O'Malley takes helm for second term

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is sworn into office at the State House, flanked by his wife, Katie, and daughter Grace.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is sworn into office at the State House, flanked by his wife, Katie, and daughter Grace. (Mark Gail)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011

Coming off one of the most decisive reelections of any Democratic governor in the United States, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley was sworn in to a second term Wednesday that could be as crucial in shaping his political ambitions as in shaping the state's future.

Speculation about a 2016 presidential bid has intensified in the weeks since O'Malley became chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, a position that others have parlayed into talk show appearances, speaking roles across the country and access to a network of major party donors with the ability to fuel national candidacies.

Although aides say there has been no explicit plotting of O'Malley's ambitions beyond Annapolis, he is scheduled to appear this month at a retreat of congressional Democrats, a national policy conference and a Democratic dinner in Virginia, the first of many battleground states he is expected to visit as chairman of the association.

In an interview, O'Malley said he intends to use the chairmanship to advance ideas on governing in tough fiscal times and making investments in "greener energy" and other areas - themes he touched upon in his inaugural speech Wednesday on the State House grounds in Annapolis.

"The dollars we spend on foreign wars, financed by our kids' credit cards, the dollars we waste on health care, the dollars we waste in trying to lock in permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest 3 percent of Americans, are dollars that don't go into making our world a better place for the next generation," O'Malley said in the interview. "That's what I intend to talk about, and hopefully I'll be able to do it in a way that brings to Democratic governors a certain unity of message and purpose that has eluded us in the past."

Republican as well as Democratic governors have benefited from the exposure that comes with leading their national groups.

Former Democratic governors Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Tom Vilsack of Iowa served as head of the DGA before launching presidential bids. More recently, Haley Barbour of Mississippi expanded his clout in the GOP as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

O'Malley, who started in politics in the early 1980s as an Iowa organizer for presidential aspirant Gary Hart, is aware that his political future hinges on his successes in Maryland, advisers said.

"He's among a very small universe of people who would have a chance of doing this, and after this election, he's got as good a chance as anyone," Steve Kearney, a former O'Malley communications director, said of his presidential prospects. But "the governor has to succeed in Maryland over the next four years, or none of this talk matters."

O'Malley, who turned 48 Tuesday, used his inaugural address to tout some accomplishments of his first term as governor, including a freeze on public university tuition and an expansion of subsidized health care.

Citing the state's continuing fiscal challenges, O'Malley also said that "these next four years will not be easy," and he called for shared sacrifice from the state's residents and political leaders.

"In challenging times like these, a different level of leadership, determination, imagination and creativity is required of every single one of us," O'Malley said.

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