Once upon a time, Your Humble Monarch™ made a very nice living as The Priestess of PowerPoint™ at various and sundry high-powered New York City law firms. One day, she returned from a lunch break to find people scrambling madly around an office near her desk. “Hey,” said her supervisor, “You’re assisting George Pataki now.”
George Pataki is a retired governor of New York State. A retired Republican governor of New York State. He had just become a partner at the firm, and his long-time assistant would not be joining him for a month or so. Iris gamely accepted her new assignment—after all, she needed a day gig to pay for her glorious Palace on Perry Street. Governor Pataki (FYI it is proper form to address former governors by the honorific title “Governor.” I had to look that up.) turned out to be a rather pleasant man to work with. He was affable, appreciative, and actually kind of fun. He spent the rest of his first day calling up a bunch of Big Willies in local, state and national government to announce that for the first time in his life he had a real job, and absolutely no idea what he was doing. “Iris?” he would call from his desk. “How do I dial out on this phone again?” And again. (And again.)
We soon parted ways, and I moved on to another firm. One day I returned from my lunch break to the astonishing news that I would now be working with yet another retired Republican governor. I will just note that I quit that job very shortly thereafter, and leave it at that. (My mother taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all. Oh, who am I kidding. My mother gave me crap advice. This blog would never exist if I listened to her. The truth is I just do not want to think about that d00d ever again.)
Which brings us to yesterday, and the bizarre occasion of my crossing paths with yet another governor. This one was a Democrat, and I would not be assigned to work with him. But I just might volunteer.
Sitting at a gleaming marble conference table at a swanky midtown law firm where I am presently a client*, I found myself face to face with one Martin O’Malley, Governor of Maryland. O’Malley is term-limited from seeking reelection, and is presently exploring a run for the White House. I attended the meeting as an invited guest.
Readers may recall that my mother lives in Maryland; I grew up in the general vicinity, and I still spend a lot of time there. But I was not particularly well-informed about Maryland politics and needed to do some research before I met him. Having done so, I am now pleased to present the complete Palace dossier.
Baltimore City Councilor: 1991-1999.
Mayor of Baltimore: 1999-2007.
Governor or Maryland: 2007-present.
Born: Washington, DC, January 18, 1963.
Family: Wife: Katie; 4 Children: Grace, Tara, William, Jack. Father was an Air Force bombardier in WWII, and became an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
Education: Catholic University of America (graduated 1985); University of Maryland School of Law (J.D. 1988).
He met his wife Catherine “Katie” Curran in 1986 when they were both in law school: he was working on Barbara Mikulski’s U.S. Senate campaign and she was working on her father’s campaign for Attorney General of Maryland. She is currently a District Court judge, and thus barred from political campaigning.
Governor O’Malley is also a guitarist and singer/songwriter, active in several bands in the Baltimore/DC area since the early 1980s. Since 1988 he has been the lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter of his own Celtic rock band “O’Malley’s March.” He cites among his influences The Pogues.
At a National Governors Association meeting last year, O’Malley said he was laying “the framework” for a presidential run. He has also said that if Hillary Clinton runs he will not run against her.
As governor he managed to raise gas taxes (!) to pay for infrastructure projects, and held state college tuition essentially flat while other states have seen tuition rates soar. Under his tenure crime has gone down and public schools have ranked extraordinarily high. O’Malley spearheaded the drive for marriage equality, and in 2012 Maryland became the first U.S. state to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples by popular vote. Maryland has had the #1 ranking for innovation and entrepreneurship from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for two years straight, and claims the fastest rate of job growth in the region.
O’Malley credits these accomplishments to both a disciplined method of accountability and a non-hierarchical view of governance. When he learned of New York City’s novel approach to measuring crime statistics and allocating police resources (CompStat), O’Malley applied similar data-driven analyses to government agencies and programs across the board. Instead of discussing performance assessments with bureaucrats only at yearly budget meetings, O’Malley and his top aides meet with agency managers every two weeks to analyze data, assess progress, address problems and set targets. No, they do not hit every one. But the approach has led to enormous cost savings, newfound efficiencies, reductions in overtime and absenteeism, and unprecedented collaboration among agencies. “We’ve moved from a traditional, spoils-based system of patronage politics to a results-based system of performance politics,” O’Malley has said.
He thinks this is the future of governance: tech-savvy, transparent, reality-driven. I, on the other hand, think “the traditional spoils-based system of patronage politics” comprising the federal government and the permanent power factions in DC will not exactly take kindly to any of this. At all. They will fight tooth and nail for those spoils, and for the corrupt and unsustainable system that delivers them.
But it is O’Malley’s broader vision that I found particularly interesting. He noted that the old-schoolers of previous generations are fixated on outmoded hierarchical paradigms, e.g. trickle-down economics and authoritarian institutional structures. (I have written at length on the problem of hierarchy so I won’t digress here.) In O’Malley’s view, the ideal model is instead collaborative: not a pyramid with few on top, but a circle on its side, with everyone in it.
He’s been called a “technocratic soul paired with one of the most progressive records of any governor in the country.”
In other words, Martin O’Malley is a bona fide liberal.
ON THE ISSUES.
Abortion rights. O’Malley is pro-choice and supports federal funding for abortion. Maryland has an A rating from NARAL.
