Wednesday, January 30, 2013

O'Malley Delivers His Best State of the State Address... Ever

I like to think that I am mostly immune from hyperbole, so please forgive the title of this post, but I see no way around the conclusion that Martin O'Malley's 7th State of the State address was his best address ever - it was certainly one of his best speeches ever - and I fully expected that he would conclude the speech by saying "and that's why I am asking for your support to be the Democratic nominee for President in 2016."

Perhaps he should have ended with that request... though I suspect that everyone viewing or listening to the speech got a free preview of his nomination battle stump speech.

O'Malley is a policy wonk, he is strongest when discussing policy and this speech was full of policy and thankfully lacking in his tendency to engage in poetic flourish (life is an evolving story...).

Consider his opening salvo:
Remember seven years ago? Our State had veered off course. We started following the same, never-mind-the-math approach that created our federal deficits. Democrats and Republicans alike – in this very Chamber – had voted to cut taxes for millionaires, and to greatly increase state spending, without paying for either one.

The result: a $1.7 billion structural deficit. What’s less, we were paying taxes for a government that was not working; that was failing to deliver results. Underperforming schools. Tuition hikes approaching 40%. Rising crime outside of Baltimore.

But in 2007, together, we started making better choices. We cut spending growth. We added a penny to the sales tax to improve our children’s education. We restored revenues by making our tax code more progressive and fair. We took concrete action to close our structural deficit.

But beyond talking about what Maryland has done, O'Malley focused much of his speech on what Maryland must do moving forward.

O'Malley called for job creation through needed infrastructure investment - clearly reminding people that their is a clear role for government in the economy through the provision of desperately needed services. He tackled gun control and called for a ban on assault rifles and handgun licensing. And he made another push for green energy via offshore wind.

O'Malley spoke of an end to the death penalty and he did so passionately. It is no small thing that a sitting governor and aspirant for the White House made the following comparison  "across our ever-more-closely connected world, the majority of executions now take place in just seven countries: Iran. Iraq. The People’s Republic of China. North Korea. Saudi Arabia. Yemen. And the United States of America."  A nation should be judged by the company that it keeps and when it comes to executions we're in some very sorry company. 

O'Malley offered an unapologetically progressive vision, but he wisely wrapped it up in commonsense rhetoric and placed it atop a very moderate (politically) record of accomplishments.

Consider, he prefaced his speech by reminding voters that under his leadership:
We used the pressure of sinking revenues to make government more efficient. For the first time, we started setting public goals with more immediate deadlines. We started measuring weekly performance to make government more effective.

We constrained budget growth and made government smaller. We strengthened our rainy Day Fund and protected our Triple A Bond Rating.

We fixed our pension system. We reformed hundreds of pages of regulations, streamlined permitting, and fast tracked jobs projects. We eliminated paperwork, simplified applications for business licenses, and reduced waiting times from months to days.
O'Malley's record as governor is not one of left-wing ideological leadership. Two years ago, commenting on O'Malley's re-election, I wrote O'Malley had "made some very difficult choices as governor. And, despite his progressive leanings, has presided over an era of very conservative budgeting." I stand by that assessment and believe that O'Malley highlighted that record very well today.

I have been very critical of O'Malley at times (when deserved) and suspect that I will continue to be. I believe that O'Malley will have a very hard time rising above the crowd should he seek the Democratic nomination in 2016 - but this speech is a positive sign.

Make no mistake, O'Malley's 2013 Maryland State of the State address was very much a 2016 campaign launch speech - and it was a damn good one. Watch your back Andrew Cuomo.