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What's left for O'Malley?

The knock on Gov. Martin O'Malley by his critics is that everything he does is an effort to pad his resume for a presumed run for president. The latest evidence: He enacted Maryland's most sweeping gun control measures in a generation, abolished the death penalty, secured the most significant boost in state transportation funding since the Schaefer administration, laid the groundwork for a wind farm off the Ocean City coast, passed legislation that will make it easier for veterans to get jobs and for the government to partner with private industry on major projects, and effectively eliminated the gap between projected revenues and expenses that has dogged Maryland for the last decade.

Maybe we should elect governors with presidential ambitions more often.

Governor O'Malley's performance in the 2013 legislative session is without many parallels in recent Maryland history. He took on an ambitious agenda and won every piece of it. It got him glowing coverage in The New York Times and Politico this week as someone to watch in 2016.

Certainly, he didn't achieve all he did in the 90-day General Assembly session without some significant help. NAACP President Ben Jealous put the death penalty repeal on the front burner this session; without his efforts, Governor O'Malley probably would not have tried again after failing to end capital punishment in his first term. Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell's success in enacting a transportation funding package added urgency to the effort in Maryland. And Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Bush, stung by the failure to enact a proper budget at the end of the 2012 session, were unusually cooperative. Mr. Miller, perhaps grateful for the governor's backing of a gambling expansion plan last year, was particularly accommodating.

Still, none of the heavy lifting this year could have happened without him. Governor O'Malley's record shows that when he is particularly engaged, as in the 2013 General Assembly session, or the 2007 special session devoted to taxes and gambling, he is effective in forging consensus. Unfortunately, the record also shows that his level of engagement has been inconsistent. Last year, when his role as then-chairman of the Democratic Governors Association made him a key surrogate for President Barack Obama, his absence from the State House was widely noted by friends and foes alike. Indeed, he appeared blindsided by the breakdown over the budget and gambling on the 2012 session's last day.

The question is, which Martin O'Malley are we getting for the next 20 months?

In an interview with The Sun's editorial board this week, Mr. O'Malley said he will be devoting a significant amount of time and attention during the second half of this year to consideration of and preparation for a possible presidential bid. We don't begrudge him that. He has earned a place in the 2016 conversation, and given the nature of modern presidential campaigns, he would need to start laying the groundwork that early if he is to have any chance of success.

The worry is not so much that he will be spending all his time wandering through Iowa corn fields and New Hampshire county fairs. It's that he seems not to have much left on his agenda for Maryland. When asked about his plans for the remainder of his term, he said he wanted to focus on job creation — a fine, if stock, answer. But he offered no new ideas for how to achieve it. Mr. O'Malley mentioned a few other interests, such as finding a way to help Baltimore increase its demolition of derelict properties, but he largely conveyed the air of someone whose work here is already done.

We offer a few suggestions for how he might use his remaining time in office: Increase the state's minimum wage, make the corporate tax fairer, and follow through on ending capital punishment in Maryland.

Ten other states have minimum wages higher than the federal standard of $7.25, and given Maryland's relatively high cost of living, it should join them. Enacting a corporate tax system known as "combined reporting" — already law in a majority of states — would help level the playing field between local businesses and mega-corporations and allow for a reduction in the overall rate. And finally, despite his strong advocacy for ending capital punishment, Mr. O'Malley has so far left the state's five condemned inmates on death row. He should commute their sentences to life without the possibility of parole. Those three items would make a worthy capstone to an already impressive record of accomplishment.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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