It would probably be easy to make fun of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's field trip to Washington today.
So, let's give it a try.
This was supposed to be one of those times when the guv could make a splash in D.C. He was all lined up to testify before Congress this morning, along with two other bigtime Democratic governors, Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.
Their assigned topic: a state's eye view of the implementation of President Barack Obama's stimulus package.
Not a very heavy lift, especially since all three are huge Obama supporters. But sometimes things don't come as easily as they might on Capitol Hill--the kind of place where, if you're not a senator or a congressman, you might as well be just another tourist from Pocomoke City, even if your title is governor.
(Of course, the exact reverse might well be true at the Statehouse in Annapolis, but that's another story.)The first clue that things might not be going O'Malley's way on this fine July day came during a chance encounter with Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
The New York congresswoman happened upon O'Malley in a hallway outside the House hearing room, where the governor was obliging a local TV reporter with an interview.
"Mr. Governor! Mr. Mayor! What do we call you now?" Maloney said, by way of greeting.
"Call me anything you want," the governor replied, graciously.
Maloney is a senior member of the very committee that O'Malley was about to address, but that was as close to the hearing as she got. In fact most of the panel's members, Republicans and Democrats, steered clear of the meeting.
In her defense, Maloney probably can't be bothered with details like job titles or committee hearings these days. She's quite busily engaged in a far more exciting venture: sticking it to the leaders of her party by threatening to challenge appointed New York Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand in next year's Democratic primary (Maryland-based consultant Joe Trippi is among Maloney's advisers and can probably straighten her out on O'Malley's job).
One of the reasons O'Malley was out in the hallway at that moment, instead of at the witness table, was that his scheduled appearance had repeatedly gotten postponed. Members of the committee who did bother to show up managed to take longer than expected to question a pair of officials from the Office of Management and Budget and the Government Accountability Office.
Finally, just when it seemed as if the governors would get their turn, the congressmen had votes to cast over at the Capitol, so the governors' appearance was pushed back another hour.
O'Malley, politely declining an offer to cool his heels outside the House floor while the votes were being cast, said he might grab a sandwich with his mother, who works in Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office, instead.
By the time O'Malley finally got sworn in as a witness, it was the dreaded lunch hour for members of Congress. No offense, governors, but a lunch appointment is a lunch appointment and a hearing, well, is just another hearing.
Gov. Patrick gave the event about what it was worth at that point: 10 minutes of his time. Then he begged off with a "prior commitment" of his own.
That left Rendell and O'Malley to deal with the handful (literally) of congressmen who bothered to stick around. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County showed up just long enough to introduce O'Malley and catch the governor's seven-minute opening presentation.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the other Marylander on the panel, slipped into his seat only a few minutes before the hearing ended (he'd been there in the morning, then had some prior commitments). As a result, the Baltimore congressman missed O'Malley's high-tech presentation of his StateStat web site that allows Marylanders to enter their address and zoom in on stimulus project spending in their neighborhood (or any place else around the state).
Sadly, for O'Malley, most of the five committee members present for that portion of the hearing weren't interested enough to even glance at the TV screens as he narrated the demonstration.
But Pennsylvania's governor was watching intently. And in a playful jab at O'Malley, Rendell claimed a few minutes later that, because his Commonwealth is "much more fiscally conservative than the State of Maryland, I don't have a fancy Power Point presentation about what we're doing."
That produced a rare chuckle during the hourlong Rendell-O'Malley Show, which played to a grand total of two congressmen (Cummings and Chairman Edolphus Towns of New York) and 37 empty seats for the other members of the committee when the curtain mercifully came down at about 2 in the afternoon.
Afterward, O'Malley patiently stuck around to answer reporters' questions. Then he headed back to a place where he gets the respect he deserves, or more, at any rate, than in D.C.