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Usually, Annapolis is the center of Maryland's political world during the 90-day General Assembly session. The governor and lawmakers live inside a bubble for three months, and then try to re-connect with the outside world later.

But at a time of economic hardship, Gov. Martin O'Malley is breaking with tradition.

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The governor has just announced that he will hold a series of town hall meetings after he delivers his State of the State address on Thursday.

"I hear everyday from Maryland families who continue to struggle to make ends meet," the governor said in a statement. He said he wants to "hear directly from Maryland's families and talk about the services and programs that are in place to provide assistance during these tough times."

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Previous governors have embarked on such tours after the session ends, traveling the state and touting their accomplishments. O'Malley doesn't want to wait that long.

Here's my guess at the political calculation behind the tour:

a) The more time he spends in Annapolis, the more time he gets caught up in negotiations with lawmakers and interest groups over what to protect and what to cut in the beleaguered state budget. Leaving Annapolis allows him to bring the message directly to the people.

b) By heading on the road now, O'Malley will offer a relief valve of sorts to the pressure building up among state residents who are grumbling about "just what are those people doing in Annapolis, anyway?" He'll get to hear what is on the minds of residents, and maybe make adjustments as he tries to handle the fiscal crisis.

Then there's the obvious: Who wouldn't want to spend time in Frostburg in February? (Especially when one gets to speak at a high school located on Nancy S. Grasmick Lane.)

Click below for the complete schedule (so far) of the governor's listening tour.

WHAT: Governor Martin O'Malley to hold "Governor's Town Hall on Education and our Economy"

WHEN: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Mountain Ridge High School

100 Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick Lane

Frostburg, MD

WHAT: Governor Martin O'Malley to hold "Governor's Town Hall on Education and our Economy"

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WHEN: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Prince George's County, TBD

WHAT: Governor Martin O'Malley to hold "Governor's Town Hall on Education and our Economy"

WHEN: Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Eastern Shore, TBD

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