and style, comes in the wake of the national unemployment rate topping 10 percent in October and high-profile Democratic losses last month in gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey.

"Difficult economies always hurt the president's party, and that goes for governors as well," said Kirby Goidel, a political science professor at Louisiana State University. "You want to give the perception to voters that you're addressing their biggest concern."

The call for job creation is "a refrain being heard in gubernatorial campaigns across the country," said Jennifer E. Duffy, a senior editor of the Cook Political Report.

Incumbents from both major parties could be vulnerable next year. But Duffy's publication, which is tracking the 37 governor's races on the ballot, has seen support for Democrats slipping most noticeably in states where economic uncertainty is dominating early stages of campaigns.

So far, Duffy said, heavily Democratic Maryland has been an exception, in part because O'Malley does not have a high-profile opponent criticizing him daily in the media. The state's November unemployment rate of 7.4 percent was also lower than the nation's.

In an interview, O'Malley played down any political motivations and said his "more pointed" focus on jobs is consistent with the priority he has placed since he was elected in 2006 on "strengthening and growing our middle class."

"I don't know that New Jersey and Virginia factored into it as much as our shared realization of how many jobs we've lost," said O'Malley, who is vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. "We have to be extremely clear about what the mission is here: When we're experiencing some of the worst unemployment rates our nation has ever seen, we've got to be focused on creating jobs."

O'Malley has pushed other proposals aimed at the middle class, including a four-year freeze on public university tuition and steps to stem the tide of home foreclosures. And he has spoken often about "workforce development" issues.

But rhetorically, there has been nothing comparable to recent weeks.


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