Martin O’Malley has his eyes on the prize and off the ball

I don’t usually comment on Maryland politics beyond Howard County, but this Washington Post story on Martin O’Malley’s approval rating reinforces an opinion I’ve held for a while: O’Malley seems to be frittering away his second term trying to make himself into a national figure, as opposed to actually doing the hard work of preparing Maryland for success in the 21st century. Maybe this is an unfair characterization; maybe (as with the college tuition and school funding issues mentioned in the article) he’s just had a problem “communicating his accomplishments”.

But it’s a simple fact that the public has a limited attention span, and they can be forgiven for thinking that O’Malley’s top priorities right now are things like gun control and repealing the death penalty, given that those have been most in the news with his name attached. I doubt that either of these issues is on the average voter’s top 10 list of critical problems facing Maryland, and so I’m not surprised that voters are lukewarm in their feelings about O’Malley.

The simple fact is that Maryland voters have no desire to see Martin O’Malley run for president in 2016, and nobody else does either. So why spend the next few years polishing his liberal credentials for the benefit of Democratic activists and primary voters? Why not spend the time building a reputation as someone willing to take on hard long-term issues, like growing Maryland’s economy in the coming age of Federal austerity, ensuring that Maryland’s health care system works well as implementation of the Affordable Care Act goes into high gear, and putting the state on a sound financial footing without resorting to excessive taxes or gimmicks like casino expansion?

Unlike Barack Obama, O’Malley doesn’t have the excuse of facing an implacable Republican opposition capable of blocking his political agenda. If a Democratic governor can’t be effective in Maryland, where can they be effective? And though as a registered Democrat it pains me to say this, right now I’d count both Robert McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey (plus Andrew Cuomo on the Democratic side in New York) as doing a better job of actually governing their states than Martin O’Malley.