By Barry Rascovar
Yes, there are times when a picture is worth a thousand words — and more. Such was the case in Annapolis on Thursday when Gov. Martin O’Malley turned in an all-too predictable, stilted and boring valedictory in his concluding State of the State Address.
Judge for yourself.
The facial expressions of Senate President Mike Miller, House Speaker Mike Busch, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown speak volumes in the photo:
“Who’s that over there?”
“When is this going to end?”
“What’s next on my schedule?”
“What do I want for lunch?”
“Why can’t I stay awake?”
There’s a reason the legislative response was tepid. They’d heard nearly every bit of O’Malley’s speech before. There was nothing new in his formal remarks, no surprises, no informal, heartfelt ad libs.
The one exception: A cryptic line from an Irish writer O’Malley dangled for listeners but never explained.
“The only things worth doing are the things that might possibly break your heart.”
Put O’Malley before a large audience in a formal setting and he delivers a stilted, overly theatrical speech. Yet this same politician, placed in front of a campaign crowd, turns dynamic.
O’Malley’s Place in Maryland History
He missed a golden opportunity last week to sum up his time in office the way historians are likely to judge it.
O’Malley governed during the worst economic times in 70 years. He kept Maryland’s ship of state afloat and in good shape during the Great Recession.
He did it by slowing, rather than reversing, the rate of government.
He shrank employee ranks, but did it through attrition rather than layoffs.
He used budgeting gimmicks and fund-shifting to keep things together in very lean years.
He raised taxes often — maybe too often — to avert massive state and local cutbacks.
As a result of his work, Maryland is emerging as a state with a solid foundation, an educated work force and an optimistic future.
What Lies Ahead
Are there big problems O’Malley will leave behind a year from now? Yes, indeed.
- A hostility in Annapolis toward the private sector (“tax the rich”) that could cost Maryland jobs and businesses.
- A deeply flawed health care insurance program that may unravel.
- A progressive agenda that relies too heavily on taxation and government mandates to solve basic social woes.
- An ineffective and weak economic development program that receives minimal support.
- A belated effort to improve transportation options.
- A tax system lacking in equilibrium and fairness.
- Structural budget gaps that will handicap future governors.
- A bitter split between conservative rural and newer suburban areas and the liberal population core in Central Maryland.
O’Malley, meanwhile, has turned his focus to a larger political objective on the national scene. He does have an interesting argument to make, even if he stretches the truth about the Maryland story.
What he failed to provide in his speech was a “way forward” for the state after he leaves office.
Yes, he brought us through the Great Recession in surprisingly sound shape.
But governing in a time of slowing developing prosperity, while facing a bitter political divide, requires a different mindset.
O’Malley left us in the dark on that one.
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Read more from Barry Rascovar at www.politicalmaryland.com
O’Malley gets a D for form and an F for content.
If you want to see O’Malley at his stilted best, watch his last appearance (Jan 12) on CNN’s “State of the Union”.
Mr. Rascover evidently sees good in O’Malley’s legerdemain: “He used budgeting gimmicks and fund-shifting to keep things together in very lean years.” I see bad…O’Malley’s actions have established a negative precedent, where annual law to pay for government operations arguably conflicts with a higher law: the state constitution.
Rascover repeats what I believe to be a falsehood spread by O’Malley: “He shrank employee ranks, but did it through attrition rather than layoffs.” Look at Appendix E of the state budget highlights for the first budget O’Malley proposed (2008) and his last (2014); showing 79,760 state employees and 79,741, respectively.
Rascover says “He (O’Malley) did it (kept the state in “good shape”) by slowing, rather than reversing, the rate of government.” Yes, O’Malley did slow the rate of government. But an objective analysis requires one to look at the state’s balance sheet, not just the income statement. How does $10.9 billion of negative equity (General Fund) grab ya? And when the new pension accounting
rules (GASB 67 and 68) are implemented, state equity will be materially cut, possibly leaving MD with liabilities exceeding assets on a consolidated basis.
One of O’Malley’s most “lucerative” activities, and not cited by Rascover, was the state’s aggressiveness in obtaining Federal money. Stimulus, Obamacare, Common Core money ceded by Florida, All-payor waiver from HHS; a fright (pun intended) train of money flowing through the state’s budget. Some may applaud O’Malley for this, and I grant these actions weren’t shady. Not me.
O’Malley might have gotten more play on that obscure quote by changing the last words from “break your heart” to “break your pocketbook”. Guiding us through a great recession in sound shape? Maybe if you live in some areas of the state. But O’Malley’s attention & fiscal largess hasn’t spread everywhere. About the only + as our Gov leaves the local stage is no more monotone, boring lectures for the populace to ignore.
Thank you for explaining that quote. I asked 10 people after the speach what it meant and no one remembered hearing him say it.