Church/State. Here is a telling snapshot:
O’Malley voiced his support for a bill considered by the General Assembly to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. O’Malley, a Catholic, was urged by the Archbishop of Baltimore Edwin O’Brien not to support the bill in a private letter sent two days before O’Malley voiced his support. “I am well aware that the recent events in New York have intensified pressure on you to lend your active support to legislation to redefine marriage,” O’Brien wrote. “As advocates for the truths we are compelled to uphold, we speak with equal intensity and urgency in opposition to your promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith, not to mention the best interests of our society.” O’Malley responded, “I do not presume, nor would I ever presume as Governor, to question or infringe upon your freedom to define, to preach about, and to administer the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. But on the public issue of granting equal civil marital rights to same-sex couples, you and I disagree.”
Climate. “Climate change is not an ideological issue any more than gravity is”… “It is physics, pure and simple”… “Maryland might not be able to change what people in India or China do with respect to climate. We can, however, use the prospect of a carbon constrained world as the means to invent a more prosperous future, and to drive innovation, education, industry, jobs, and growth.” (Source.)
Capital punishment. Long-time opponent. As governor he signed legislation repealing it, and has said he would consider commuting the sentences of the five prisoners remaining on death row to life imprisonment “on a case by case basis.” Early in his first term he also closed down a notoriously awful and violent prison.
Poverty. During his last year in office O’Malley is lobbying to raise Maryland’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2016, framing his argument as a way to “strengthen the middle class, help working mothers and spark economic growth.”
Guns. Pressed for and signed significant new gun regulations into law in 2013. The NRA hates him.
Here are his campaign funding records. (A lot of trade union support.)
The conservative Democratic leadership. O’Malley had a high profile primetime speaking slot on the second night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention… which indicates at least some support from the craptastic, corrupt, conservative Democratic leadership. Of course O’Malley cannot possibly make a serious run without their backing; I just wonder what he may have to do in exchange for it. Steve Israel as Veep? Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as chief of staff? *BARF*
Messaging. He does not have tight soundbites in response to direct questions; instead he takes the approach of a patient explainer. Think: Al Gore. Only hawt. That said, this occasion was part of a series of candid meetings with potential supporters, not a media appearance: between now and an official campaign launch, he will hopefully crystallize his responses. His messaging needs to be clear, coherent and consistent—even, or perhaps especially, when obfuscation is necessary.
Katie. It is difficult to envision any successful presidential campaign without the ubiquitous presence of a candidate’s spouse, and a partner who is a District Court judge and therefore barred from campaigning is a liability. On the other hand, should she resign her judgeship, this accomplished woman who has dedicated her career to public service will instantly find herself under an intense and undeservedly brutal spotlight by an unscrupulous media and political operatives. I’m not just talking about her hair and wardrobe choices here either, but her judicial decisions. O’Malley’s opponents (including Democrats) will not hesitate for one second to warp whatever fodder they can find to paint her in a way that reflects badly on her, and by extension on her husband. Of course they can (and most certainly will) do that even if she remains a judge, but the farther she is from the campaign spotlight the less impact and interest such tactics are likely to generate. I have no doubt that she would be a major asset to O’Malley’s campaign, my concern is that her lengthy public record also makes her uniquely vulnerable. It’s infuriating, it’s unfair, but it’s a fact.
Image and tone. Although O’Malley comes off as smart and capable, he needs a more fiery presence and populist stance to appeal to disparate swaths of Democratic voters in key swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Recall that before the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton would eventually channel successfully her inner “scrappy fighter” persona, but by then it was too late in the game to gather enough momentum to beat Barack Obama. O’Malley is exceptionally good looking and fit, but he does not exude the personal charisma of, say, Bill Clinton. In short, and with the caveat that he will need to walk the line carefully: more rock star, less wonk.
Earnestness. No one gets to be a two-term mayor of a major East Coast city and a two-term state governor before age fifty without knowing a thing or two about the dark arts of politics. And as Loyal Readers™ well know, it behooves us to ignore every single word politicians ever say, and instead let only their actions speak for them. Whatever his weaknesses as a candidate may be, O’Malley’s got a pretty solid track record to run on in terms of pragmatic government reforms. The “problem,” if it can be called that, is that Martin O’Malley just might be as sincere about good government and reform as he appears to be. If so, the aforementioned Democratic weasels will eat him alive.
I chatted with the governor about my connections to Maryland. “Are you a lawyer?” he asked me.
“No,” I said. “I’m a political blogger. Can I get a picture with you?”
“Sure. Wait. Are you going to write nice things about me?”
“Hahaha. You’ll just have to wait and see.”
He happily posed for some pictures. “What’s your blog called?”
“I’d rather not say.”
I thanked him, shook his hand, and wished him luck.
A few minutes later I was busy exchanging contact information with someone. “I’m worried about that blogger,” I heard O’Malley say on his way out the door.
“Hahaha!” I cackled. I’m pretty sure he heard me: I have a distinctive voice, and, I am told, an even more distinctive laugh.
You know what? I like that he’s worried about “that blogger.” Government officials should have something to fear from the citizenry they are elected to serve (and from a truly adversarial press for that matter) but I’m afraid that ship has long sailed. In an era of total communications surveillance, militarized police forces and a culture degraded by permanent war, that necessary and healthy fear dynamic runs in precisely the wrong direction. It is sweetly ironic that the more candidates and public officials worry about the opinion of a lefty blogger, the less they actually have to fear from one.
* No, I am sorry to inform you that I am not a law firm client because I got arrested for finally fulfilling my life-long dream of mooning Antonin Scalia. Alas.