Between Obamacare and BGF, a rough year for O'Malley

As governor travels for business and politics, state government fails

A couple of weeks ago, before he went on a nine-day trip to Brazil and El Salvador, Gov. Martin O'Malley pledged that major glitches in Maryland's health insurance exchange would be fixed by mid-December.

Well, the governor has returned from the Southern Hemisphere, and guess what? Mid-December is Sunday at noon.

So I guess we'll see if our totally excellent governor will be able to deliver a fix like the one the Obama administration appears to have pulled off at the federal level.

If he can, it will mark the first step in the recovery of O'Malley's image as a can-do, data-driven, competent 21st-century Democrat who might make an attractive candidate for president someday.

Right now, he's not that. I hate to be the one to say this because, you know, O'Malley running for president would be a good story, but I can't believe his national image hasn't taken a serious hit in 2013.

O'Malley was the law-and-order, zero-tolerance mayor of Baltimore who became the tough-on-crime governor of Maryland, the one who called selling drugs a crime of violence and who wouldn't let old lifers out on parole.

But on his watch, the state-run Baltimore Detention Center became La Bastille Tavon, ruled by the Black Guerrilla Family leader Tavon White, his cohorts and corrections officers who became his baby mamas. One insider told federal authorities that 75 percent of the guards at the jail engaged in smuggling.

The Baltimore City Detention Center became such a problem during O'Malley's time in Annapolis that a legislative commission Wednesday recommended that the whole thing be replaced — at a potential cost to taxpayers of half a billion dollars.

Of course, Gary Maynard was the public safety chief when the smuggling and sexcapades occurred at the BCDC. Maynard, who announced his resignation this week, was a stand-up guy who took responsibility for the scandal at the jail.

O'Malley? He was in Israel when the feds announced the indictments of 25 people, including 13 correctional officers. The story (especially the allegations about White impregnating four guards, one of them twice) was a media sensation.

Back from his trip, O'Malley called the BCDC indictments "a positive achievement" in the fight against jail gangs, classic spin and good for laughs.

As if La Bastille Tavon wasn't enough of an embarrassment, we have the mess with the Maryland Health Connection website, ongoing since Oct. 1.

While Anthony G. Brown, the lieutenant governor, has been taking most of the heat for the problems with the insurance exchange, O'Malley is still governor. He's the one who made Brown the point man on the Obamacare rollout here. He's the one who boasted about having seized the initiative on it.

In Maryland — a state dominated by Democrats, adjacent to the nation's capital, bristling with high-tech companies, with a governor who sees himself as presidential material — the rollout should have been superb.

It should have been as good as O'Malley promised it would be during one of his frequent appearances on national television.

But it wasn't, and it still isn't. And that's no laughing matter for people who need insurance or for Peter Beilenson, Baltimore health commissioner when O'Malley was mayor and now CEO of the Evergreen Health Co-Operative. Evergreen is counting on the exchange working; it's essential to the success of Beilenson's upstart nonprofit.

Last week, Brown decided the exchange needed a change. So Rebecca Pearce, the exchange's director, submitted her resignation, and this came after The Baltimore Sun reported that she had been on vacation in the Cayman Islands during Thanksgiving week.

Bad idea for Pearce — a tropical vacation in the midst of her project's high-profile fail — but, let's be clear: She was made to take the fall.

That was Brown trying to do something, anything, in the way of public action. Pearce made it easy for him.

But it should be noted that, while Pearce showed bad judgment in keeping that vacation and Brown might not have had his eye on the ball as Obamacare-Maryland rolled out, O'Malley is still governor. He's still the man.

And since Oct. 1, when the Maryland Health Connection went up, then crashed, O'Malley has been to Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas, New York and New Jersey, all for political purposes, to help raise funds for Democrats and to keep his name in the national media.

Then he went to Brazil and El Salvador.

I know: A governor has to multitask. He has to lead state delegations to foreign countries to schmooze for trade deals and encourage investment. He must leave others to the nuts and bolts of something like a new website that thousands of people will need to purchase health insurance.

That would be acceptable if not for all of O'Malley's political travels, and the impression he gives of a second-term governor who has started to see Maryland in the rear-view mirror.

So here's hoping that our governor, home from Brazil, rolls up his shirtsleeves and makes sure the website works. Sunday, noon — we'll be listening for the big announcement.

drodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

 
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