Monday morning at a meeting of Governors at the White House, President Obama could not remember Governor Martin O'Malley's name.
But as the head of the Democratic Governors Association, the national 527 in charge of electing Democratic governors, O'Malley is someone Obama should be quite familiar with. And as the 2016 elections grow closer, the Maryland Governor who would have likely been Hillary Clinton's running mate will soon become a household name to political observers.
When this reporter recently asked legislators in the Annapolis capitol building what they think of O'Malley, one of them succinctly described him as a "pious, partisan pugilist."
O'Malley, when he is not governing or playing the guitar in a Celtic rock band, is starting his unprecedented second term running the DGA, a group that empowers America's 20 Democratic governors to raise unlimited corporate contributions. And O'Malley has not been shy about tying state business to donations to the DGA, which has allowed his organization to raise more than $20 million last year (a 57 percent increase since 2007), while simultaneously raising O'Malley's national profile.
A frequent guest of Sunday-morning talk shows, O'Malley is known to often refer to the "Bush economy" and once likened the former President, his favorite villain, to the now-deceased Osama bin Laden. Whether it's O'Malley, a Catholic, defending the Obama administration for requiring Catholic hospitals to provide birth control, receiving national attention for requiring a "green" curriculum for young students, or being such a vocal supporter of gay marriage that pop band Bye June dedicated a music video about homosexual swan hand-puppets to him, there is little question the controversial, telegenic governor has national aspirations that will take him far beyond the Free State. This ambition was driven home this month in his eagerness to ram gay marriage through the Maryland legislature, whose members knew full well that O'Malley was desperate to match New York Governor and 2016 presidential hopeful Andrew Cuomo's singular success in getting gay marriage passed in his state.
On February 1, O'Malley delivered a lengthy 33-minute State of the State address to minimal applause, which promised more of the Great Society policies he's been implementing since his two terms as Mayor of Baltimore, a city left with a rapidly shrinking population and growing crime rate, as popularized by the HBO cop drama, The Wire. (The show's creator David Simon noted O'Malley was "one of several inspirations" for the character of the ambitious and ruthless Mayor Tommy Carcetti.)
In the address, O'Malley opined, "Asking our fellow citizens to do more will not be popular. But without anger, fear or meanness, let's ask one another: How much less do we think would be good for our children's future? How much less education do we want? How much less public safety? How many fewer jobs? There are costs and there are values."
And those values are attached to a hefty price tag.
As promised, O'Malley will sign Maryland's same-sex marriage bill this week. In addition, he proposed sweeping tax increases, such as an 18 cent/gallon gas tax increase, across-the-board income tax increases, a doubling of the "flush tax" for waste-water treatment plants, a new sales tax to online shopping, and higher electricity rates for all consumers to subsidize an offshore wind farm near Ocean City.
O'Malley's calls for increased taxpayer investments in green energy come on the heels of serious accusations of cronyism. As noted by the Gaithersburg Gazette's state house columnist Barry Rascovar, one such deal involved plenty of strong arming for Maryland Solar, a company owned by O'Malley's friend and former Chief of Staff Michael Enright:
Quickly, [the Department of General Services] latched onto Maryland Solar's idea of not renewing farmer Jeremiah Weedle's lease for the farmland where he grows wheat, alfalfa and soybeans.
Instead, DGS issued a "request for qualifications" (RFQ) looking for someone to turn the land into a renewable energy project that had to be started by December (so it would be eligible for a huge federal energy tax credit).
Was it merely coincidence that this RFQ was exactly what Enright's affiliate company had proposed?
A month went by and -- surprise! -- just one proposal was received, from Maryland Solar. Yet even before bid solicitations were closed, the company informed the Public Service Commission on May 10 that Maryland Solar expected to be awarded a long-term lease for the state land.
The company seems to have a knack for anticipating future events in state government.
This is hardly an isolated incident. For example, campaign finance records show Energy Answers International donated $100,000 to the DGA on the same day O'Malley indicated publicly he would sign legislation worth millions to the company. And Chicago-based Exelon Corp's support for the DGA increased tenfold when seeking approval from Maryland regulators for a merger with Constellation Energy Group. This is how O'Malley unapologetically conducts state business.
Maryland's 6.9 percent unemployment is lower than the rest of the country, largely due the state's closeness to the federal government, which spends billions in the state and employs many residents. Nonetheless, the state should be doing much better.
Instead, Marta Mossburg of the non-profit Maryland Public Policy Institute told TAS, "The state has more than 100,000 additional unemployed than when the recession started in 2007 and has a higher tax burden than its surrounding states, while ranking near the bottom in economic growth." Mossburg added, "[Gov. O'Malley] has his own agenda, which is completely disconnected from economic reality."
The Tax Foundation supports Mossburg's claims, which shows Maryland with one of the worst outmigration problems in the country, losing $5.6 billion in tax revenue from 1999 to 2009. The tax foundation ranks Maryland's tax climate as the 8th worst in the U.S., a statistic that O'Malley's new proposals won't improve.
With a 55 percent approval rating, O'Malley's territory includes very friendly territory for a tax-raising, big-government agenda. And we will soon enough find out how well this worldview is accepted on a national stage.