By Barry Rascovar
Jan. 27, 2014 — 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 in the photo below.
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.
“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 for the tepid legislative response. They’d heard nearly every bit of O’Malley’s speech before. There was nothing new in his text, 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 as governor the way historians are likely to judge it.
O’Malley served 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 growth.
He shrank employee ranks, but did it through attrition rather than layoffs.
He used budgeting gimmicks and fund-shifting to keep things together in lean years.
He raised taxes often — maybe too often — to avert massive state and local cutbacks.
Now Maryland is gradually 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?
- 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 given a low priority.
- A belated effort to improve transportation options that was placed on a back burner.
- 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 far larger political objective on the national scene. He does have an interesting tale to tell, even if he stretches the truth about the Maryland story.
What he didn’t do in his valedictory was to lay out a “way forward” for his successor.
Yes, he brought us through the Great Recession in surprisingly sound shape.
But governing in a time of gathering prosperity, while facing a bitter political divide, requires a different mindset.
O’Malley left us in the dark on that one.
# # #
Sign up for instant delivery of all future columns. Click the Subscribe button in the right-hand column.