November 2, 2009

Analysis: O’Malley is cover boy with Governing magazine

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

Gov. Martin O’Malley is the cover boy on this month’s issue of Governing magazine as one of eight Best Public Officials in the United States.

The close-up photo is remarkably similar to the one that ran in Irish America magazine two years ago, except in that one he had his tie loose and his suit-coat off.

The magazine, which covers state and local governance, has long been enamored of O’Malley’s StateStat and CitiStat performance measuring systems. Based in Washington, “the magazine’s circulation is approximately 85,000, most of whom are elected, appointed or career officials in state and local government,” as well as journalists and academics, according to Wikipedia.

The audience may be small, but it is made up of influential opinion leaders across the nation who could enhance O’Malley’s national image. The declaration that he is one of America’s “Best Public Officials” could also show up in campaign ads. It’s already on the home page of his official Web site, with links to the article.

The gov clearly gave the mag a lot of time, even posing for a photo taken from the balcony high up on the State House dome, with a magnificent view of Annapolis looking toward the Naval Academy and the bay.

Even more striking, perhaps, is a 2,300-word extended interview with O’Malley, where he puts his own spin on StateStat, the tax hikes in the 2007 special session and other matters. To my knowledge, O’Malley has not granted such a long and wide-ranging interview to Maryland-based media in recent months, instead parceling out shorter interviews on specific topics.

The content is decidedly wonky. O’Malley talks about “connectedness” on the Internet and “wedge analysis.”

“Everyone here was laughing at me because I kept riding them about ‘wedge analysis,’” The interview reads. “Wedge analysis says that there is no silver bullet. We’re not going to find the magic factory that allows us to take everything bad that’s flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and turn it into clean water.”

O’Malley defends the aggressive questioning of cabinet officials during StateStat meetings.

“It’s never a matter of giving each department head a blindfold and a cigarette and putting them up against the wall,” he told the magazine. “When you actually hold the power, I don’t think you ever have to be cruddy or mean.”

And he takes a veiled swipe at his predecessor, Bob Ehrlich.

“I was elected following a term of tremendous polarization. It was almost the Newt Gingrich sort of thing, that you’d better not be seen having lunch with people that are not of your party. So I’ve tried to bring us together.”

State House Republicans might find this bit of stretch.

The other seven officials honored by the magazine are mostly people you’ve never or barely heard of, such as Sam Reed, the secretary of state of Washington state, or Steve Jennings, the chief information officer of Harris County, Texas. Last year, the magazine honored Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who now has about $1 billion surplus he’s hoarding for hard times.

Ehrlich’s Waiting Game

Republicans hoping for a quick, definitive answer from Ehrlich on a rematch with O’Malley are not about to get it. Talking to The Sun’s Larry Carson and me after an Ellicott City speech last week, the former governor made it clear he was not to be rushed. Describing himself as “hard headed,” Ehrlich described a long, slow process of deliberation, and pointed out that in 2002, he didn’t declare he was running until March. Won’t that hurt other GOP candidates down the ballot? Carson asked.  No, Republicans running in Howard and other counties will do well regardless who’s at the top of the ticket.

No Wait for Constellation, EDF

The O’Malley-appointed Public Service Commission on Friday gave the governor half a loaf on the proposed deal between Constellation Energy Group and Electricite de France to sell a big share of its nuclear business in order to build a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs. There were fears in the business community that the prolonged hearing process and O’Malley’s attacks on Constellation would kill the deal. Perhaps the PSC had a good read on how far it could go without endangering a $4.5 billion construction project.

Monday morning in Paris, EDF announced it would go ahead with the deal under the PSC’s conditions.

Ratepayers get a $100 credit on their bills, BGE gets an infusion of capital and the governor gets to claim victory after playing hardball.

The long-term impact on Maryland’s business climate is harder to assess. If the state can put a Fortune 200 company through the ringer, other businesses may be wondering what might happen to them. Or was Constellation just a special case?

The Week Ahead

The Board of Public Works meets on Wednesday and may revisit the closing of the Upper Eastern Shore mental hospital. There are legislative hearings Tuesday on farmland preservation, the performance of state pension funds and higher education. The Assembly’s joint high tech-bio tech committee meets Wednesday and the joint work group on state, county and municipal relationships plods on Thursday afternoon.