O'Malley: Road maps, but no new themes in Md. State of the State speech

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 10:31 PM

For most of the past year, Gov. Martin O'Malley's speeches have served as a bellwether for national Democratic messaging.

"Jobs, jobs, jobs" and "moving forward" were lines that emanated from the governor's mansion in Annapolis long before they became part of the Democrats' election-year mantra. And just last month, O'Malley announced a plan to inject venture capital funding into Maryland businesses, a day before President Obama in his State of the Union address set up a similar plan he dubbed this generation's "Sputnik moment."

But on Thursday, when O'Malley delivers his fifth State of the State address, don't hold your breath for the Democrats' next big idea. Nearly everything that can be promised for a while has been, and an election cycle filled with nebulous, feel-good lines about moving Maryland forward must now be fleshed out in policy and practice.

"New things? You won't see new themes," O'Malley said in an interview. "You'll see new actions, new ways to, you know, to make and to achieve our goals but the direction's been pretty consistent. . . . We have an obligation to lay out a prescription for how we get there."

Where "there" is for Maryland will be a telling political case study in the next two years. With a six-state swing last fall toward Republican governorships, Maryland is a Democratic laboratory of sorts, one of only 10 states remaining in which the party controls both the governor's office and both houses of the state legislature.

In the interview and in public appearances this week in Washington, O'Malley forecast the rough outline of his State of the State message. He said his mission for the coming year is to carry out Obama's national agenda and to work to spur job growth in ways that continue to boost the number of Maryland jobs in renewable energy, cybersecurity and other high-tech sectors.

"Certainly the themes you heard the president articulate - innovate, educate, rebuild - are themes we have been sounding in Maryland as well," O'Malley said. "I think what you'll see in this talk, anyway, is one state's efforts to make real the president's call for us all to become more competitive, to create jobs, to do our part in harnessing innovation."

What that means for the next 12 months, however, remains to be seen on Thursday, and political observers said it will be easier said than done. Thanks largely to its proximity to Washington and federal spending, Maryland's fiscal problems are not as bad as those of many other states, but unemployment remains above 7.3 percent and deficits of $1 billion or more are projected for much of the rest of the decade.

"I'm not sure states can carry out the president's agenda so much as they can choose to fight it," said Jennifer Duffy, a senior analyst at the Cook Political Report.

But Duffy said that, given O'Malley's role as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, he at least must project an image of leading his party by example. "He can't say, 'Do as I say and not as I do.' "

Beyond his $100 million venture capital plan, called InvestMaryland, O'Malley has introduced or promised bills to promote purchases of electric vehicles and solar water heaters and to require utility companies to award long-term contracts to procure offshore wind energy. Most of the rest of his bills implement Obama's national health-care reform.

The governor's aides said he plans to provide further details Thursday about his venture capital idea and also address ways to increase rates of college completion among Maryland students. Also expected to get a mention are incentives to nudge communities toward smarter growth and away from increased use of septic systems and other sources of Chesapeake Bay pollution.

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