Gov. Martin O’Malley had a highly charged past year — to put it mildly. From his aggressive support for same-sex marriage and the Maryland Dream Act, to the low of a budget stalemate and two legislative special sessions for which he shared criticism, to his successful point work for President Barack Obama’s re-election, O’Malley was often and willingly in the spotlight. Now, some say, he could stand a quieter 2013.
“When you have a major active streak, it’s important to have a calm period,” said former Gov. Parris Glendening (D). Some of the country’s best-liked political leaders, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, benefited from a “return to normalcy,” with few major initiatives, so people could live with minimal political controversy, Glendening said.
But some are skeptical that O’Malley will step back in Annapolis this session, even though it is widely speculated that he will make a bid for president in 2016.
“He’s got half his second term left,” said Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown. “And he certainly had an agenda that he wants to advance. I expect him to be engaged in the 90-day legislative process and to continue to notch accomplishments like he’s done the last few years.”
What matters to his political future isn’t that his major initiatives — such as offshore wind power — pass the legislature, but that he has made his positions on them known, Glendening said.
“The governor has shown himself willing to take on bold, progressive policy,” said state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park. “The center of gravity in the Democratic Party is with progressive activists, and I think he is lined up to speak to that audience.”
But coasting through 2013 also could pose problems for O’Malley, said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg.
“Unfortunately, if it’s not an active session, people will criticize him, which is really unfair,” Barve said. “The best way to judge Martin O'Malley is to look at all six years, and it’s hard to argue that he’s been anything but spectacularly successful. He’s done more in six years than most governors do in eight.”
The governor will not release his legislative priorities until after Jan. 1, said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory, and he has not made public his future political intentions.
Roy Meyers, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, spoke of O’Malley’s credible record as a chief executive, but said if he really is interested in the presidency he’ll need to spend even more time than he did last year raising money and traveling.
O’Malley’s campaign reported a cash balance of about $267,000 at the beginning of this year. In July, he founded a federal political action committee, O’Say Can You See PAC, which has raised about $139,000 and had a cash balance of $35,000 in late November.
O’Malley recently stepped down after two years as chair of the Democratic Governors Association and was a surrogate for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, frequently appearing on national network and cable television shows in support.
But after the Sine Die budget meltdown at the end of this year’s regular General Assembly session, O’Malley drew fire from critics who said he was too focused on his national image and not engaged on state matters.
One issue O’Malley won’t be able to ignore is the need to overhaul the state’s transportation funding program, Meyers said, adding, “He can’t let that fester.”
But new taxes — such as a sales tax on gasoline to fund transportation projects — may not interest O’Malley, whose popularity dipped after taxes were raised in a 2007 special session, said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The rest of his term, including same-sex marriage and reductions in the state’s structural deficit, has been “remarkably successful,” Crenson said.
O’Malley took the lead in pushing the same-sex marriage bill through the General Assembly and in the campaign to approve the measure in a referendum, including traveling to other states to raise funds for the cause.
Over the past three years, the governor and legislature have taken the state’s structural deficit from about $2 billion to less than $500 million, and lawmakers say it could be reduced almost to zero in fiscal 2014.
While the third year of a four-year term is often when a lawmaker goes after controversial issues, O’Malley isn’t likely to pursue an issue that generates strong emotions on both sides — death-penalty repeal, predicted John Bambacus, a former state senator and retired professor of political science at Frostburg State University.
O’Malley’s previous efforts to repeal the death penalty have failed, but progress was made when lawmakers in 2009 adopted tighter regulations to apply capital punishment, Bambacus said. The law now requires DNA or conclusive video evidence or a videotaped confession before capital punishment can be considered.
But Republicans aren’t expecting O’Malley to rest on his laurels during the 2013 session.
“I don't think he’s done,” said Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Dist. 33) of Crofton. “I think he has this personal list of things he wants to accomplish, and he's using these issues to build his national audience.”
Offshore wind development, Reilly said, which has failed twice to make it out of the General Assembly, would be a “jewel in his crown.”